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Archive for the ‘Uganda’ Category

An Inspiring Start to My Visit with Global Grassroots’ Teams

Monday, April 25, 2016

Working for Global Grassroots this last year has been an extraordinary experience – and one that has just been ‘kicked up a few notches.’ I am incredibly fortunate to now be in East Africa, getting to better know our dedicated local staff and visiting many of our women’s teams. Most of these meetings with teams have taken place in iconic Africa settings, mats spread under large shade trees amidst thatched roof huts with mothers wearing skirts and head scarves of brightly patterned kitenge (fabric) and nursing their babies. My colleague Francis Kumakech and I began my Gulu, Uganda visits with a group named Cing Ma Wabu (Initiators).

Monday, 11 April 2016
It rained heavily for most of last night and, since the rainy season also means the planting season, everyone in the group was scattered throughout the area surrounding the village planting their crops. It took some time to retrieve some of the team from their fields so our 11.00am meeting got started just around 11.45 with five team members: Helen (Chair of Cing Ma Yabu), Katherine, Grace, Polline, and Pasca.
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Pasca, Polline, Katherine, Helen, and Grace

Cing Ma Yabu works on helping couples strengthen their relationship in an effort to reduce the divorce rate. They use drama and role playing to educate couples about such issues as sharing household responsibilities, women’s rights, and conflict resolution. Not long ago, a woman came to the team looking for help. She said her husband was not sharing in the household tasks nor was he taking care of the things ‘a man is supposed to do.’ The wife had been asking her husband to construct a door to their home; they had been living with a blanket hanging over the opening for quite a long time. In addition, he was prone to spending their money on alcohol and there was not enough left to pay school fees, so their children were not attending school.

Four team members went with the woman to her home to meet her husband, do some role playing, and mediate while the couple discussed their issues. The husband began to understand his part in managing the household and, after a few sessions with the group, there was real harmony in that home. The husband has since built a wooden door for their home and the children are back in school. The husband has been much less likely to go off drinking every day – a change that the group sees with men throughout the village since they began their work. In the last year, Cing Ma Yabu has worked successfully with 15 couples who otherwise were heading for divorce.

When they first completed their training through Global Grassroots’ Academy for Conscious Change, there were 20 members. Their success in improving life throughout their village enticed others to join, particularly some of the men and women whose marriages they helped save. They now number 40 and have set that as a cap for membership. Helen, the team’s chair, acknowledges that a team larger than that will be too difficult to manage.

Cing Ma Yabu faces two distinct challenges in their work. The first is transportation. There are few cars where they live which is approximately 20 kilometers outside Gulu along rutted unpaved roads and plenty of dirt track through the brush. Some of the couples seeking help live five or more kilometers away that the group must walk. There are those who live further out in the sub-county that the group is unable to get to.
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The second challenge the team faces can be more dangerous: when they show up at a household to mediate, the husband can be “wild,” often because he is drunk. The team knows they must tread carefully, working very hard to calm him down. Grace commented that, when that happens, “it is not fun” and sometimes all they can do is return when he is sober and able to listen and learn.

Cing Ma Yabu sustains their project by cultivating gardens for those who are either physically unable to do so or have jobs that take them away from home each day. They have managed their funds well and now have a savings account through a nationwide savings and loan association. Through this account, members can both save money and borrow funds should a need arise. Helen remarked that, in addition to seeing the impact their work is having on their community, the savings scheme is a great benefit that helps keep the team together.

A group of grassroots women with little to no education have built a strong, committed team that is bringing domestic harmony to their community, reducing the divorce rate, increasing the number of children who attend school, and improving the economic status of its members. To say I left their village both inspired and humbled is an understatement.

When a Ugandan woman offered me her child

Saturday, March 12, 2011

This is a post I wrote back when we went to Uganda, but never got around to putting it up!

“Husbands,” she said. “That is our biggest problem.” They give their wives a meager allowance, beat them when there isn’t enough food, and beat them again when they ask for money to buy more food. An Acholi woman recently described this cycle when we attended a meeting of her women’s association under a tree in Lira, Uganda. In Pader and Kitgum – towns further north and more affected by the war – women complain of HIV contracted through rape by the rebel army, the struggle to feed their illegitimate children, and the stigmatization they face from families who feel angry that their daughter served the rebel cause, even if she was abducted and forced to kill or be killed.*

“Can you give us money for school fees?” they asked us. “We have all taken in orphans, but we can’t afford to pay their school fees.” Christina and I explained the Global Grassroots model of giving money to support sustainable social ventures instead of individuals; in other words, no hand-outs. But they really wanted a donation. We’d been warned about this ‘Dependency Syndrome’ in the north: after living in IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps where their every need was provided for by NGOs and there was no real need to work, some people are struggling to adjust back to normal society.

“We try to hold a training and I’m in the middle of introducing myself when someone says, “What are you giving us? Food? Money?’ “No, I’m giving you training’”, explained an NGO leader in Kampala, betraying her frustration. When the women in Lira tried another tactic and asked me to buy an overpriced, unattractive and unfinished pot, I stared at the lumpy clay and sloppy silver paint and tried to remember that some of them had probably lived over 20 years in the camps. They knew life could be sustained entirely by foreigners. I didn’t want to think about their children who were born in the camps and denied the experience of witnessing people working to support their families.

“What would I do with a pot like this?” I tried logic.
“Plant something.”
“How will I get it back to Kigali? It’s bigger than that child!” I tried logic with a bit of humor.
“Carry it.”
“It’s too big! And I don’t really like the color. If I take this pot now, you will find it on the side of the road in two kilometers.” I was straightforward, and they laughed again, finally accepting defeat.  We continued talking: about the war, the poor planting weather and finally our social change model and the conditions of women in Rwanda.  Two women, Josephine and Betty, spoke directly to us in English, indicating a decent education.  We acquiesced their requests for photos and stood up to go. But they couldn’t help one more appeal.

“Please, can you help us pay school fees? Or do you know a donor?”
“No, I’m sorry.”
A small boy, breast-feeding from one of the widows, was thrust towards me. “Will you take the child?”
I smiled. “Well, it’s either the pot or the child, choose one!”
They laughed. “The child! The child!” We all laughed, somewhat anxiously.

The next day, typing reports in a coffee shop in Kampala, my phone rang. “Hello?” It was Josephine, one of the English-speaking widows from Lira. She had bought credit for her pay-as-you-go cell phone to call me and wish us a safe journey to Rwanda.

“And tell the Rwandan women we say hi! Please send them our best wishes.”  Mixed in with their offers of pots and orphans and the undeniable burdens carried by women after the war was an interest in a sort of cross-cultural friendship. They were calling me because they felt a sort of kinship with other female victims of war. Or, depending how cynical I’ve become, just because they wanted to practice their English.
*Visit this link for more information about the LRA’s war in Northern Uganda. http://www2.invisiblechildren.com/history-of-the-war

One of the women we met in Lira, Uganda. Many of the women adopted orphans after the war and have children of their own, and they struggle to pay school tuition for all of them. I'm not completely sure, but I think I might have been able to take this child home...


Uganda: Snapshots

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

We covered a lot of ground in Uganda: Entebbe, the Ssese Islands, Kampala, Jinja… then up north: Gulu, Kitgum, Pader, Lira.  We met with two dozen Ugandan individuals and organizations involved in social entrepreneurship, women’s empowerment, or trauma healing.  The following are visual glimpses of a few of the organizations we met and a few of the places and people that made us marvel.

Kalangala, on the Ssese Islands. The Ssese Health Effort for Development (SHED) advocates for the most vulnerable members of the islands' population. Their current focus is on economic empowerment of marginalized or HIV+ women. SHED were amazing hosts, and Caitlin and I loved our time in this beautiful environment, learning about SHED's tremendous diversity of initiatives.

SHED helped build the fish-drying racks in this fishing community. The racks now belong to a group of community women identified by local leaders as particularly vulnerable.

Rapids on the Nile! Near Lake Victoria, the Nile's source. This photo comes nowhere close to conveying the real violence, power, and size of the river.

The Nile at sunset near Jinja, Uganda.

Gulu town at sunset. The round, thatched homes are characteristic of the northern region/"Acholi Land." During the many years when this region was ravaged by the LRA, masses of "night commuters" (rural children afraid of abduction into Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army of child soldiers) slept on these "urban," slightly safer streets every night.

Hearts with a Safe Harbor works with at-risk youth in Gulu District. Here, one youth group performs a traditional Ugandan dance.

Another youth group dances! Drummers are just out of sight.

A home in Kitgum, another recovering region of the north. This morning, a women's group that is part of the grassroots organization Live Again is learning to build fuel-efficient stoves from termite mud and sawdust. The cost of firewood is prohibitively high in this area. The group plans to share their new knowledge with several of the other Live Again groups, who will in turn teach women in their communities.

This "self-help" group of women is supported by CRO (Child Restoration Outreach) of Lira. Members contribute a very small amount of money each week that, when pooled, provides one or two women the capital to start a small business or other economic venture. Next week, it's someone else's turn. The women pay back the loans after a month with interest, so the group's collective capital continues to grow. Some women's groups take on social initiatives, too, like combating the stigmatization of HIV/AIDS victims.

 

Our friend and driver in the north, Joseph, stops to buy some chickens on a roadside in Lira, northern Uganda.

A dormitory at the Pader Girls Academy. Pader District was horribly affected by the north's decades of civil war. Pader Girls Academy provides a high school education or vocational training in tailoring or catering to girls whose schooling was disrupted by the war. Most students fall in these categories: teenage mothers, orphans, child heads of families, and formerly abducted girls who were given to Kony's soldiers as trophy "wives."



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