Thursday, 24 January 2019

Visiting Women's Groups in Uganda

Throughout the autumn and winter I had the chance to visit several women’s groups in different parts of Uganda. I work with a ladies group in Kikooba village since July and I was curious what are the motivations, dynamics of other groups in the country. The ladies were everywhere welcoming and were happy to show me their art. They did not mind to answer to my questions and tell me about their life. I visited groups in Jinja, Kampala and Kabale. In the recent months I made interviews with not less than 50 women. My main interest was the reason why they start these groups and how they see their future.

Regarding the history of the groups I found two main reasons. First is that these groups normally function as self-help financial institutions. How it works is that a couple of friends decide to form a group with a minimum monthly fee. They gather the money together and once a member needs a loan she approaches the group. Then they decide together whether to provide the requested amount or not and define a favourable interest rate. Sooner or later the group is growing; more members, more income, more financial possibilities. Generally these groups have other role as well. I met a group who offers free courses in tailoring, rabbit keeping, gardening and piggery. Other groups engaged in crafts. When the member has an income from the products she (sometimes he) can keep the earning and give a small portion to the group. By these activities the fortune of the group grows. When I first heard about these “mini banks” I did not understand why women are not turning to real banks. Then I went to a bank myself in order to make a simple currency change and I understood. After waiting hours and several attempts (there was always some document missing), I gave up. In Uganda banking system in rural areas is still in a developing status. Opening a bank account is not as simple as we think, especially if the person is lacking of personal documents. Getting loan is even harder. To overcome this issue women mobilise themselves. Due to the financial services many people join these groups. And if they are there anyway why not to learn some skills? I interviewed young members who told me that traditional crafts are about to perish however by the help of elder members of the financial groups they took liking for creating baskets, mats, jewels and clothes.

During the interviews I asked the founders of the groups was there any other motivation other than the financial service. The founders of one of the groups in Kabale told me that they feel responsibility for the society. They wished to help vulnerable people. Now there are people living with disability, single mothers and orphans among their members. Through the skills that they teach they provide an income generating activity for these people who are at the periphery of Ugandan society.

The members were honest with me and told that the main motivation is to find any activity to earn money. These women are normally the ones who did not have chance to study and do not have jobs thus no regular income. They told me about their struggle to support their families, to find enough money to buy food or to pay the school fees of their children.

When I asked them what they do with their earning every single woman put school fees for their children at the first place. Ugandan people know the importance of education which is the only way to raise from poverty in a sustainable way. By supporting these women’s groups I feel that we can help them to make the next step for a better future.

 pictures from Kabale, close to the Rwandan border

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Workshop about Gender Topics in Kikooba, Uganda

End of November a 3-day workshop was held in Kikooba village, Uganda. The workshop was focusing on gender topics.

Gender is a relatively new area to research. It is interesting to observe the subject in an East-African rural setting. Are there differences? How will the girls react for the topics we come up? Will they even attend to the training? Will they be interested?

Yes! In fact they were interested!

On the first days of the training a colleague was talking about sex, sexually transmitted diseases and menstrual hygiene. Before the training one day I sat down with the girls from my class and sent out the boys to play football. I wished to ask them about their hygiene practices and sexual experiences. The girls were very shy but when I explained that a friend of mine will come and they can ask whatever they wish they became enthusiastic.

For my question about menstrual hygiene they told me that in the village they do not have access to pads or any kind of sanitary tools. Basically how it works is that they use old clothes to keep the flow. According to data of Afripads often girls are not able to attend to school due to their periods as they are afraid of leaking. Just imagine…one week per month…that means approximately 20% of the school year. These girls are vulnerable to left behind and might drop out at a young age. They are likely to be engaged in early marriages and child pregnancy what leads to dependency on their husbands.

 For the question with who they can share their questions and who prepare them for turning to a woman they answered “no one’”. Their mothers and older sisters are not talking about the topic and feel ashamed of it. The young girls learn about this natural phenomena only from their fellow class mates. They do not know what is happening in their bodies.

 On the first day of the training our aim was to break the taboos and talk openly about the physical aspects of being a woman. Thanks to Afripads’ donation we were able to distribute reusable sanitary kits that the girls  can use up to one year.

On the second day Teresa EUAV was holding an interactive workshop about female roles in the society and leadership. It was amazing to see how the girls talked about their dreams and ambitions to become one day a doctor or business woman.

On the third day Enrico EUAV held a workshop about the basics of photography. The girls learnt about the techniques they can apply once they have the chance to shoot. At the end of the workshop disposable cameras were shared with the girls with a simple request; take a picture about themselves, their families, their role in the society and the life of the village. The cameras will be collected shortly and the pictures will be developed. 

Can’t wait to see my lovely Kikooba through the eyes of the girls!

Monday, 7 January 2019

Landing to Uganda

On the late afternoon of April 2018 i was sitting in the office at my work desk. As a bad habit i tend to check my Facebook account and i was intrigued by a post by one of my friends - apply to work as a volunteer in Uganda for one year, deadline is 19.00 the same day. After 7 years of dedication to my profession as an ceramicist in a tiny village in middle of Estonia i had developed an idea i have to find out more about diversity of life. I had never thought of going to Africa and had no such dream to do so, but there was this offer and i as it had caught my eye it was right thing in right time. How people think and what is important for them. So at 20.00 at the same day not being really sure what i am doing, i sent off my application.
After a month and a half of training program, that almost scared me off from going anywhere and some months of waiting to be chosen to go, i set off on 15th of November 2018 to become an EU Aid Volunteer in North of Uganda in Arua and Pakwach.
My knowledge about Africa and its geography has been literally poor. Taking off in Amsterdam to Entebbe had to check several times from my boarding pass, is it really the place i am supposed to go. Moreover sitting in the plane i realized we are stopping somewhere called Kigali, i had never heard of. As i found out it is the capital of Ruwanda, a neighbouring country to Uganda.

Arriving at 22.30 local time to Uganda the only familiar thing where little cockroaches running on one of the counters inside Entebbe airport. As an memory form my travels in India the locals would say "A cockroach is part of the India family". Previously i have had a feeling of disgust seeing those animals, now i was looking at them as comforting old friends in an unfamiliar environment. 

I buy from the kiosk local sim card for my phone. I am charged 2000 schillings. I cant follow all the zeroes and at first i say i dont have so much money. In euros it s about 50 cents and after discovering i have in my wallet 200 000 schillings i also buy some internet. As a surprise i am announced that for using whatsapp and facebook in Uganda you have to pay tax 6000 schillings monthly. I feel disturbed by this unexpected tax. It takes about an hour to do all these procedures though i never started to use it.

My drive from Entebbe airport to Nansana, suburb near Kampala, takes about an hour. As coming to Africa i did not take much warm things since my assumptions of African countries are burning hotness all the time, and as we proceed in the car i am cold. I am starting to be afraid of getting a flu. Passing trough suburbs towards Nansana there is smell of hot days, dust, burning oil from sauce pans, fresh cut meat and fish at the road side, rottening trash and smell of different trees and open water. Dirty food stalls make me curious to try those exotic foods on offer. I am sure i will come and try, maybe just not tomorrow. All people on the streets are black.
On my first day in Ugandan Pioneers office i am not sure where and why i have come. All is so different and intimidating. On my first day i am getting a private course a about Ugandan history and constitution. I feel hot and panicking, there is no air. in the room and i fight not to pass out. It takes some time to breathe in all in.