WORKING in an African country had never crossed Akiko Sato a.k.a Nabaweesiâ€™s mind. She had for long wanted to work in South America but her bosses shocked her when they told her to pack her bags and come to Uganda. That marked the beginning of Nabaweesiâ€™ s new life â€” a life full of uncertainty
WORKING in an African country had never crossed Akiko Sato a.k.a Nabaweesiâ€™s mind. She had for long wanted to work in South America but her bosses shocked her when they told her to pack her bags and come to Uganda. That marked the beginning of Nabaweesiâ€™ s new life â€” a life full of uncertainty.
â€œYou are going to work with Ugandan rural communities to improve on their lives. For the seven years you have worked with Japan Railways dominated by stubborn and tough males, it shows you are strong and can withstand hardships in Uganda,â€ Nabaweesi remembers a Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) professor telling her during the first briefing.
â€œI turned white. My dreams of going to South America were shattered. Most Japanese are ignorant of Africa. They think Africans are impoverished and live in the jungle. I decided to read about Uganda online,â€ says Nabaweesi, a 30-year-old Japanese, JICA volunteer. From the little website information I gathered, I discovered Uganda was not a poverty-stricken country,â€ she adds.
Nabaweesi eventually linked up with Masaka JICA coordinator Kenechi Shiiya a.k.a Yigga, who furnished her with some information about Masaka district where she is currently based.
Prior to becoming a JICA volunteer, Nabaweesi held a number of positions under the Japanese Railways. After university, she joined Japan Railways in Hokkaio. She was assigned to work in the travel agency bureau at the station.
She worked here for two-and-half years before being transferred to Sapporo City, this time to deal in air ticketing, packaging and tours and in-charge of 20 people still under the railways.
Nabaweesi was later promoted and transferred to the headquarters in Sapporo and here, she was in customer service for the elderly (Jipang Club over 60 years, Yuyu Club 55 years and Rail mate Club 15 and 25 years.)
â€œWe concentrated much on the elderly people because they are many and have the money. They also use railway services much more than any other means of transport,â€ Nabaweesi explains.
She moved to the railway advertising section for one-and-a-half years, which turned out to be her last job in the company before she received a JICA confirmation letter in 2006 that she had passed the exams. At the time of her JICA appointment, Nabaweesi was the timetable editor, making web-page brochures. Every 15 seconds, she fixed a time table.
During the induction training, Nabaweesi did a motorcycle riding course. She only knew how to drive a vehicle.
On March 27, 2007, 15 JICA volunteers left Japan for Uganda. Ten, including Nabaweesi, will serve for two years while five, served for 11 months and left recently after their contract expired.
Nabaweesi recalls that during her first three months, she found it hard to differentiate between indigenous Ugandans. â€œThey looked the same. But, now I simply tell most Ugandansâ€™ area of origin by looking at them. I can differentiate east, west, north and south. Ugandans living in villages are very shy and men are promiscuous,â€ she says. For one month, they underwent training in local languages at MakerÃ©re University Institute of Languages, a few weeks after jetting into the country.
She is sad that Kampala City is so dirty and dusty, making it easy for one to get flu.
Nabaweesi was born with a brother in Sapporo City on Hokkaido Island, which has a population of 1.8m people.
She majored in linguistics at Tokyo Womanâ€™s Christian University. Her brother works in a security company in Japan. Her mother is a banker and her father retired from Japanâ€™s defence agency.
In Uganda, she loves eating sweet potatoes, dodo, beans, groundnut paste, jackfruit, passion fruit, pawpaw and mangoes.
Akiko gives Masaka women crafts training
By Vision Reporter
AKIKO Sato, a Japanese volunteer, was on a tour of Kamuzinda village in Masaka district last year when an elderly woman stopped her. â€œGood evening Madam, we have a variety of handicrafts, do you want to buy some?â€ the 40-year-old woman inquired. Sato replied in Luganda: Gyendi bulungi. Njakuja mbalabe nâ€™ebintu,â€.
Coincidentally, Sato a.k.a Nabaweesi was looking for women who make crafts. She, under the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) programme, wanted to train and support them. She asked Maria Nakilijja, the old lady, where to find her the following day as it was late.
Nabaweesi, now a resident of Kamuzinda in Kyannamukaka sub-county worked with Mwange Rural Development Association, a community-based organisation, and visited house-to-house examining a number of handicrafts. â€œIn a day, I walked up to 15 kilometres. I visited about 200 households in a few weeks. The crafts were fair, but the colours and finishing was horrible. To the whites, Asians and the Far East, the finishing is not appealing.
Most of the handicrafts made back at home in Japan have shouting colours. So, we prefer to import dark colours like brown and black,â€ said Nabaweesi.
Later, she contacted a fellow JICA volunteer, Chiyoko Ichishima a.k.a Namatovu, who works with Balikyewunya Womensâ€™ Group based in Nsangi sub-county, Wakiso district, for assistance. Since Namatovu was posted to Wakiso, she has been carrying out informal craft training for women.
From September to October 2007, Namatovu, Florence Nnasaka and Fortunate Matovu conducted three basic training sessions in craft-making for women group leaders.
The first phase involved training them on how to make beads and necklaces.
The second phase involved making paper beads and the third phase focused on how to make neat baskets. The entire training took two and half months because it was interrupted by bad weather, funerals, and group leaders falling sick.
Nnasaka said three baskets of 15 to 17 inches can be produced in a day that is if she has not done any gardening. â€œThey make baskets ranging from six to 17 inches (diametre). The smallest basket costs sh500 and the biggest sh7, 000.â€
The group leaders eventually passed on their skills to the rest of the members. JICA contributed financial support to buy needles, plant threads, stoppers and beads amounting to sh300,000.
Nabaweesi observed that it was the first time for members to apply natural colours during training.
â€œI was mesmerised by the only male member from Kabonera Group, Richard Ssekitooleko. He was the best student. He is a naturally gifted leader, manager and teacher,â€ she added.
In December 2007, the association trained members who were sub-contracted by BWG to make and supply 2,000 uniform baskets of 15 inches. But members failed to beat the deadline of January 25, 2008 and half of the consignment failed to meet the required size.
â€œThe reason is that the finishing and quality still bogged down some members,â€ Nabaweesi noted. â€œThis is an indicator that more training is needed. The women are used to making household handicrafts not commercial ones.â€ The baskets that met required standards were exported to the US and the rest sold in Masaka, Kampala and Wakiso districts.
Vincent Musubire, the MRDA chairperson said: â€œThe second training taking place at the end of April will involve in-depth craft training. It will involve making of cutlery covers and export exterior packaging from barkcloth to Japan and crafts to Virginia, USA. We have again appealed to JICA for assistance.â€
Nabaweesi has now acquired a motorcycle which links her with a number of women, making her work simpler. â€œI can access over 100 members in Kabonera, Ttaala, Kyantale, Buwende, Lubumba and Kamuzinda in a short time,â€ she explains, adding that the groups have also made it easy because they cooperate.
Uganda in the eyes of a Japanese