Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lacking clean water

The people of Karambe Village were very clear during our meeting last Friday that access to clean water is their most pressing social issue. They discussed the multiplicity of other problems facing the community, which includes: lack of electricity, poor schooling for their kids and lack of capital to start projects. The need for water though, is severe. There is a tap about three to five kilometers away from the community yet during the dry season the tap runs dry most days, providing water only a few times a month. The community members quickly spouted out ideas of what to do about this. They suggested drilling a well for the side of the village that is too far from the tap and to build a water storage tank for the tap that is accessible on the other side to have a steady supply of water. While this is a needed project, the cost of doing both a well and a water storage tank may run deep into our projects funds. We defiantly do not want to skimp on this side of the project, if you can, please help support this MicroGrant!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Whenever I leave the city center of Kigali, Rwanda, I see land scattered with people, agriculture and yellow plastic containers used for water. Whether it is a group of kids sitting on the side of the road drinking from their fry oil container, women carrying jugs both on their heads and in their hands or men trudging them across a field, they are all over the place. People are using these containers, most of which are old cooking oil containers, to collect water from public pumps. For many these pumps are the only source of clean water they have access to. The problem is that pumps can be far away from villages that do not touch the main roads. Karambe Village in Bugesere district is one of these. The village was prey to violence during the genocide in 1994, leaving many of the villagers massacred. Since then, some who fled and survived have returned and other family members of those deceased have come to claim land and live from it. Most of the population consists of subsistence farmers. They do not always use clean water because the closest pump is still miles away. Many kids are in school and sent to fetch water when they come home at night but families often resort to pools of dirty water for collection. Fred Rwangasana who has started a chicken coup, banana farm and mushroom project in Karambe, all while holding a job in Kigali, will be helping to facilitate this competition. Within a few weeks we will hear more about the village and its project!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Beginnings in Rwanda

40 people from Bukomero Village, 8 to 40 years old, come together to practice Rwandan traditional dance every week at Umuryango Children’s Network in the village. Umuryango is a home for street children that helps get them into schools and stay off the streets. The dancers formed their group to practice and perform traditional dance out of fear that Rwandan culture is disappearing and the delight in performing along with a need for money. The families of the dancers are poor and many of the dancers try to make some money from performances when they are not in school, working the land or fetching water. They are an enthusiastic bunch and eager to continue dancing but they and their families face many hardships such as under nutrition, poverty and poor education. In the following weeks, they will be spending their Saturdays at the Umryango home to participate in a MicroGrant competition; the first in Rwanda!

Jean Paul, Director of Umuryango Support Network will facilitate the competition with the help from his staff at Umuryango. Jean Paul noted that if the whole village was invited to participate, they would show up, but it would be hard to organize because the village is over 500 people. When I meet people from the villages, they easily talk about problems they face and have ideas of what to do about them. People are really interested in MicroGrant competitions and see it as a chance to try a project to help a situation they are worried about. It makes sense when people don’t have basic securities but have the knowledge to increase their communities well being and are willing to work for it, that the are presented with an opportunity to do so.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A winning situation for all

After retuning from Uganda and spending time with Aaron, the benefits of MicroGrants to everyone involved has become ever clearer to me.

1. Communities benefit: The focus of MicroGrants is of course on the pressing needs of communities who lack basic resources and security. It promotes an increase in a human security such as health care, access to clean water and food security. This is dependent on what problem the community chooses to tackle. The community also gains the experience of organizing and thinking in a community oriented and problem solving fashion. It has the potential to empower communities through providing an opportunity structure for them to organize and solve a local problem. This orients away from the handout model, which can have such devastating effects of reliance and inaction at the individual and community level. It also deviates from typical models of community engagement that “engage” communities, such as partnering or taking advise from community members for programs. The benefits of a MicroGrant competition at the community level are abundant.

2. Facilitators benefit: MicroGrant facilitators can have a range of backgrounds but must be invested in helping under-resourced communities. There are many dedicated community activists who want to help people yet they often lack the resources or structure to do so. MicroGrants provides an opportunity for them to carry out an entire competition, organizing community members, learning about their ideas, helping them write grant proposals and seeing through a completed community project – without having to worry about the funding.

3. Donors and organizers benefit: In a field where problems are endless and appropriate solutions are not so clear MicroGrants provides a fabulous opportunity to improve everyone’s spirits and see clear benefits in individuals and communities. Each grant competition touches dozens of community members and new ones each time. The competition and implementation time often take under a year for completion and the administration of it is simple. This quick completion of a small project makes the work tangible and the effects clear. It also makes it easy to see where money is going and where the benefits are, which can all too often be lost in a sea of development cynicism.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

First MicroGrant Competition in Uganda Kicks Off!

60 women in rural Wanteete Village to compete

Aaron Bukenya, Director of Burgere Education Support Organization (BESO) is working with Spark MicroGrants to facilitate a competition for a $1,000 grant in Wanteete Village, Uganda. The village is about two and a half hours outside of Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. Wanteete residents just barely get by from the crops they grow. Beautiful crops surround people’s homes including vegetables, ground nuts, bananas, corn, millet, pineapple, coffee, vanilla beans and much more. A few chickens and goats roam the grounds. Although their land is fertile and they are able to live substantially from their own food production, their basic needs are barely met – when they are. The nearest health center is five to six miles away and poorly equipped. Most residents of Wanteete are below the poverty line and cannot easily afford medicine or other monetary goods if they need them. Some kids go to school but have to walk miles for a classroom that two hundred plus students try to cram into. There is no electricity and few of the grass-thatched huts that fill the village have latrines.

Aaron dedicates his time to helping underserved children and women in the rural communities of the Bugerere County. He pulls his own time and money to send children to school and organizes women’s groups while also taking care of his family. When he was young, his parents sold their cows and whatever they could to allow him to go to school. As his parents invested in his education, despite their hardships, Aaron is now spending his energy to do what he can for his communities. He founded BESO in 2008. The organization sponsors children’s education and women’s empowerment. You can learn more at: www.besoug.org

This is the first of three $1,000 MicroGrant competitions that Aaron is facilitating in Uganda. We are very excited for these competitions and grateful to Aaron and his coworkers for their hard work serving under-resourced communities and making MicroGrants possible in Uganda!