Most FullSoul followers have heard of GreenHouse at St. Paul’s University on the University of Waterloo campus. And many have also heard of an ever-growing impact radiating from the small social enterprise incubator- so I sat down with GreenHouse’s Director, Tania Del Matto to chat about Social Innovation, FullSoul and how GreenHouse works to tackle complex issues- like maternal mortality in Uganda!
Christina has has often said that she “came into GreenHouse with an idea and came out of GreenHouse with a business” that business is the FullSoul we know and love today.
But what is so special about GreenHouse that allowed our co-founder to give her time, support and hard-work while going to school full-time?
As a bit of background, the University of Waterloo is world-class when it comes in innovation. “Idea’s start Here” Christina echoed when she first shared the FullSoul idea on the Tedx Waterloo stage. The GreenHouse program is one of the University programs at the heart of innovation, more specifically- social innovation and entrepreneurship.
The GreenHouse students live on-campus, and build connections to accelerate their own start-ups and social change initiatives. GreenHouse is designed to allow students the opportunity to develop and hone in on their own ideas and goals, while managing a full course load.
GreenHouse gives a place where students can actually tackle the problems they see in the world today. Said wonderfully by Tania, with her economics perspective, “we have a vast supply of young talent here at the University of Waterloo”, but we also have demands: “that is unmet problems that we don’t have answers for”…
GreenHouse encourages students to tackle complex societal issues, to see where they can “make an impact on a pressing societal problem”, perhaps setting them apart from other ‘incubators’ as a place where non-profits and for-profit social-enterprises can thrive. There is an additional focus on the students personal growth and development; Tania mentions that “At university we don’t necessarily empower young people to do these things- here, we give them opportunities to get out of the building and talk to people”. Encouraging GreenHouse participants to network and interact with their idea and issues in a real-world setting helps to ensure that “regardless of where their venture goes, they’re going to do great things”. They are learning how to build up their skills, and use what they have to tackle these problems. Students are encouraged to use “a wide lens in imagining what kind of impact they can make- some are big venture’s like Christina’s, and some are more about policy change”.
After her co-op placement abroad— working with an organization called Save the Mothers in Mukono, just outside of Uganda’s capital city, Kampala— Christina was more than inspired to do something. She was determined and needed to create something to change the huge systematic issue of maternal mortality. Women in Uganda face a 1 in 44 chance of dying in childbirth or a pregnancy related complication, this problem plagues more than just women – it strains the entire population. Husbands’ lose wives, parents’ loose daughters, siblings’ loose sisters and the remaining external family such as grandparents, are often called upon to take in their orphaned relatives. The children, who grow up motherless, are vulnerable and less likely to reach the age of 4. Everyone is impacted, but what is more is that; “The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council has highlighted maternal mortality as an issue bearing not just on development, but also on human rights” (WHO, 2012)– every mother and child’s deserves the right to health, equity in health and gender equality.
Tania notes that when Christina applied to the GrennHouse program,” Christina came in with a lived, on the ground experience, from co-op- [and] knew from that that she wanted to do something about it”, GreenHouse was ready to take on the task with her.
The GreenHouse method, which encourages students to “Get out there, Start talking to people, test their assumptions [about where there are gaps and needs in a social issue, and get a] Better understanding of the problem, before they go into solution mode.” Christina had an issue that she was passionate about, which fit well with GreenHouse’s idea of encouraging its innovators to “get as close to problem as they possibly can. [This] enables them to better understand it, better understand what’s been done, what’s worked, and what hasn’t worked in the past, what gaps there are [in the climate surrounding this issue]”.
With the community based, live-in approach of GreenHouse, it makes sense that it can produce an effective way to tackle a complex societal issue in Uganda- the collectivist culture, of supporting, sharing and building with each other mirrors many aspects of the East African country’s own way. “Students can be inspired by their peers- it’s great when Christina gets back and gives these talks, it really inspires other students to go ‘wow, she did that, maybe I can do something too’” Tania says of how, even now that Christina has been graduated from the program for 3 years, they remain connected. “She was in our second cohort- Not short of praise for our co-founder either, Tania speaks on how Christina- and FullSoul- really were able to grow in the program, and become the force that they are today; “Gosh, how do we get more Christina’s? how do we create the conditions so that more Christina’s and can thrive, and can step forward […] get engaged with these problems [..]she’s been the inspiration for a lot of pieces of our program.
In the years since FullSoul’s first days in GreenHouse a lot has changed! Our team has grown, both in size and in our passion to live soulfully, FullSoul has gained hundreds more supporters globally, and best of all we’ve travelled back to Uganda, delivering our first safe-birth kits to clinics in Uganda. We’re so thankful for our founders’ passions, and of places and networks like St. Paul’s Greenhouse that really allow these ideas to become reality- some of our past FullSoul volunteers have gone on to start their own initiatives for social change too! We’ll keep up the ‘Sindica’ for safe-motherhood in Uganda, and we’re glad and honoured to see everything that GreenHouse and its fellows push towards too.
Read more about Christina’s experience with St. Paul’s GreenHouse here: Life is TriageRead More
A Fullsoulers’ return home from Uganda…
As a part of an academic-based service-learning experience program, I found myself living in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, for the summer of 2013. Throughout my three months in Kampala, I had met FullSoul’s very own co-founder (pre-FullSoul!) Christina, and we met up a few times to explore some of Uganda together. As the three months sped by, and my time living in the quiet(er) district of Kampala was coming to a close, I was preparing, however reluctantly, to return home to Canada— back to school and life in Southwestern Ontario.
Tearful goodbyes, and nkwagala nyo (I love you so much in Luganda!) to each of my house-mates and friends, and into the van to the Entebbe airport for the first time again in just over 100 days. After a quick move through security, we were on our first plane in a 24-hour journey home. A quick re-fuel in Rome and then a very long overnight flight forward through the time-zones that had kept me quite confused for the past 3 months, and the flight landed in Pearson International Airport in Toronto and that was that— 102 days of living abroad done, and we were back.
That first day back, with a lot of jet-lag, I stayed awake with my family, partner and excitement of another new location. The tiredness did not really dissipate for a few weeks- time-change is a very strange thing, and I was feeling groggy, nearly constantly tired and had little appetite, especially for this strange Canadian food. In the years since, I have come to see that there was more than jet-lag in this. Coming home is so much more. Even three years later, their are parts and pieces that still feel like they are returning, and some I’m quite sure will not come back to me.
Christina has told me a story of her own return that I think encompasses many pieces of my own experience; Coming back from her own 4 month co-op placement, she went right back into classes at the University of Waterloo- which also meant finding a place to live here. This meant house-searches and tours with some of the many landlords and property managers that thrive in the University-Student market in Waterloo. In the days just following those goodbyes, flight(s) and essentially time-travel, she found herself in the laundry room of a rental home in Waterloo, crying. She had spent that 4 months hand-washing her clothes- a process that I also experienced as as an often enjoyable source of bonding with my house-mates, but non-the-less difficult, especially having never experienced this before. Now, she was faced with a washing machine- and dryer- all within her home-to-be. The contrast is striking. I’m sure somewhere in that difference is a sense of relief to not be spending hours to clean one’s clothes, but like I mentioned- that was often a time of community and conversation for me in Uganda. A time where my Ugandan roommates would tease and teach me how to properly wash my clothes and shoes; a time where you could literally feel the red Kampalan dust and dirt come from your clothes, all by your own power. Now, standing stilling inanimately in front of her was a machine to take away this dirt-it would get the job done quickly, rather quietly and completely out of sight.
However, I think more impactful and what continues even three years after our first time “Coming Home”, is how much those differences separate that experience- our lives in Uganda- to what we know in Canada- perhaps in many ways changing this to what we knew…
For myself, and as documented by many fellow travellers to those ‘lesser-developed’ regions of our world, returning home brought- and continues to bring- what has been commonly termed as “reverse-culture shock”; ultimately, this is the same experience as when one enters a new, different country or area that has a different culture than what they experience as home. Reverse, therefore, is having experienced this new culture, and returning to one that is familiar, but changed, questioned or perhaps even un-relatable through the experience of the new culture. One example for me helped me to further understand this: I had been driving myself in Canada for at least 4 years, yet after 3 months in a country where traffic drove on the opposite side of the road, I was suddenly questioning which way I was supposed to do it. This did not help with taking my G test a few months after returning, and sometimes still it is something that has to be a conscious though- not instinctual, as it was before. As more time went on, I felt frustrated with this experience. Many of the things that were making me feel this aversion were questions of human interaction- why people would not share space on a bus when in Kampala folks would make room for as many people as possible. I missed the community and close connections that I experienced in the big city of Kampala.
Since coming home, I have taken to building my experience of Uganda into my every-day- I began a placement at my local HIV Organization, doing similar work to the AIDS Service Organization that I was working with in Kampala, where I had had all of my training and learning of HIV to that point. It was interesting to be in a similar space here, comforting in fact to continue to work within a topic that I had grown to love while in Uganda, yet interesting that the way stigma, HIV status and testing differs from Southwestern Ontario and Kampala, Uganda. Having these reminders, not only of the beautiful and positive parts of the trip, but also the social issues and struggles that were connected to it, can be incredibly powerful in keeping that experience alive and well. It is easy to ‘sugar-coat’ the stories when we come home, sharing the cute antidotes and fun photos with our friends and families- almost keeping on those rose-coloured sunglasses even when we move farther away from the equator’s sun. Perhaps this is ‘easier’ because that experience was ours, your own feelings and memories may not translate, for reasons more than just language differences. It can be difficult to instead share those more difficult experiences- of witnessing poverty and slums in a very real and close context, perhaps working with HIV, TB or malaria- diseases that are either rare or ignored in our own countries, striking differences in the availability of education and employment. Yet, as those who have experienced these contrasts- these details can be the most riveting, empowering to change and well, life-changing, for both those that experience them and hear of them.
Personally, I struggled greatly with this change, and ended up reaching out to a lot of counselling services in trying to manage and understand what I had experienced and was experiencing since coming home. Many folks who travel speak of their experience as life-changing, and while this is sometimes considered cliche, it often seems to be the most accurate description when coming home. Many will say things in comment to how little those that they connected with in this new country had, yet they are happier or more grateful than those familiar faces at home. Of course there is something to be said here for perspective, cultural standards and traditions, and how these travellers are interacting with those of their host country, but the point remains that a difference is noticed, often more-so in the reflections of returning home.
There is often a lot of privilege in travelling, and I question my own bias and status in this experience often. Firstly, an international experience, through University, in a country where I became a visible minority (therefore I am not usually), so even in Canada I come from a very privileged place. Then going to a country where I am viewed as even more so, I have really tried to be open to every part of understanding where this places me in the world and my experiences. Working in a social-justice, anti-oppressive service setting is something that I was already quite set on, and this experience opened infinite questions for me, all which I was trying to answer here at home. Being a part of FullSoul has been therapeutic, inspiring and life-changing in its’ own way; I remain connected to those that are also passionate about positive community-based change, the Uganda that I adore, and connecting with others that share these passions.
The most sense that I can make of coming home is this:
I have scarves bought in Uganda that still have some of that dirt-red colour to them. Those red marks were created there from walks to the market, boda-boda rides home after work, afternoons laying under the mango tree, nights cooking with my Ugandan family. They, for some time after still smelled of the busy copper and ruby streets in Kampala and the country. These scarves were strong and well-made- they made it through safaris, long work-days and a flight across the globe- yet delicate in their cloth, the fine fabric which makes them up and holds them together. They must be washed by hand, even here in Canada. I am sure that on a delicate setting, with some special detergent and fancy settings on a machine they would be okay. But I missed washing by hand, even now, but I know other ways are possible and perhaps more efficient. Now, however, I avoid this process to maintain the dirt. Sometime having those changed experiences, having some of that red dirt in my life, just seems right now, and washing, by hand, as gently as possible, keeps some of that red in my life. So I will keep hand-washing, I keep some of that dirt in the fabric, I keep working with FullSoul and finding ways to bring into my days the lush and harsh beauty, busied calm and complex simplicity of the life and love that experienced in Uganda, until I can return to my Ugandan home.
Social Media Manager at FullSoul
To read this post, please visit: Save the Mothers – How is Africa?
People heard, and continue to hear the realities of not just Christina’s story, but the stories of the thousands of women of Uganda.
Welcome to our SoulFull blog! We’re excited to have you here, and hope to have you check back often to hear about what we are up to!
We’ve been collecting stories all throughout our start and want to share them with you. Our first blog posts will be flashbacks to experiences and moments that have helped define where we are today. Once we catch you up with where we’re at now, we’ll continue to tell you our stories as they happen. You’ll hear from the many voices that make up our family – each of us sounds a bit different, and we have different things to say but we are all working to use our voices to make a positive, sustainable difference in the life of another.
Stories are important. It is the story of a young woman’s short life that inspired us, and hopefully our stories will inspire you.
Thank you again for being with us on our journey to Sindica for change.
The FullSoul Family