The placid serenity of Doe Bay, Washington, with its pristine waters and intentionally preserved “rustic” environment, may seem as far both geographically and conceptually from war-torn Lira, Uganda as a place can get.
A scenic Northwest resort, Doe Bay vacationers – and annual music festival attendees – opt for simple cabins and yurts (and a spa, organic cuisine, and yoga studio) meant to provide a reprieve from overstressed, bustling, first-world life. Lira, once known as the Ugandan “jewel of the north,” is situated over 200 miles north of capital city Kampala. It became a haven for refugees in the 2012 Kony conflicts, many of whom were displaced children and women who sought refuge in dismantled IDP camps outside the city. In the camps, clean water, personal safety, and basic survival are daily struggles.
Though these destinations are worlds and ideologies apart, drummer Faustine Hudson (the Maldives, Mikey and Matty) had an idea born of musical collaboration and international sisterhood which bridged these two diverse communities. Hudson, a regular performer at the Doe Bay Festival, was approached by the resort’s co-owner Maureen Brotherton last summer about orchestrating a cultural exchange with the musicians in Africa she’d encountered on her journeys to Africa as a member of Seattle Rotary, which is one of the world’s largest Rotary Clubs. Brotherton has been making annual visits to various locations in Africa since 2005 and first visited Uganda in 2007.
“I had been asked to accompany an older gentleman from Seattle Rotary to help inspect a water project in the north of Uganda. That was my first trip to Uganda. I did not think that I would elect to return,” Brotherton said. “The north, where I visited, was still struggling with huge problems from the trauma of war and its atrocities. There were guards with guns at the hotels and so much poverty. Children were orphaned by the thousands. The villages had been ransacked as well as schools, livestock…they had a long way to recover!” Brotherton says. “I have returned every year and have witnessed that life has returned to the area. People are smiling, riding bikes, involved in agriculture and slowly things are changing.In 2007, I started a friendship with a young man, who I met at their local Lira Rotary Club. I helped him write grants (from my computer in Seattle) to seek help with starting a honey bee farm. There is now a successful honey bee farm under the umbrella of a Community Based organization – ARYODI – formed in his village. They are producing honey products, buying, processing and selling the honey. It was a small step to providing a much-needed income to the youth and women in the village of Aminocira. They could afford such things as medicine or school fees for a child for the first time.”
Renowned for the spiritual nature of its musical experience and the Doe Bay community as a whole, Brotherton’s idea was that local musicians could serve as cultural ambassadors. “Over the years, I became friends with the women in Amioncira and promised them I would bring back women from my village (Seattle) to meet with them, to share our stories. So in 2010, I approached 10 women from various backgrounds to accompany me on this trip. It was an incredible opportunity and I was blessed to find 10 incredible women. This leads to more stories of people I met along the way…I only want to mention it because it is very similar as to how the idea of a Music Exchange came into my mind. I believe that music is an international language and a magical way to connect people. I experienced that with the village women singing.” She explained.
“I have had the opportunity to meet some incredible young artists (at the Doe Bay Festival) and I began to share my vision of the music exchange with some of my favorite people, Faustine being one of them. She was the one who seemed to understand my loose vision of what I am trying to accomplish with a Music to Music exchange.”
Though excited by the idea, Hudson determined there wouldn’t be enough time to launch a program from the ground up by Brotherton’s November 2014 departure (the program is being developed for implementation in 2016), but was sold on the idea of traveling to aid in Brotherton’s work in Nazareth, Ethiopia – facilitating the local hospital, walking hut to hut administering polio vaccinations to children under 5 as part of National Immunization Day, then continuing on to visit the Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa dedicated to eradicating obstetric fistula. Fistula, a devastating injury which occurs when the blood supply to the tissues of the vagina and bladder (and/or rectum) is cut off during prolonged, obstructed labor, causes tissues to die and form holes through which urine and/or feces pass uncontrollably. It can also cause severe nerve damage affecting the ankles and feet. 1 in 16 African women will die from conditions related to childbirth and the ones who survive with injuries like fistula – Hudson encountered girls as young as nine suffering from the condition – are often shunned, making it a consequential problem in need of immediate eradication. It is a plight that powerful celebrities like Oprah Winfrey have been moved to address; clinic co-founder Catherine Hamlin was nominated for a 2014 Nobel Prize for her work to combat this problem.
In preparation for the trip, Hudson began investigating other ways she could make a difference. She learned one of the biggest impediments to a young woman’s education in the developing world is the lack of menstrual supplies. In an environment where basic textiles are scarce, women use whatever is available to deal with menses – everything from dried leaves to unwashed fabric scraps to animal dung – but, for the most part, they are forced to sit out life for the entirety of their period, making regular school attendance nearly impossible. The problem is compounded by the fact that female biological issues like menses and the aftereffects of childbirth are completely taboo; girls receive no information or preparation for menstruation and common injuries (and those such as fistula) related to childbirth are deemed a curse. In an effort to change that, Hudson founded Operation Menstruation, hoping to raise awareness and funding, while creating a more open dialogue about this natural biological process and the needs of women in these countries.
“I wanted to spearhead the issue, and provoke an emotion with the work that I was doing with Operation Menstruation,” she said. “There is no subliminal messaging going on. It was and is very important to me that people understand the issue, where their money was going and what was being done. When I think back to when I started my moontime, and how scary and traumatic the experience was as a 13-year-old girl, and then read about these young girls over in places such as Uganda where they don’t have the same resources that I did – it really resonates within. As a 32-year-old woman, I understand the effects of what is happening with my body during this time each month. It is beautiful, and should be dealt with delicately and in many cultures, it isn’t dealt with at all. So I am here to proudly help bring awareness and resources to those that just don’t have it.”
She decided to extend her trip to Uganda, where the supplies were desperately needed. Her research led her to the company AFRIpads, who create reusable, basic sanitation kits, including 2 pairs of briefs, two bars of soap, a washcloth, materials for disposal and reusable pads for the cost of about $8 (US) per unit. In addition to physical supplies, AFRIpads employ Ugandan women in their assembly process, creating jobs, a means of localized financial support and conversations about the cause – the results of which have been inspiring. May 28th, 2014 was the first ever Menstrual Hygiene Day in Kampala, which featured a Menstrual Hygiene Day Advocacy Walk, where both men and women marched in solidarity. Considering the topic’s “unspeakable” nature, the march signaled the beginnings of a massive cultural shift.
Back in Seattle, Hudson used social media to direct people to her cause and quickly exceeded her modest $3,500 goal with the support of the local music community via the crowdsourcing site Go Fund Me. The effort raised over $5,000 for kits which she distributed through Ugandan health workers at the Kristina Health Center in Awake, Uganda – about 42 miles from Lira – where healthcare workers staged clinics to make sure the supplies went directly to young women and that they would be accompanied by basic health information and instruction regarding usage. “It has been mind blowing watching how quickly the community has come together to help other people, and though I may have been the facilitator in that – it wouldn’t have come to life without every single person who contributed in the many ways that they did,” said Hudson. “Not only over 100 people contributed money to Operation Menstruation, but companies such as Tom Bihn, KAVU, and even the Seattle Reign FC contributed product for this journey that I embarked on. It has already gone above and beyond what my expectations were. I’ve learned that it is just bringing awareness to those that are unaware, which is how I got wrapped up in this entire journey.”
Upon returning to Seattle, Hudson has had time to reflect on her journey and how it changed her perceptions, ideas and self. “It has actually been quite hard to process everything. And it started very immediately. On our way home we had a 2-day layover in Dubai, which is like Las Vegas on steroids, as you can imagine, [there] was some pretty major culture shock. There is a part of me that was so happy to not have to sleep under a mosquito net, worry about bedbugs, or not forgetting to take my malaria medication every day. But the simplicity of life with very little distraction was admirable about the people of Ethiopia and Uganda. The needs of survival took precedence over everything. And though they are lacking many resources such as basic health care, food, and even water, they were much more rich in spirit. Living with intention goes a very long way and it felt like they had a pretty good grasp on that.”
“There are so many things that I cannot articulate, but I can say that I have found a depth of gratitude that I didn’t know existed. Knowing that I will never have the same feeling as I did that very first trip I took, I will forever cherish the awareness and perspective it gave to me. Part of this entire trip is that I cannot ‘unsee’ what I saw. And with that, I feel a responsibility to keep educating myself and others, because even if it inspires just one person, that is another person in this world that may have a little more than what they started with.”