Taking photos at a Kampala arts and craft market, left to right, are: Laurie Tennian, Jim Harris, Cindy Corrigan and Lacey Chyz.
Eye-opening, life-changing experience
I found myself smiling a lot while I was in northern Uganda, infected, as our team leader Karen Timoshuk put it, by the “contagious smiles” of its warm and welcoming people.
This is despite the abject poverty that overwhelmed our senses everywhere we went, from the acrid smells of open latrines and burning rubbish to the soft cries of street beggars pleading for a few shillings.
Yet in this sea of human misery we found sprigs of hope shooting up from its murky waters. This was captured in the words and photos of the SACCO, RPO and ACE members who walked incredible distances of 5, 10 and even 20 kilometres, to share their heartbreaking – and heartwarming - stories with us.
On the last day of our two-week journey of discovery, our team of Canadian co-operators and communicators, reflected on our shared experience and its impact on us as individuals.
Cindy Corrigan, director with the East Kootenay Credit Union in British Columbia, was struck by the pride she saw in the people she met with. “That pride came to me so forcefully it rocked me. Somehow I want to bottle that and I want to take it back home. I want to stand in front of a room and share that passion.”
Rolf Traichel, director with the Federated Co-operatives Limited in Alberta, said the story he planned to tell when he returned to Canada was that Ugandans are people “just like us. They want their kids to go to school just like us. They want to build a house just like us. They want to have financial security just like us.”
Adele McGuire, an accountant with the Metro Credit Union in Prince Edward Island, was “amazed just how much they (Ugandans) believe in co-operative values. They seem to really thrive on co-operative values and really want to belong there (SACCO).”
Jim Harris, communications specialist with Manitoba Central, agreed. “The spirit of co-operation and the importance of co-operatives here (in Uganda) is something we can share back in Canada.”
Lacey Chyz, communications and member relations officer with the Lakeland Credit Union in Alberta, said the mission validated her dedication to the advancement of the co-operative movement among youth. “All along my goal has been to bring back to Canada the co-operative values I believe in so strongly.”
Both Deborah Chatterton, public relations professional with Vancity in BC and Jennifer Nelson, travel writer and representative of Saskatchewan Central, both spoke of the strides the Ugandans have made in releasing poverty’s grip under IFAPI, an innovative approach CCA and UCA have taken to rural development in northern Uganda. Though Ugandans' measure of success is small by Canadian standards, Deborah said it had changed her definition of prosperity.
With those parting words we parted ways, convinced, more than ever, that the co-operative model is the best model to help people in need provide food, shelter and well-being for their families.
We left Uganda both sad and happy. Tired but inspired. Changed people that are determined to become better global citizens.
I can think of no better way to end the International Year of Co-operatives than to have witnessed first-hand how co-operatives and credit unions are empowering people to build a better world.