Sister Mary Atimango and MUWOGORO member Paula Atimango stand before group's harvest of maize
Co-operatives helping the disadvantaged
The mothers spread blankets across the green grass and cradled their infants under the leafy shades of Itek trees. Laughter filled the air as the women talked and their older children played with news friends. It looked like they were enjoying a picnic. “It’s screening day for AIDs,” Sister Mary Atimango said as we strolled past the village’s health centre. We were headed toward the garden and fish pond her organization created as part of its mandate to help disadvantaged women become self-reliant.
Sister Atimango heads the Mungudit Women Group (MUWOGORO, which means “God is Good”). It has undertaken a number of initiatives to build the capacity of its membership through skills training and ultimately reduce poverty in Eurussi and surrounding area. MUWOGORO has a bakery to produce bread, cakes, mandazi and hosts for Catholic masses and a small mushroom farm. Members also receive training in home economics, food security and nutrition as well as reading and writing. Plus they receive counselling on HIV/AIDS and other health-related issues.
Not far from this mountaintop village, young men like Brian Ouuku are learning to become self-sufficient through the Boda Boda Association. The Boda Boda is a term that refers to fare-charging motorcylists, similar to cab drivers.
Until Ouuku, 22, joined this group of young entrepreneurs the future looked bleak. “I was idle. I had nothing to do.” He had limited education, having dropped out of school when his father died 10 years ago. Ouuku worked on his family’s subsistence farm to keep the household fed. Today he has ambitious goals for the future. “If I work hard I plan to get a motorcycle and God willing, in the next few years, to get a taxi car.” He will turn to his local SACCO, a savings and micro credit co-operative, assisted by the Canadian Co-operative Association in partnership with its Ugandan counterpart the Uganda Co-operative Alliance, for the loans.
“My life has improved,” Ouuku, who is youth representative on the Dikri Kabucan SACCO board said. “I can now earn a living, but I have not yet reached my expectations.”
When asked if he is a role model for his peers he replied, “Yes, it is obvious. There are some that encourage me, some that admire me. But there are some that discourage me,” he added added.
Life is very difficult for youth in Uganda, Ouuku acknowledged. “There are few job prospects, even for young men and women who hold university degrees. Their situation can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, and even crime. “You find the youth in the video halls. You find them in the trees smoking and drinking,” said Nyamutoro Sophie Prosper, SACCO manager, who had joined us to translate our interview.
The stories that we have collected on our Canadian Co-operative Association mission have been both heartbreaking and heartwarming. They are stories of organizations like SACCOs, Rural Producer Organizations and Agricultural Co-operative Enterprises uniting through the joint partnership of the CCA and UCA, to raise the standard of living for the rural poor.
In northern Uganda, this alliance is responsible for the development and implementation of the Integrated Finance and Agriculture Production Initiative. The strategy’s main elements are to improve skills, to raise productivity, lower poverty and to increase access to financial services.
It is making a difference for the young men that belong to the Boda Boda association and the women that are members of MUWOGORO.
Right now the 40 members of Boda Boda group shares two motorcycles but plan to acquire a third. And they have used the proceeds from fares to purchase 16 goats. Their goal is to increase the association’s membership, just as the goats will multiply in offspring, for the mutual benefit of all.
And some members, like Ouuku will learn and earn from this joint enterprise to become self-employed and self-sufficient.