February 9, 2018
By Janice Biehn
Ruth and Vincent live in Mitwizi village as members of the Tukwatirewamu Orphan’s group, whose 30 members are all caregivers of orphans. They have six children ranging from seven to 17, and care for them as if they were their own. There used to be seven children.
“My children often fell sick and were ever anaemic,” says Ruth. “One fell sick so often she eventually died, but we didn’t know what disease killed her. When we joined [Send a Cow Uganda], and started attending training — especially about feeding and hygiene — I realized that my daughter would not have died if I was applying what the project is teaching us today.”
PWRDF recently partnered with SACU with a grant of $21,000 to support six months of an ongoing gender empowerment and livelihood development program in the central district of Rakai. Eighty families will benefit in this area, which has the highest proportion of children under 18 who have been double orphaned (both parents are dead), mostly from HIV and AIDS related causes. The poverty here is extreme, with 92% of households considering themselves moderately or severely food insecure according to an August 2016 SACU survey.
Before joining SACU, Ruth and Vincent used traditional farming methods on their three acres of land. But their nutrition was very poor and the children were malnourished. Their income was very low because they had less produce to sell and their medical expenses were high.
With SACU, they have learned to practise subsistence farming, growing coffee, matooke, maize, beans and ground nuts for both cash and food. They learned to apply sustainable farming methods like mulching, contour digging and intercropping. They earn between 80,000 and 100,000 Uganda shillings ($28-$35 Cdn) selling their vegetables each month, and Ruth says their yields will increase even more. They also have more disposable income because they have reduced their medical bills and reliance on buying vegetables. This extra cash pays school fees for their children and allows them to buy other things they need.
Ruth also learned about home hygiene and sanitation. They built tip-taps (a suspended container full of water that you tip to wash your hands), plate racks and a bath-shelter and started digging pits to dispose of waste properly. These measures, along with having ample vegetables to eat, have led to a reduction in disease in her family.
Being involved in the project is also improving gender equity in their home. Before, Ruth did all the domestic chores without the support of her husband and she says she felt unloved. She had no friends because Vincent would not allow her to attend any community gathering or training. “He used to tell me that a woman who gets friends around the village gets bad manners and will get other men. So he kept me in the home without allowing me to go out of our home. In fact, I was a prisoner. That is why I love Send a Cow — it got me out of this prison.”
SACU staff talked to Vincent who eventually allowed her to join the group. According to Robert Tamuzadde, the Project Coordinator, the team used the testimony technique from the neighbouring groups — getting husbands who had allowed their wives to join the group — to persuade him to relent.
Being selected as one of the group’s Community Resource Persons (CRPs) has transformed Ruth’s life. She received training in social development, sustainable organic agriculture and animal management and Ruth’s family never misses a training.
“My relationship with my husband and children is very good,” says Ruth. “My husband reminds me when the group meeting is or even takes me to the meeting venue. I can go for the meeting and he remains at home caring for the children including cooking for them.”
Ruth and Vincent plan to buy more land to grow more crops because they have acquired better farming knowledge from SACU. “We will soon take our children to better schools than the ones they are in now,” says Ruth.
“We lived in terrible conditions”
Kasiita Robert, 22, has also benefitted by participating in SACU. After the death of his parents seven years ago, he and his brother Matoyu Gerald, 17, became caregivers for three younger siblings in Kibonzi Village. (Their 17-year-old sister eloped and has not been seen since.) They are part of the Tulibumu Orphans’ group.
“We lived in terrible conditions,” says Kasiita. “We never had enough to eat even though we had one acre of land. We survived on small food stuffs we were given after doing people’s gardening for them. Our home hygiene and sanitation were very poor because we did not have a pit latrine, tip taps, rubbish pits and plate rack and we often became sick. Sometimes we could earn a living through hiring out our labour and entertaining people.” However, sometimes the work required in exchange for food was vast.
When SACU staff first met this family, they were in desperate condition. They could not express themselves clearly. They lacked self-esteem because they had been branded as hopeless beggars in the community and unknowingly they had accepted the title. They had very few friends, too.
Kasiita was recently elected a Community Resource Person (CRP) with SACU. At first he didn’t think he could do it, but he was encouraged and he accepted. He and other CRPs received training in sustainable organic agriculture, social development and improved animal management.
Now the family grows vegetables around their compound. They are able to eat at least two meals a day and are always busy doing their own garden work, no longer having to exchange their labour for food. They have money to buy basic home items like paraffin, soap, salt and even sugar. “I never thought that we would have sugar in this home but now we are able to buy it,” he says.
As a CRP, Kasiita learned to train other group members and his siblings. Their home hygiene has improved which has led to reduced incidence of sickness, especially skin-related diseases. Thanks to training in animal management, the family established pasture and built a cow shed, and this past October received a cross breed cow.
“Our circle of friends has expanded,” says Kasiita. “We are now Kati tuli bantu,” he says, emphasizing the words in his native language Luganda for ‘a people.’ “This world can turn around.”