Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Flooding in the slums of Uganda

Walking through any slum can make you question why urbanization is so great. Sanitation and sewage problems are disturbing by sight and smell. In Kigundu Zone, Uganda, a group of women have started discussing the flooding that occurs in their part of the slum when the rains come. The water from the open water system floods into their mud paths and into their houses, not only a terrible disturbance, but dangerous for water born diseases and attracting mosquito’s that may carry malaria.
In early October Aaron, the MicroGrant facilitator in Wanteete Village, approached the women about a MicroGrant. He listened intently during their second meeting while the women discussed the multitude of problems facing them: poverty and unemployment, orphans who have lost their parents to HIV and other diseases, lack of education, sanitation and flooding. They ultimately decided to address the flooding that occurs, a serious social sector problem not being addressed by anyone. They are thinking about fixing the trench which runs through the slums with a $1000 MicroGrant. 
This group of women are taking care of the kids, attempting to start small businesses and now volunteer their time to fixing a community trench. Many of the men have abandoned their families and left the women without resources, yet the women are pushing to get their kids into school and dinner on the table. Some organizations have attempted to clean up slums through volunteer cleaning efforts and education project but few seem to ask the community how to do it and dare them to do it with funding. We will now get to see how the women in Kigundu Zone tackle the problem.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Wanteete Village Celebration

Last Sunday there was a celebration in Wanteete Village for the completion of the MicroGrant Competition!

They women are ready to build their school. They have aquired the land and have already started the school garden which has beens, cassava, corn and soon some vegetables as well! The women showed their joy on Sunday with a celebration of dances, singing and food for everyone who came. They presented Aaron, the facilitator, and myself with pineapples, papayas and a few eggs - incredibly generous gifts from a group of subsistence farmers. The remarkable thing is that the women were celebrating the gift of a mere $1600 to fund a project that they are doing the work for. The women have created committees including those to care for the school garden, a pig rearing project for school income and the school governance. All the positions are voluntary and for the construction of the school the women who can are each providing a wooden post. They are pouring themselves into this project in hopes that it will launch their children into a better future.

One concern about the project was sustainability; how to ensure there is money to pay the two teachers and buy books for the students. In January/February they are organizing a local fundraiser in hopes to have local candidates running in upcoming elections to compete for their votes by donating money. Local politicians have money to spend at the local level but in Uganda it is often used to buy off votes and does not get spent on social projects like schools and health clinics. The women see an opportunity to use their success in building their own school as leverage and their power as a group to pressure candidates to support the school.

At every level of this competition the women are enthusiastically providing whatever they can, they are a great example of how communities throughout our world have incredible potential and will show persistence in working for social benefits if they are resourced with even a minimal amount of organization and funding. Community energy and local expertise exist where development is needed but it is not being utilized. Through MicroGrants we are figuring out great ways to effectively harness the utility of communities.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Local adaption of a national program; sustenance farmers adding animals to their production

Bukomero Village members came together for a third time last Saturday to discuss their desire to start animal projects. This is the same village where the traditional dancers are from. The rainy season is coming soon and people are planting their next harvest. Families are largely reliant on growing their own food and agriculture sales, yet this is not enough to sustain a family. Water from a pipe is 10 Rwandan Francs per jerry can (about 20 liters), a family typically uses 3-4 jerry cans of water a day, heath care is 1000Rwf a year per person and although primary education is supposed to be free, uniforms, materials and school food add up. Growing and selling crops is not very profitable although it makes sense for local sustainability, the ecosystem and the environment. A pineapple can be sold for 120Rwf, a fruit that bears once a year; a kilo of green bananas is sold for less than 100Rwf. While each person may grow a bit of produce to sell, they also need to grow enough to feed a family every day.
The national government of Rwanda in partnership with Heifer International has a cow project, where they give a cow to the poorest person in a village and the first calf that is birthed is given to the next poorest person. The project has seen benefits. Cows are highly respected and desired here as in most of East Africa. They can be sold for 700+ US dollars and used for food. A problem that faces people raising cattle is the cost of feed and a problem that faces the community is that cattle are not birthed quickly. It will take a long time for one cattle to give enough offspring to provide benefits for the whole community.
The members of Bukomero Village know of the benefits of having animals. It provides a means of nutrition, money and economic growth for a family. A pig can give birth to 10 piglets at once, chickens can lay eggs and breed and goats can reproduce as well. The profitability of animals and their production will help lift the burden of every day expenses for the people of Bukomero Village, while keeping their lifestyle locally sustainable. They will still grow their own food crops through land cultivation, but have animals roaming their grounds as well. While many projects seek to profit from capital in cities or external regions, this project will let the people of Bukomero gain greater food security and income on their own land. 
In the above picture you can see members voting on the project and in the very top pictures, they are writing their grant proposals. They worked for over two hours developing their ideas and writing their proposals. Each group voted on a president and vice president who will be responsible for tracking project success and reporting back to the MicroGrant facilitator and Spark MicroGrants. More internal logistics are being worked out. For more information and to participate in the conversation around this project, visit our google group: http://groups.google.com/group/microgrants-bloom
The group thanks Spark and everyone who is contributing to the project for choosing to help them. They are incredibly grateful for the opportunity.