Yesterday, I visited yet another small village, Tororo, where women have come together to try to improve their lives and the lives of their families. I love the spirit of the group. They call their group the “Winning Women”. It was clear in our meeting that they do indeed intend to win. Their leader, Suzan, a young mother of three, is determined and purposeful. She will lead this group to greatly improved lives.
Like many women they are a little frightened about taking out loans. Their economic life up to this point has been so fragile that this is a big step. They asked many questions including whether or not TGC would take their houses if they were not able to repay their loans! This gives some insight into what they’ve experienced or seen others experience with loan programs. While most micro loan programs are very ethical, there are loan providers who are little more than loan sharks. No wonder they’re apprehensive.
After a tough drive in heavy rain, I went back to my comfortable hotel with plenty of hot water, electricity (!) and internet connection– such a contrast to the living conditions of most people here, a difference not lost on me. In the evening, I attended a meeting of the Rotary Club of Mbale. They were most welcoming and gracious and asked me to talk about the work of TGC in Uganda. They were thrilled that we are doing this work. The club President Richard Kirya, works in development and has now introduced me to several Ugandan women who have groups they would like us to work with. The need is endless!
Today, I head to Jinja to meet with the Pit-Tek loan group and view their businesses and tomorrow to Kamuli to visit another group that has requested our help and then to the airport for a late night flight home. This may likely be my last post from Africa as I don’t believe I’ll have good internet access tonight or tomorrow.
As this trip winds down, I feel a little sadness at leaving these lovely ladies behind who need our help so badly but also happy that I’ve meet these groups and have determined that we can help them. I almost want to stay and work with them here all year round and yet I know I cannot. I want to be back home with all my creature comforts and I need to be back in the U.S., working with all of you to raise the funds to make the help for these ladies possible; to turn their modest dreams into reality.
Today I travelled to the village of Lwaboba, half an hour outside of the city of Mbale in Eastern Uganda. I was invited to visit a group of ladies who live in this tiny village and who have formed a self-help organization, The Women’s Hunger Eradication Project, to contribute small bits of money to a common savings account to help their members with school fees for their children or as one member of the group told me “to try to get something out of the little we have.” I am continually inspired by the drive of the Ugandan women to do more with their lives despite the enormous, daily struggles they face for the ordinary, basic necessities of living. But these ladies would like to do more. Most of the group members would like to start a small business or already operate a small business of some kind but are barely making enough to feed themselves and their families. They know that a micro loan could dramatically improve their businesses, their incomes and their futures.
They were all excited that we might bring a micro loan program to their village and also apprehensive. They had all heard of other women who had bad experiences with other loan groups (i.e., loan sharks) and had a lot of concerns. I described the loan program and answered all their questions and then met with the leadership of the group, three very accomplished, intelligent and capable women with the important skills needed to lead a micro loan program.
Many in the group told me they had lost hope of ever getting out of poverty. It is a real honor and exciting to be able to turn their hopes into reality. We will fund loans for these ladies. Isn’t it great that ordinary people like you and I can do something so extraordinary? Let me introduce you to the next TGC loan group.
I headed back to my hotel in Mbale driving through heavy rain. I have never been here in the rainy season before and it is as heavy and torrential as I’d been told! Tomorrow, I head to yet another tiny village to talk with women who are asking for our help.
I’m in the northern city of Gulu where the final stages of the Ugandan civil war continued as late as 2006 and, thus, this city is still trying to recover from all that the war rought on it’s inhabitants, especially the women and children. Last night I was priveleged to attend the “Women for Peace Award Ceremony” celebrating Women’s Resources for Peace and Recovery. This was the 6th annual celebration of the ways in which women have aided the recovery of the region. A combined effort of The Women’s Global Empowerment Fund and the Volunteer Action Network, this evening included speakers from many sectors of the community, lauding and challenging women for their efforts to uplift the community.
Themes among the speakers were the resilence of the human spirit and women are the solution to many of the country’s problems. These themes especially resonated with me as they are two of the many reasons why The Greater Contribution provides micro loans and training to the women of this deeply impoverished country. Consistently we see that giving a hand up to women means that her entire family and her community improves, a fact echoed by many present.
The evening included incredible, highly energetic regional dancers and musicians performing with great passion and enthusiastically received by all. Dinner was provided and the spirit of celebration and sisterhood was infectious.
Today, I witnessed a drama festival organized and presented by micro loan borrowers in Gulu. It included song, dance and drama. The urge toward self expression is so universal. Most of the presentations centered around women’s issues including their struggles for equality, creating a sustainable income for their families and domestic violence. In an atmosphere of such abject poverty, it is inspiring to see the creativity of these women prospering. Despite the impoverished conditions in which they live, they still manage to find an outlet for the expression of issues that are so critical to their lives. They continue to impress me with the myriad of ways they rise above their circumstances.