kitenge crop topppp
Enjoying wearing my Yimba creation back home in the USA

One of the most rewarding parts of my 10 weeks living in Kampala this summer was connecting with a local organization that is working to empower young people, particularly young women, with job skills training, education, and reproductive health tools.

 

In the Luganda language, yimba means “to sing.”

 

I learned about Yimba through my ex-pat friend Carissa, who was having some beautiful clothes made by some local tailors while we were both in Kampala this summer. She shared their Instagram with me (@yimba_uganda) and I was immediately hooked…I had to have some clothes made, too! Little did I know that the beautiful clothes were just the tip of the iceberg of the work this amazing organization is doing.

 

Yimba provides a structured training program in seamstressing and tailoring, providing technical training to young women and men so that they can become economically independent through their skills. Trainees complete a full course and graduate from the program with the all the skills needed to start their own tailoring businesses.

kitenge design team
Me with the amazing design team in the Yimba studio!

Through my conversations with members of the Yimba team, I learned about how feminine hygiene and reproductive education are key human rights issues. I had always known female reproductive health was a human rights issue on an intellectual level, but hearing about the issue first-hand made me realize just how much work there is to be done in this area. And Yimba is addressing this issue in a meaningful and impactful way.

 

Half of the world’s population are women. Women menstruate…every month. Yet somehow discussion of this simple fact of life is taboo in many parts of the world (yes, even in the U.S. still). In Uganda, as well as in many other parts of the developing world, lack of access to feminine hygiene products means that many girls have to stay home and miss school when they get their periods. This means that girls miss 25% of their schooling each year, and often drop out as a result.

 

Menstrual hygiene products as we know them in the U.S. (pads and tampons) are often unavailable in rural parts of Uganda. Even if they are available, they are too expensive. This means many girls must resort to leaves, grass, pieces of mattress, or even stones during this time of the month. And even if girls have access and can afford these products, there is the problem of how to dispose of used pads and tampons. As there is neither trash collection nor septic systems in most parts of the country, disposal of these used products presents a real hygiene problem—especially when you consider animals can often find their way into trash piles. Reusable hygiene products are the most hygienic, affordable, and environmentally sound solution to this multi-faceted issue.

 

In addition to the clothing items they make for customers and as part of their training, Yimba trainees produce reusable feminine hygiene products for distribution to rural areas of Uganda. As of the time of my visit to Yimba, almost 1,000 menstrual hygiene packets had been distributed to girls throughout rural Uganda. Yimba trainees sew a reusable, water-resistant liner using a special fabric imported from Kenya. Then, Yimba trainees sew 8 flannel fillers that can be washed and reused with the liner each month. The liner and fillers are distributed with soap, 2 plastic bags, and 3 pairs of underwear so that recipients have something to wear the pads on.

 

kitenge sanitary pad kit

This simple packet of supplies can ensure that girls continue to go to school during their periods.

Yes, I am writing about panty liners and menstrual pads on my blog. But we all need to talk about this more! If something as simple (or dare I say “taboo”) as reusable menstrual pads allow girls to stay in school and get an education, then I am happy to shout about this from any rooftop.

 

Female empowerment and beautiful clothes—what more could anyone ask for?!

 

After scheduling my fitting with the Yimba team, I went to the fabric market located in central Kampala and picked out 12 yards total of 4 different kitenge fabrics. Kitenge is a traditional African fabric that is a bit thicker and comes in a variety of beautiful prints. I visited the market with my friends Nat and Jem—Nat was also on a kitenge-finding mission in anticipation of her visit to Yimba! While I was a bit overwhelmed by all the choices, I let the fabrics speak to me and ultimately decided on these:

kitenge 4444.JPG

The next step was to meet with the Yimba team to discuss what exactly I was looking for, and to have them take my measurements. I had one fabric in particular that was a bit too “waxy,” but the team had an amazing idea to create a beautiful trench coat out of it. I also ordered a shirt, a crop top + skirt combo, a long high-slit skirt, and a variety of purses, hair turbans, and neckties from the leftover fabric.

A week later, I went to try on their creations, and I could not have been more pleased! I have been enjoying my kitenge works of art ever since. I am still waiting for it to get cold enough in NYC to wear my trench!

kitenge trench

Anyone who is visiting Kampala soon, I encourage you to visit the team at Yimba Uganda. Not only will you come away with some beautiful gifts for your loved ones (and yourself!) but you will have an opportunity to take part in something bigger than yourself—the chance to meet some amazing young Ugandan women and support the work they are doing to help other Uganda women stay in school and pursue their goals.

 

Since leaving this beautiful country, I carry Uganda with me in my heart every single day, and on the days I wear my Yimba clothes it shows on the outside as well!

 

You can learn more about Yimba and how to support their work here: http://www.yimbauganda.org. Also follow them on Instagram at @yimba_uganda !

kitenge 1
Attempting to help carry a jerry can at work in my new Yimba kitenge top! There was a debate over whether the pattern looked more like pineapples or fish scales…

 

kitenge long skirt
Enjoying my kitenge skirt on Lake Victoria on my last night in Uganda ❤ 
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