On our last day in Uganda, we visited the village of Bududa. After driving for an hour and a half we came to the small village at the base of Mt. Elgon. There is a bridge over a small stream which is crumbling and impassible so we have to park the two vans and walk a half to three quarters of a mile mostly uphill in the very hot noon day sun to get to the location of our meeting. I don’t do well in the heat and stop several times in whatever shade is available.
We arrive at the courtyard outside the school where we’ll participate in the graduation ceremony and awarding of gifts for the best savers in the loan groups. We receive the “usual” reception that we’ve experienced at each village we’ve visited. That is, the women erupt into song and dance, greeting us with hugs and thanks for providing the micro loans. Although this is the third village we’ve visited, this welcome is still surprising and overwhelming. This expression of joy and sincere gratitude by these ladies is really touching.
The long ceremony included speeches by local dignitaries, members of local government. They all praise the program and the progress that the lady borrowers have made. The top savers in each loan group are given gifts such as laterns or irons. Creating a saving culture is an important part of the program. The day also includes improvisational skits which portray positive behaviors that a successful borrower needs. The ladies seem to be natural actors and this is a very effective, fun learning tool.
After the formal ceremonies, we share a meal with the ladies. Everywhere we have go, the ladies are generous hosts. They prepare pot luck meals for a hundred or more guests and we enjoy eating the local food. It is typically a chicken dish, rice, matoke (a cooked banana dish–also called ugali), and chapati, a kind of flat bread. The women are anxious for us to eat well!
Since it is not safe to drive on Ugandan roads at night, we have to leave promptly. We discover that while we’ve been inside enjoying the day’s program, our two van drivers have repaired the bridge in the local village so that we don’t have to walk back down to our vans. We load up our 9 seat van with 14 people and before we can depart discover that the van has a flat tire. Our driver changes the tire quickly and we head out. I’m grateful that we’re giving a ride to 11 program trainers as it gives me a chance to talk with them about their work. I’ve seen these ladies in action and they do a remarkable job. I hear tales of them traveling to the various loan hubs to do training and the difficulties they encounter. They are very smart women who have started as borrowers in the program and worked their way up to become trainers, many speak multiple languages and are former teachers. They are great role models for the new borrowers.
We arrive back at our hotel after a drive that is partially in the dark and it is very apparent why driving at night is not safe! The roads are really terrible, dirt roads that are full of pot holes and difficult to navigate in daylight, but at night, there is no light, lots of people walking on the roads, and there are lots of motor cycles weaving in and out of traffic. By the time you ride for an hour or two under these conditions, you’re exhausted.
The following day we have a 5 to 6 hour drive to Kampala which has some of the worst traffic I’ve ever seen. We have two daughters of trainers going with us. We are dropping them off at University and boarding school in Kampala before we go another 2 hours onto the Entebbe Airport and our flight home.
We go with mixed feelings. We are all glad to be going home but equally sad that our journey is at an end. We have had a very compatible, fun group of ladies, sharing a remarkable trip.
After visiting a developing country like Uganda, we know that, we, in the United States, have truly won the economic lottery of the world just by being born in this country. The contrast to the life we live in the U.S. is dramatic and it is humbling. And I am so glad that we at TGC are working to improve these people’s lives. Almost half the world’s population is struggling to live on less than $2/day and we have seen what that means. In Uganda, you don’t see separate shanty towns or poor areas. Every area is poor. Poverty is the norm and it is numbing to the soul to drive and see mile after mile of depressing sights — shacks that pass for homes, children wearing filthy, torn clothing, people begging for food or money, children carrying heavy water containers on their heads.
It is shocking that we live in such comparative luxury in this country and so many live in such unimaginable conditions. I feel a sense of outrage that people are living like this. I want more and more people to know about these conditions and to join me in working to help these people lift themselves out of poverty.
A micro loan of as little as $50 can enable a woman to start a small business that will transform her life and the life of her family. Thank you to all who have helped us provide the 620 micro loans we gave last year. If you have not yet donated, please consider doing something extraordinary and go to www.GreaterContribution.org to change a life.