Friday, November 30, 2012

When in Uganda

 RolfTraichel, FCL Director, Alberta, Adele McGuire, Metro CU, PEI and Laurie Tennian, CCA, Ontario, wade through water to cross a flooded road

Grasshoppers, White Ants and other Curiosities
Grasshoppers are crunchy, salty and tasty. How do I know? It was one of the food items on the lunch menu during my Canadian Co-operative Association study mission to northern Uganda. No after effects. Just a few legs sticking in my teeth. Kidding!

 Now that I have tasted cricket, I would try white ants, another delicacy here, if offered.  I did, however, pass up an opportunity to try homemade beer, made of sorghum.  Sipped from a plastic jug through long slender reeds, the brew has lumpy grey yeast foam floating on top. As hot as it was (temperatures have been ranging from 25-30 C) the words buzz kill came to mind.

Since the last two blogs have centered around heavy topics, I thought I would go on the lighter side tonight and tell you  some of the notes my teammates and I have taken to tell our Canadian family members and friends when we return home December 5. 

·         The beer of choice for us is Nile beer and is similar in taste to our Moosehead ale.

·         Ugandans put their surnames before their given Christian names. The top two names seem to be Stella and Peter.

·         Uganda is a Commonwealth nation and is predominantly Christian. The influences of both can be seen in many ways.  We have seen enterprises called Trust Jesus Saloon, Mercy Unisex Salon, God is Able store and Blessed Internet CafĂ©. 

·         Almost every household it appears has a cell phone, even though many communities are still without electricity. Solar panels are a popular source of alternate power and are sold at roadside stands, along with charging stations, resembling our outhouses, to restore dead cell phone batteries.

·         Most main streets have a pool table outside a bar.

·         Ugandans drive on the left side of the road.

·         Most roads we are travelling resemble our logging roads and are riddled with potholes, rocks, puddles and trenches carved out by rain. Others have been “goat trails” at best. It makes for bumpy rides. We have been stuck twice and another time had to wade through knee-deep brown water to cross a flooded road.

·         Boda Bodas are maniacs on motorcycles.  The fare-charging drivers have so many accidents that a wing of the Kampala hospital is dedicated entirely to their treatment.

·         Uganda’s soil is red similar to Prince Edward Island’s. Coincidentally, we saw an Island dirt shirt being sold by a roadside vendor.

·         Uganda’s oranges are green. Other tropical fruits grown here include bananas, papaya, mangoes.

·         Top crops are maize, yams, cassava, “Irish” potatoes, rice, yellow beans

·         Uganda is the biggest coffee producing country on the continent, next to Ethiopia.

·         50% of Uganda’s population is 15 and under. We are constantly swarmed by children who want to touch our pale skin.  Our entry into their communities is greeted by shouts of Muzungoos or Mondoos, meaning “whites”, and friendly waves.

·         Uganda’s population is 33.4 million, almost the same as Canada’s, but its geographical size is half the province of Saskatchewan.

·         Most rural homes in northern Uganda are thatched huts made of grass and clay.

·         Vegetation is lush green and includes palm trees, cactus and aloe vera plants.

·         Biscuits, similar to our Arrowroot cookies are often served at functions we attend, sometimes with great fanfare (packages draped with cloths and presented in fancy dishes). We are also offered a choice of Coke, Fanta or Mountain Dew. Ugandans love their soda.

·         It is common to see two boys or two men holding hands as friends

·         Rural Ugandans main mode of transportation is the bicycle, followed by the motorcycle. Most walk to their destination. Today we met a teacher who walked 20 kilometers , one way,  to be present for our get-together in the mountain top village of Erussi near the border of Congo.  This has been our experience – SACCO, RPO, ACE members travelling 5, 10, 20 kilometres by foot to share their stories of success with the Canadian co-operators.





Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lion Queen

                              Jenet Elwii, Farmer, Beekeeper,Chegere SACCO chair

Not Quite Queen of the Jungle
Peter Aceny can list many positive things his co-operatively-owned credit union has done for his northern Ugandan community. But the one he is most proud of is a reduction in domestic violence. “It’s not a malady here now,” said the Chegere SACCO chair.

Under the Canadian Co-operative Association-sponsored IFAPI (Integrated Finance and Agriculture Production Initiative) gender equality in the region’s co-operative system is actively promoted. Both sexes receive gender equality training.  Projects are assessed to ensure they employ a balance of a balance of men and women. And organizations like the Chegere savings and loans centre are required to have at least one-third female representation on their boards.

As a result of these affirmative actions, men have come to appreciate, in Aceny’s words, that “women are not supposed to be treated as slaves.”

Indeed, women have come a long way in Uganda.  By sharing roles of responsibility with men and, in many cases, holding leadership positions, women are building confidence and gaining the respect of their male peers.  They have gone from being treated as subservient to men to being regarded as equal partners in the economic and social development of their communities.

“You see me talking with her with maximum respect,” Aceny referring to the chair of his SACCO  Jenet Elwii. The maize farmer and beekeeper is making sure the voice of women is heard loud and clear in several organizations. In addition to her executive position on the SACCO board, she also heads her community’s anti-corruption committee and is treasurer of her Area Co-operative Enterprise.

Leadership training

As a result of her involvement in her SACCO and ACE, Elwii said she has increased the production of her crops, received training in leadership and has created friendships. 

She is regarded as a role model to her community and is often sought out for her advice, according to Aceny.

Elwii’s prominent stature in Chegere is a testament to the success of IFAP’s gender promotion efforts. However, there is still much to be done before women are truly equal to men in Uganda. Consider the following:

·         Women produce 70-90 per cent of Uganda’s food but only own seven per cent of the land.

·         Rural women work considerably longer hours than men – between 12-18 hours a day.

·         Women make up the majority of the rural poor. Most are small land holders engaged in subsistence farming.

The biggest obstacles to women’s advancement in Ugandan society are lack of education and confidence.

Though women are in numbers too big to ignore, when it comes to their roar, men are still the king of the jungle.



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

AIDS in Africa

Women and children danced and sang a traditional Ugandan song of welcome as we entered their small community of thatched clay huts, tucked away in the bush.

After this enthusiastic greeting their leader stepped forward to tell us about his group – People with HIV/AIDS for the Oyam District. They included the infants, toddlers and teenagers standing before us, smiling warmly.

Their homes are located on the outskirts of Kamdini, a town of 23,000 and a bustling centre for trade. Its main street is lined with modest shops, bars, restaurants and hotels that have started and expanded with loans from the member-owned Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization (SACCO).

The activities of the SACCOs, like credit unions in Canada, are guided by the seven principles of the co-operative movement, including concern for the community. It is in this spirit that the SACCO helps to meet the needs of the most vulnerable – the poor, the widowed, the orphaned and the AIDS-infected.

“We don’t just think about money,” said the organization’s chair in explaining its mission. “We look at the social aspect too.”

Needs are great

The needs are great. As the gateway to northern Uganda, town became home to an army base when political violence erupted here in the late 1960s. The prostitutes followed the soldiers to Kamdini and so too did the deadly virus.  The sex trade, however, was only one contributor to the prevalence of the disease.  Women, even children, were raped as a weapon of war, spreading the disease to its homes.

“People have suffered severely,” Kamdini’s mayor Herbert Ogwal told me as we walked through the littered and crowded downtown, filled with vendors hocking their wares to the passing motorists.

However, as our visit here confirmed, SACCO is helping to ease the town’s suffering by investing in enterprising residents that large commercial institutions regard as “unbankable.”

Invested in distillery

Among them is Santa Okello, a widow with HIV-AIDS.  Even though she had little collateral she received a loan from SACCO to start a distillery, making liquor from sugar molasses that she sells to the Nile Beer brewery. Her enterprise now supports 10 households.

“Without SACCO I would have been dead,” she said, when asked how this community-led institution has affected her life. “It allowed me to start this business to look after the children you see here.” In addition, the mother of ten and grandmother of 10, whose husband died of AIDS eight years ago, is able to purchase medication to treat her illness with the income she receives from the distillery.

The savings and loans centre also assists the nearby collective of people living with HIV-AIDS, led by chair James Obongo, a grandfather of 30 with two wives.  “Before SACCO came we were not even meeting basic needs. “

Its 43 members, including children whose parents have died of AIDs, make arts and crafts, to generate revenue, develop skills and a sense of purpose, as well as combat stigmatization.  “We are very poor and our health is not so good,” Obongo acknowledged.  The activity is particularly important for the orphans who cannot go to school because of lack of money to pay tuition fees.

Obongo said SACCO has given them hope, as did the visit by our team of Canadian co-operators.

 “Now we are optimistic we will continue living with your coming.”

Note: Sadly the AIDS situation is not improving in Uganda. In fact, according to a study released in August of this year, Uganda is only two African countries, along with CHAD, where AIDS infection rates are on the rise. Nearly a third of Uganda’s population once had AIDS or the virus that cause it. The rate declined in the 1990s as a result of public health strategies. However, this latest survey shows that the rate has increased from 6.4% in 2005 to 7.3%. It found that one in 10 women will have AIDs by their late 30s, the same number for the men when they reach their late 40s.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Merry Christmas

Nsangi Ahmad Hassan’s Northern Uganda home will be filled with holiday cheer this season because of a Canadian Co-operative Association-supported co-operative. The income he has earned from the co-op’s sale of bricks and fish will allow him to buy a dress for his wife for Christmas. The 28-year-old can’t remember the last time he purchased a gift for the mother of his three young children -  twin five-year-old girls and a three-year-old girl.  “In the African culture it is really a very, very bad thing not to please your wife.” He began setting aside money six months ago and looks forward to the day when he will have enough savings to take her to the shop and have her pick out the dress he will buy.

The Bomido co-op is the first of a number of community-led enterprises we will visit over the next two weeks as part of our educational study mission to Africa. I am one of eight co-operators from across Canada who will be capturing in words and photos the people behind these collectives.

Hassan is among the young Ugandans who have discovered the power of belonging to a member-owned rural producer organization. They share in the proceeds from a fishing and brick making co-op near the town of Macinda. Working together, they have created jobs for themselves and better lives for them and their families. “It means a lot to me,” said Hassan of the democratically-run business. “Education is a long-term investment.”

Before the co-op was formed, Hassan was “home starving with a diploma in administration.” He had worked on a road construction project as a security guard but when the road was completed he was out of a job.

Hassan said joining the co-op has “improved the standard of living” for him and his family. In fact, it has generated enough revenue that he has begun construction of a new home for his wife and three children. Only one room is completed, which serves as temporary living quarters for the five-member Hassan household.

Still, for the first time in several years, that small single room will be the site of a very merry Christmas for the Hassans.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

It's a Small World

“All human beings are created from the foundation of Islam,” our tour guide said warmly to the Canadian co-operators who had come to his place of worship during our two-day orientation in Kampala, Uganda. “You are all Muslims. Welcome back home!

Home? I was a Canadian woman in Africa standing in a Muslim mosque , named in honour of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. How out of place could I be?

And yet I fully understood the significance of his greeting.

Only minutes earlier, I had donned a head scarf and skirt, slipped off my sandals and entered this magnificent copper-domed structure. Like most Westerners, I knew little about his faith. But as we compared the text of the Qu’ran and the Holy Bible,  shared religious teachings and discussed Muslim and Christian rituals, I learned our beliefs were more alike than not.

The visit to the Gaddafi National Mosque, and an earlier excursion to the Kampala arts and craft market, were early introductions to Uganda, as we settled into our new surroundings, including getting acclimatized to the plus 30 degree Celsius weather, getting to know our teammates, and becoming more familiar with the Canadian Co-operative Association’s international development work here and throughout Africa.

The mosque sits high atop one of the 20 hills that encompass Kampala. A few of us took the 308 steps to the mosque’s minaret, where we were rewarded with a panoramic view of the capital. The structure is the second largest of its kind in Africa and has the capacity to hold 35,000 worshippers. The faithful are called to prayer here five times  a day. About 20 per cent of the Ugandan population is Muslim, the remainder largely Christian.

Our trek to the hill top was a perfect starting point from which to begin our two-week educational study mission.

It was a reminder that we are a family of brothers and sisters – black and white, Muslim and Christian.

The next morning we headed to Misandi to start our journey of discovery – to gather and tell stories of people helping people.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On my Way

There are no more sleeps and only hours to go before I board a plane bound for Toronto, then London, and then Entebbe to begin our two-week educational study mission to Uganda. Excited? Yes. Nervous? Yes. But would I turn back the clock and say 'No' to this journey? Not a chance. This is an exceptional opportunity to see first hand the important role the Canadian Co-operative Association is playing in the socio-economic development of Uganda by supporting and strengthening the country's co-operatives and credit unions. I know from a similar mission I was on to Nicaragua in 2010 what an incredible learning, life-changing experience this will be. I thank CCA for the privilege to be part of this "storytelling" trek with fellow co-operators and communicators across Canada.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Making a World of Difference

Did you know that in 2011-12, CCA worked in 22 countries with 32 partner organizations to reduce poverty and create prosperity? Not many people do. That's one of the reasons for our educational study mission to Uganda - to raise public awareness and appreciation for the ways in which CCA is working side by side with co-operative and credit union leaders around the world to make a world of difference for their members, their families and their communities.

With this in mind, I offer you this brief background on CCA's initiatives in Africa to  bring democracy, and a life with dignity, to people in need.

CCA’s development mission is to establish and grow co-operatives, credit unions and community-based organizations to reduce poverty, build sustainable livelihoods and improve civil society in less developed countries.

The organization has a long history of  helping people in need around the world, dating back to the the late 1940s when CCA, as the Canadian arm of the CARE program, provided relief to Europe.

At a time when many African countries were gaining their independence, CCA was there supporting their efforts to become self-sufficient by helping them to start-up and expand their co-operatives and credit unions. The results of their development efforts are paying off.

Studies show that in Africa, co-operatives have re-emerged successfully from the pre-liberalization period, and are today contributing to the continent’s poverty reduction, employment creation and social integration. This renewal is no doubt largely due to the ongoing work of Africa’s co-operative organizations and their international partners like the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Time is drawing near

Out of Africa

From November 21 to December 1 I will be on an educational study mission visiting co-operatives in Uganda with the Canadian Co-operative Association.

In Africa, I will learn how farmers in Northern Uganda are improving their livelihoods through an innovative and integrated program that brings together production, marketing, and financial services co-operatives.
I will be contributing to the team’s blog, The View from Here, to learn about how co-operatives are alleviating poverty and building a better world.  

Follow us on our exciting journey of discovery.

This is my second mission to a developing nation where CCA is helping to build pathways out of poverty. The first was to Nicaragua in 2010 and it was a life-changing experience.