kaley sweeney

Who needs major up-front funding to have success?

The lovely ladies of Kyakasangulu don’t seem to: they’ve got hope, inspiration and enthusiasm. And Empowered Voices doesn’t either.

It started with a desire to help. Not sure where. Not sure how. But day after day, this project has begun to sculpt itself into something beautiful. 

I arrived home last night from a typically extra-long day to the most affirming email I could have asked for. Peninah, my Ugandan “sister” and community leader, sent Lene and me the following along with the above flyer.

Your visit to us was a blessing and an opportunity to encourage us
work hard for our children to live a better life than us, we started a
women’s group and named it after you and Lene. We have so far reached
a number of 10 women and we are training hard to and producing a lot
of crafts in order to meet your demand when you start ordering. We
are also trying to learn new methods of farming from the resources at
the district agriculture office to try to earn better to help our
children and our neighbours in the community.

To think this resulted from only a promise and desire to help. We are now speaking with five potential partners, potential donors, and plan to revise our project proposal to cater to the work Peninah and her 10 fellow group members are creating themselves.

What may have been our vision at first has turned into something unique to the ladies, and we hope, ultimately entirely self-sufficient.

One way or another, we intend to make a positive impact on Kyakasangulu.

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Introductions!

……just six weeks late.

This video took four and a half hours to upload. Enjoy it.

It's A Thing: The Unsurfed Couch

Today, we made our first attempt at couchsurfing. We were never the same.

Our host, who for legal reasons we shall henceforth refer to as Alex, seemed like a friendly enough guy. His reviews from when we found him in May were all positive. “Best host I ever had,” and “Awesome couchsurfing experience,” were some of the stellar comments he received. Great place to start, right? Wrong, so wrong.

He greeted us with hugs and kisses when our bus arrived, and so the fun began. Not two minutes after we first introduced ourselves, Alex admitted that Kaley and Kelsey turned him straight, that Scott’s exotic look would get him Estonian beauties, and Alex was on the prowl for a cougar to revive his youth. Mind you, he is eighteen years old.

“Huddle, huddle, huddle!!” he shouted. It was time to move. We illegally boarded the public bus and were told to act “retarded” to avoid paying the fare. Up to that point, we didn’t realize that what he was doing was an act. He took us to a grocery store, where he likened Scott pushing the shopping cart to “that guy who carried the cross.” He was referring to Jesus.

We thought things would get better, or at least more normal. We still had hope.

Then, we walked through his front door into the seventh circle of hell, or what he would call, “my mansion” - a two room, one twin bed, no couch, dirty floor, and shower over toilet apartment that was temporary home to 17 people last week. Tonight, we were meant to share it with four others (“two football players and my China girl”) who were visiting the area for the sex, to be brought back to his apartment (?).

Alex asked how long we would stay. Kelsey responded with a quick “I don’t know, we are still deciding.”

We decided against it. But not before we left all our bags in his apartment and headed for town. We spent the following eight hours contemplating how to sleep in McDonald’s, the airport terminal, under a bridge, on a hill, or in jail (at least we would feel safe and protected from our host!).

Then we wondered about the bags. What to do?

We were going to show up the next morning saying, “sorry, we decided to stay with our Estonian beauties, who we met at the club and wanted to study all of Scott’s exotic features.” Never mind the fact that none of us has showered in three days or slept in two days. All we knew was we were not going back.

Scott went back. What started as a five minute walk to collect some items from our bags to “take to the club” (power adapter, towel, sleepsack) turned into Kaley and Kelsey fretting over Scott’s perceived death. When he didn’t return for two hours, we feared the worst.

Suddenly, the cafe doors swung open, and a beacon of light shone through. Scott had arrived with our three overstuffed bags over his shoulders.

“I GOT THE BAGS! WE ARE NOT GOING BACK!!!!!”

The cafe fell silent. Scott came toward us, taking out everything in his path: tables, chairs, and various Estonians. As for the two hours, Alex mislabeled his house on the map by about twenty minutes. Scott only found it after spending an hour and a half of that time searching every block of the city (there are not many).

We had our bags. We still didn’t have a place to stay.

Since everyone overheard our plight, our waiter of eight hours had pity on us and welcomed us into his apartment, where we currently write this entry. With only ten minutes to prepare, he and his girlfriend have been more welcoming hosts than the man who had two months.

In other news, we received a new offer for a couchsurfing host tomorrow night. Fingers crossed!

Few people would devote their lives to the advancement of those largely forgotten and neglected. This couple, though, doesn’t hesitate to do just that.

President Idi Amin’s reign of terror may be over; the Lord’s Resistance Army is no longer present, but peace remains a far-off concept within this war-torn village just 60 km north of Kampala. 

Welcome to the bush. You realize when you’re here just how accurate a description that is. Imagine yourself as a grasshopper amidst an intense and thorny mess of weeds and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what it’s like to run around the village. Now imagine the same small insect being threatened by footsteps from all directions, and you’re one step closer to picturing yourself in the heat of Uganda’s genocide. While it’s been years since soldiers have trekked through this bush, constant fear and bouts of violence continue to punctuate daily life.

The lovely pastor and his wife pictured above have spent the past twenty years caring for those children orphaned by war and its lasting legacies of poverty, violence and illness. The end of a war does not signal peace; instead, it begins a long, slow process of rehabilitation, redevelopment and reassembling of the pieces of a life fragmented by the terror of armed conflict. Physical wounds may be relatively easy to heal, but the psychological scars can take generations to erase. 

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The school pictured above seeks to cultivate hope, inspiration and rejuvenation for a community still suffering from such torment and government neglect by addressing each and every child experiencing need. No one is turned away.

Despite the school’s positive impact on the community at large, its aim to be a safe haven has been vandalized by lingering communal tensions. 

Lao Whiskey: It's Definitely A Thing. Why Not?

One night in Vang Vieng we went out for a casual dinner along the river. While at first we were the only customers, Happy Hour came along and the crowd poured in. Happy Hour was advertised as buy one cocktail, get a free shot. As we soon found out, that really meant buy anything and get shots all night long. Eager to win over the hearts and wallets of all his customers, the owner/waiter/bartender came around to every table pouring shots of Lao Whiskey, regardless of whether or not we ordered cocktails.

At first we hesitated, but he urged us on with a joyful “Why not?” How could we refuse when this whole trip came from the exact same attitude? As Happy Hour turned into Happy Hours, every table insisted he do a shot as well. “Why not?” everyone asked, reversing his own catchphrase. He could not resist. After a few rounds at each of the ten tables, he stumbled from group to group taking orders, taking shots, and then promptly forgetting the orders. He was the drunkest person in his own restaurant.

By the time we got the bill, he was passed out atop a nearby table. We left the money with a woman whom we had never before seen. This was clearly a legitimate establishment.

The next night we walked by the restaurant and saw a crowd twice the size of the night before. We could only hope and pray for the wellbeing of our friend, and that he had enough bottles of Lao Whiskey to go around.

**** It’s Definitely Not A Thing: Sleeping - written from or Chang Rai, Thailand guesthouse at 5 am by Scott Krier

Yup, It's Another Day In Beijing

So China. Somehow we’ve made it our first two days without killing each other, though we’re both aware how fragile our relationship is.

We learned quickly how inefficient China is, so here we are standing in the Beijing Train Station, and Kaley is blogging on Scott’s back to kill time. Most likely, when we finally reach the teller, he won’t speak English. Let the sign language and awkward hand gestures begin…again.

And they did. And we failed. Guess Tianjin is out. So now, we are on our way to the Forbidden City, but, as usual, made a pitstop for food along the way at a packed restaurant seated across from two noodle-chowing Chinese men flashing their expert chopsticks skills. Day three and Scott is actually getting the hang of them as well. He claims they’ll improve threefold once he sports his new communist hat.

Speaking of food, it is delicious, not to mention: CHEAP. It’s just 12 o'clock and we’re sitting down for our third meal of the day, with many more to come.

In addition to food, we are hopelessly trying to engage with the local culture. Apparently the Chinese don’t much like smiling, which is a small problem considering we’re all smiles all the time. Not only are we smiling all the time, we are walking all the time. The thing is, Beijing is not a walking city. Everything is spread out so far that walking a city block here feels like four iles. But, given how stubborn we are, we try walking everywhere. The result? 7:30 comes around and we decide to take a nap before dinner. By the time we woke up, it was time for breakfast.

We plan to go to the Great Wall today, but seeing how the last two days have not gone as planned, who knows where we will end up today. Perhaps it will be another day in the stage show that is Beijing. Here, it feels a lot like Disney World. Everything feels staged and packaged for our eye’s content. It’s as if we got off Air Canada in the Chinese version of the Truman Show.

We are staying in one of the many, many apartment complexes in Beijing. There are so many building projects on the outskirts of the city, that the view outside our window is a skyline of cranes and empty building stretching as far as the eyes can see. The sun here rises at 5:30 a.m., and instead of birds chriping, there is dynamite exploding.

Yup, it’s another day in Beijing.