Grandmother Entrepreneurs, by Vu Ndlovu

NdlovuV 1 with caption.JPGThis is my 9th week of a 10-week internship here in Jinja, Uganda. I am mostly working on my final reports, which involves the exciting task of organizing receipts, tallying them up to make sure all the numbers add up and making sure we haven’t overspent. I am also spending this week making sure that implementation of the project I’ve been involved with is near completion.

I’ve been placed with the Organisation for the Good Life of the Marginalized, or OGLM, which works mostly with marginalized women and children. I spent the last 9 weeks working with grandmothers whose grandchildren have been orphaned by AIDS. Most of them live in the village of Buwaiswa. After doing a needs assessment involving 20 grandmothers, we discovered that most of them look after about 4 or 5 grandchildren and don’t have enough income to properly feed or clothe them.

NdlovuV 2 with caption.jpgWe’ve been working to increase their incomes by getting them involved in income-generating projects. Most of the grandmothers have wanted to start projects but don’t have the capital to do so –- they don’t have the collateral that would allow them to borrow at reasonable rates. The goal of the project is to give the grandmothers low-interest loans for all the inputs they need as well as training sessions in any skills they might need to run the projects successfully. To begin with, we have focused on two groups: a group of 6 grandmothers is going to start an agriculture project in which they grow and sell crops (beans, maize, groundnuts) and a group of 4 grandmothers is going to start a paraffin/kerosene (a resource used for light in rural Uganda) project in which they sell paraffin to the rest of the community. The idea is that the funds from their repaid loans will be recycled as new loans to new groups of grandmothers. The project has received a grant of $498.45 from FSD to fund the initial loans for the two groups. OGLM has funded of group of 8 grandmothers who will be running a village kiosk.

NdlovuV 3 with caption.JPGOGLM was supposed to receive a $150,000 grant from the Ugandan Government in November 2007 for its microfinance program. It still hasn’t arrived and no one seems to know when it will come, so for now the microfinance program will be limited to the FSD and OGLM funding mentioned above. Lack of a constant flow of funding and a failure to plan for reduction or cessation of funding seems to be one of the major challenges faced by organizations here. It has certainly been a source of frustration while I’ve been here. Other frustrations (that are now funny in retrospect) include not having electricity at the office for the first 3 weeks and people turning up for meetings 3 hours late on at least 2 occasions.

NdlovuV 4 with caption.JPGWhile we were out visiting the grandmothers yesterday we managed to get the kiosk group to agree to buy their paraffin (for re-sale) from the paraffin group. We anticipated there would be concern and disagreements over the price at which the kiosk group would buy the paraffin. To our surprise, the two groups quickly came to an agreement on the price. No, the major concern for the two groups was who would provide the 20-liter container in which the kiosk group would need to transport the paraffin! We had also provided some notebooks to the groups to encourage them to keep records of their sales and had asked them to bring the books to the record-keeping training session yesterday so we could evaluate their progress. When we asked the agriculture group why they hadn’t brought their books, they promptly responded by asking us how we expected them to keep records when we hadn’t given them any pens!

My host family has been great. Both my host mum and host dad are high school teachers, but my host dad is an avid environmentalist and runs a (plant) nursery out of his back yard. I pretty much live in a forest–he’s planted trees and plants everywhere. It is very beautiful though. My host parents have 3 girls (10, 8 & 2) and look after about 7 relatives who are between the ages of 15 and 23. All the girls sleep in the main house where I am, while all the boys sleep in a smaller house on the property.

Below are some excerpts from a diary I’ve been keeping with observations and stories about life with the family:

Sunday February 24th.
Samuel (not his real name), a neighbor, took me for a four hour hike this morning. I think it might have been punishment for revealing that I was a Manchester United fan. He is a Chelsea fan. Almost every Ugandan Samuel is a passionate supporter of English football (soccer) teams Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool or Manchester United. Samuel is currently training to be a teacher at a teachers’ college in Gulu, northern Uganda. He says it takes about 13 hours to get there by public transport. The school year started about 3 weeks ago, but Samuel is still at home because he can’t afford the trip to Gulu. He would like to work odd-jobs to raise the money to go, but he can’t because when he’s at home he has to take care of the family’s only cow. He doesn’t feel he can leave the task to his mother, though it’s not entirely clear who looks after the cow when Samuel is at school. Samuel doesn’t really want to be a teacher. He would like to join the army. It pays much more and it would give him tremendous pride to serve his country he says. Samuel says he’s a patriot and he would never want to leave Uganda.

Tuesday February 26th.
I had my first chat with Janet, my host family’s 10 year old daughter. I asked her how school was and if she had any homework. School was fine and she did have homework – she had to read four pages about Uganda’s leaders. She read about ‘some who were already dead and some who were not dead.’ Janet says she enjoyed learning about her country’s past and present leaders. I noted to her that I was feeling a little cold and asked her if she was feeling the same. She said not. Janet lost her school sweater back in P3 (Grade 3) and hasn’t had a sweater since. She’s in P5 this year. At first, she did feel cold on the early morning walk to school. Once she got to school, she would have to ask her friends if she could wear their sweaters for a bit to warm up. On some mornings she would wear a ‘jacket’ on her walk to school, but she would have to take it off when she got to school because it isn’t part of the uniform. Now the jacket is only useful for keeping her dry when it rains because, she says, not having a sweater for the last three years has meant she has ‘gotten use to the cold and [doesn’t] feel it anymore’.

Friday March 7th.
My host family’s house, built just under a year ago, is set back from Victoria Road, the street they live on. You can’t see the house from road because of all the trees and vegetation Charles, my host dad, has planted. Closer to the road is their old house where the boys they look after now live. Behind the new house, and partially visible through a thin but dense row of trees, is a cluster of mud huts and houses where one of Charles’s older sisters and her family live. Charles says his sister was supposed to have trained to be a nurse, but ended up as a housewife with a ‘useless’ husband and is now partially supported by Charles. She would have trained as a nurse, but Charles’s father refused to pay a bribe that the head of the school demanded to guarantee her a spot. Charles’s father was a magistrate at the time and as a magistrate, Charles says, he was “too principled and too honest to pay a bribe as little as 100 shillings.”