Uganda – The Pearl of Africa
In January 2017, Warren Mauger and I headed off to Uganda to visit our Savings and Loans projects. This was a very special visit for both of us for a number of reasons;
- It was my first visit back to Uganda in 5 years
- It was Warrens’ first ever visit to Uganda and to our projects
- The visit came after just over 2 years of fundraising challenges and events through EPIC Challenges.
Winston Churchill had this to say about Uganda, “For magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant life – bird, insect, reptile, beast – for vast scale – Uganda is truly the pearl of Africa.”
The first time I visited Uganda I remember the amazing contrast of the deep red soil and vibrant green vegetation. As we left Entebbe Airport those memories of the beauty of the Uganda landscape came flooding back. Churchill nailed it with words such as magnificence, colour and profusion of brilliant life.
Warren and I travelled to Luweero with Adrine and Joseph, two members of the amazing team we have on the ground in Uganda. Our schedule for the week was a few days in Luweero visiting savings groups and community projects, then mid-week to travel to another district (approx 8 hours away by car) called Kyotera, again to visit savings groups and community projects.
On our first day in Luweero we visited an amazing group in the morning who started on the savings journey 9 months ago. We spent all morning with the group, observing their savings process and we then travelled with members to capture their impact stories. Every single group member had an incredible story of how our projects have empowered them to overcome abject poverty.
Below is a picture of the group during their savings and loan weekly meeting. One of the things about our work that continues to inspire us is that the impact our projects have is real, its about people and families turning their own lives around. To meet so many people on our first day that have been impacted in a positive way was incredible. The impact included a number of people building themselves new houses, including Annette in the picture below. Annette has gone from a mud hut for a house to a larger brick built house for her and her family.
Here is a picture of the old and new house. What a transformation, look at the difference!
Over the next couple of days we traveled around the Luweero District rising our groups, meeting the people and families that our projects are impacting and capturing many amazing impact stories. Every group we visited gave us a phenomenal welcome, full of dancing, colour, singing and drums. It was hugely humbling and inspiring.
It was no surprise that Warren and I grabbed a few selfies with the amazing people we were meeting, they seemed to be pretty happy with the selfies as you can see from the pictures below.
We heard so many stories of the impact of our projects, many small businesses being started such as hair salons, tailors, brick making and small shops being started.
One highlight in Luweero was the chance to visit a group as they went through their Action Audit process. The action audit is the process of handing out the savings to group members at the end of there 12 month cycle. Group members will have been saving, taking loans and repaying loans during there 12 month cycle. On average each member had saved between £30 and £50 during the 12 months. This is a life changing amount of money. The joy as they collected their savings was astounding, singing, dancing and drums. The group members had also planned a big lunch together to celebrate, now that is community. Below is a picture of one of the group members collecting their savings.
After three days in Luweero we made our way to the Kyotera District. This was an 8 hour journey in the car, including around 2 hours just to get through the busy capital Kampala.
Our three days in Kyotera were to be filled with visits to savings & loans groups and also two schools that have been positively impacted by our projects within the District.
Below is a picture of one of the groups we spent time with in Kyotera. They were pretty special for a number of reasons, including getting Warren up and dancing with them! Their group name translated into English as “Let’s work together“. The group have started their own children’s’ savings & loans group as they believe that teaching children the importance of saving will transform Uganda. We visited two schools in the Kyotera District, both schools are very special. The first was Emiti Emito School. On arrival we were greeted by parents, teachers and pupils from the school. We were told how our savings & loans projects were enabling parents to send their children to Emiti Emito school, as they could now afford the school fees.
The headteacher of the school provided us an update on how well the school is performing and also their vision for using solar power to increase the teaching hours of the school to earlier in the mornings and later in the evenings. Below are a couple of pictures of some of the amazing pupils and the school itself.
On our final day we travelled to St Leonia School. The story behind the school is inspiring, it started in 2013 (the same year as This Is EPIC), and it started with just 6 pupils attending the school. We started a savings and loan group in the community in early 2014, St Leonia now has 183 pupils attending the school. Amazing.
What is even more amazing is how the parents, many of which are members in our savings & loans groups, are contributing the on-going development of the school with their savings and money generated from the small businesses they have started. The school has a big vision and thanks to the support from people in Guernsey is now able to complete the building of a new classroom for Primary Year 6 and also to concrete all the floors in their classrooms, which are currently just dirt and dust.
Below are a few pictures of the school and the pupils.
After leaving St Leonia school we travelled back to Kampala, where we were staying for the night before a 33 hour journey back to Guernsey.
It gave Warren and I the chance to reflect on our time in Uganda visiting our projects. We know our savings & loans projects work, we know that they empower people to save money, they support people starting income generating activities and small businesses but there was much we learnt during our visit that we hadn’t realised is such a big benefit from our projects.
The first is something that we have called human capital. Every single savings group we met with spoke of how the group has become like a family. They share concerns, problems and ideas together every week. Many group members have gained confidence from being part of a group and now have a feeling of togetherness in the battle against poverty. Speaking to the group members and being with them you could tangibly feel the togetherness they had. Some group members would walk 2-4km each week to attend the group meeting, meaning the human capital benefit is a huge part of the benefits off our projects.
The second thing completely destroys the perception that people in poverty just need a handout or aid. EVERY group we met we asked them what they felt they needed to help them to continue to overcome poverty in a sustainable way. Not one person or one group replied with “more money”. Every single response we received was a request to “teach us the skills and train us.” This was such a consistent message across our groups, the need and desire for basic financial literacy skills and small business training/skills. This is something that we are actively working on at This Is EPIC and we are excited to be able to commit to starting to deliver the training required by our groups during 2017.
It was an amazing visit to Uganda. The people we met were so humbled and appreciative of the support from the people of Guernsey, an island some 6,000km away.
Lives are changing because we are providing people living in extreme poverty with a help up rather than just a handout, and in the future we’ll be providing them with skills and training needed to make the journey out of poverty even more sustainable.
There is much more I could write regarding the visit, but I’ll stop here with a simple thank you to everyone that supports our work. We’ll never give up on the work we do.