Guest blogger and Women’s Opportunity Network (WON) member Julie Hindmarsh sends us this report from WON’s “Mothers, Daughters and Sisters” Insight Trip to Uganda.
Opening a conversation in Uganda is easy when you ask the question: “What are the challenges you experience in your life?” The women of Opportunity Uganda’s Peace Trust Group talked over each other in their eagerness to share their responses.
One woman said, “I need to rise at 4 a.m. to go to the market to get supplies for my catering business. There are thieves along the road. They know I carry money for supplies. I have been robbed.”
The senior spokesperson for the group stated, “I sell charcoal, which I buy at the market. Some days the charcoal trucks don’t come to market, so I have nothing to sell. With six orphan grandchildren at home, it is hard to feed them when I have no work.”
Another woman complained that city council taxes are too high for her fledgling business. Every businessperson at the market must pay a flat fee regardless of the size of their business.
These statistics on Uganda speak to the challenges that our women clients face:
- 90 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day, making it one of the poorest countries in the world
- Only 52 percent of population is employed in the formal labor force
- 72 percent of Ugandans are forced to store their cash savings at home because of high minimum deposits required by most commercial banks
- Thousands of children die each year from malaria that is curable with a $5 dose of medicine
- Because of Africa’s patriarchal inheritance laws, a husband’s land typically goes to his birth family, not to his widow and children. His brother may not allow the widow and her children to stay and work the land as part of the extended family. The future of a widow with no independent source of income or savings can be a precarious one.
Yet, a spirit of optimism and hope filled our clients’ words when we asked them why they joined the all-women Peace Trust Group. “Women understand each other and each others’ challenges,” one woman said. “They find solutions to challenges together.” Another declared, “Neighbors who don’t have businesses respect us because we have made things happen. They say we are brave to take out a loan and to repay it.” You can see the pride in the women’s faces as they have begun to see themselves as courageous and worthy of respect.
When asked how they spend their profits, 20 voices resounded: “School fees!” They asked if Opportunity could do more for scholarships, especially for the “extra children”– the orphans cared for by each of these families due to HIV/AIDS. (Uganda’s HIV rate is 5 percent, leaving many children orphaned by AIDS.)
They say that Opportunity business loans have helped improve their children’s lives. Then they speak of their dreams for their children’s futures. “She (or he) will be a doctor… an engineer… a nurse… the president.” The women of Peace Trust Group are working very hard to turn these dreams into reality.
Julie Hindmarsh is a WON member who lives in Baltimore, Md. She works as a clinical instructor at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, specializing in public health and global health care. Previously, she was director of the Women’s Cancer Prevention Program and health planner for the Office of Family Resources in the Baltimore County government. Julie currently serves on the Board of Directors for Opportunity as well as for the organization’s microinsurance subsidiary MicroEnsure.
This is the second in the series of blog posts this week from the “Mothers, Daughters and Sisters” Insight Trip to Uganda. Check back in all week long for news and inspiring stories about the women and families of Uganda. To get involved and support the women of WON and Opportunity’s work in Uganda, visit the page for our Virtual “Walk” for Uganda.