Priorities are different for everyone, and we adapt to the comfort of our individual lifestyles. What is a priority for me, may not necessarily be a priority for you. Such is the case with the women of Grassroots Uganda.
Over the past six years, we have brought over $180,000 in income to our ladies. We work with five Women’s Groups, and our Artist Co-op. These together incorporate about 200 women. Each Group governs itself, and while Grassroots counsels the women in areas like business, money management, and investing in the future, the ladies are free to make their own life choices.
Some of the ladies take these lessons to heart and instead of remaining happy in their grass-thatched mud huts, they build permanent homes made of brick with sturdy roofs and cement floors. They create small businesses like starting roadside kiosks that sell every day commodities such as sugar and soap, and they invest in boda-bodas (motorcycle taxies), from which they make a daily wage. Many ladies start planting cash crops such as Irish potatoes in lieu of basic subsistence farming, and they begin rearing livestock such as pigs, chickens, goats, and even in some circumstances, a milk cow or two.
All of the ladies use the base of their earnings for fundamental needs, such as guaranteeing food for their children, medical care, and their children’s school fees.
As we all know, saving money can be very, very difficult. There are always bills that need to be paid, things that need to be bought, and a plethora of minor crisis that seem to siphon out our coin purses. To make the process of saving money easier, some of the groups have started what they call a “revolving loan,” which is basically not a loan at all. Each time the group receives money from Grassroots Uganda, the ladies take a pre-determined lump sum out of the groups’ earnings and give it to one woman. The woman is then free to use the money however she sees fit. They do this each time they receive money until each woman has taken her turn, then they start all over again.
One of our biggest success stories is that of Aisha Nandudu. Aisha is a single mother of six girls, ranging in age from one to 15 years old, the eldest of which is deaf. She recently separated from her husband, of whom she was the third wife, and with no financial support from him, she is determined to improve her life and ensure that all six of her girls are fully educated, so that their lives will not be as difficult as hers.
When we met Aisha, she was living in a rented hut made of mud and bricks with a basic dirt floor. Luckily, Aisha speaks English, and she is one of the few people in the extremely rural village of Namakuma that does. Since we have to be able to communicate with our partner groups, she was appointed as the Grassroots Uganda Representative (our liaison so to speak) for the Namakuma Women’s group. Apart from being a member of the women’s group, Aisha is also a member of our Artist Co-op and is the featured artist for our Go Organic! line of seed jewelry, which she gathers from the swamps and rainforest around her. In addition, Aisha weaves baskets and rolls paper beads with her women’s group. She macramés our coin jewelry, plants and sells cash crops, roasts and sells maize on the roadside in the evenings, works as a midwife’s assistant, and as she can read and write fluently, she serves as secretary to the Local Council (modern day village Chief).
Aisha saves her money and has been an awesome example of what someone can accomplish when she believes and invests in herself. Since she started with Grassroots, Aisha has bought an acre of land, built a two bedroom house on it, and enrolled herself in tailoring classes in a nearby village so that she can earn more money with Grassroots Uganda. Since starting her classes, Aisha has begun making the sling bags, aprons, head bands, coin purses, table-runner napkin sets, and potholders. One day I asked her if I was giving her too much work, and she replied by saying that she would just give up sleeping.
Aisha’s been dealt a hard hand in life. Due to some questionable choices when she was young, her family married her off at a very early age to become the third co-wife of a much older man and live in an extremely rural village with basically no prospects. In a culture where women are still often scene as property, and can be used and discarded as the man sees fit, Aisha knows how challenging a life of poverty can be and she does not want this life for her daughters. Aisha’s first priority is always her daughter’s education. Recently, she’s been sending her daughters to stay with her half brother. She sends money for their school fees and their upkeep. This is much better than the children’s eight kilometer one way walk from Namakuma to the nearest decent school. Aisha’s daughters will be educated. They will be able to get decent jobs, make their own decisions in life, and basically do everything Aisha wishes she could have done for herself.
In closing, Grassroots Uganda can’t help everyone. The world is too big and too complicated. But for a few, hard working women, we can help them change their lives.