The People of Uganda: Ending Hunger Through Community

investors_Kiruhura Epicenter.jpg

Report from the Investor Leadership Trip to Uganda, May 7-12, 2012

By Supriya Banavalikar, Director, Corporate Giving and Special Projects

“I manage the satellite kiosk of the Wakiso Epicenter Rural Bank, and I love my job. More and more people in my community are learning to save and open small businesses to improve their lives. Through this little window in my kiosk I can see progress being made every day.”

These are the words of Imelda, a forty-year old woman, who walks one and half kilometers each way to come to work, after taking care of her sick mother and nine members of her family. She spends 13-hour days, encouraging and empowering people, especially women, to save their money, and when needed, provides information on applying for a loan. Imelda is just one of the several hundred women, men and children we met on our investor trip across Uganda.

The Hunger Project (THP) came to Uganda in 1999 at the invitation of President Museveni, and today it has successfully mobilized 650,000 people in 11 communities, and with their partnership has completed the building of 10 epicenters. All of our village partners’ accomplishments to date are a tribute to their own vision and action plans as well as their volunteer activities. Our village partners have improved their lives in many ways, and we are confident that they will demonstrate effectiveness in ending their own chronic hunger and extreme poverty, as well as improving their nutrition, especially of the children, and increasing the economic viability of their rural communities. 

Over six days, investors from Australia and the United States traveled to six communities — Namayumba, Wakiso, Iganga, Bulamagi, Kiruhura and Mbarara in Western Uganda — where people were actively taking a role in improving their lives. We were joined by Mary Ellen McNish, THP’s President and CEO; Steve Sherwood, Chair of THP’s Global Board; and Sheree Stomberg, Member of THP’s Global Board. Vice Presidents Dr. Idrissa Dicko and Betsy Deisroth along with Country Directors Lorena Vazquez Ordaz (Mexico) and Sara Wettergren (Sweden) were also part of the journey. During the course of our travels, each and every person we shook hands with or embraced exhibited immense determination, unwavering hope and relentless energy and drive. 

We began by meeting several of our talented staff at the Kampala office. Our Country Director Daisy Owomugashu and Program Officer Robert Nangatsa had prepared a presentation that detailed our current programs that are spread across the Central, Eastern and Western parts of the country thanks to the specialized skills of our 20 local staff. Programs such as the Vision, Commitment and Action Workshop, health and nutrition education, literacy, microfinance and women’s empowerment form the foundation of THP’s holistic approach in Uganda.

Wakiso Epicenter was our first stop, where we met with the epicenter leadership and heard about the many achievements the community is making to build self-reliance. We met various epicenter committees and visited the rural bank and community farm, where people learn new techniques in farming. They also process some of their harvest so that they can sell their produce at greater distances and for higher prices.

We learned that our Rural Bank Manager, Rose, had gone to university to study both business and social work. And, in the corner of the bank, we saw small solar lights which can be bought to help rural villagers have light in their homes.

Namayumba Epicenter, initiated at the request of President Museveni, was our next stop. About 1,000 people had gathered to celebrate the inauguration of their epicenter building. While this is normally the rainy season in Uganda, we were blessed with a beautiful sunny day, perfect for the community celebration we were to experience.

May 8 — inauguration day — brought this epicenter into Phase Four of our Epicenter Strategy. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was performed by the Area Member of Parliament, Banyenzaki Henry, who spoke about the importance of partnership between government, The Hunger Project and the people to achieve self-reliance. He committed government support to bring electricity and clean water to the epicenter and also urged the people of Namayumba to never give up hope and keep striving to build better lives and vibrant futures. As we walked through the well-planned epicenter building, which serves 25,000 people, we interacted with nurses taking care of pregnant mothers and newborn children, visited the pharmacy that received medicines from the Health Ministry, and saw the labor and recovery rooms. We also visited the rural bank and the community hall that is rented out for special events as a source of income for the epicenter. Several key staff from Citigroup in Uganda joined us in Wakiso and Namayumba as well.

The next day we started with a short visit at the District Local Government office, where we met with government functionaries who have been working with the epicenter committees in Iganga. The Chief Administrative Officer said, “We have enjoyed our partnership with The Hunger Project and it has been very fruitful. We especially appreciate the work you are doing with women in our community.”

Then we had the incredible opportunity to visit two more communities in this district: Iganga and Bulamagi.

That afternoon, we ate buns that were freshly baked at the epicenter, which serve as a source of income for the village people. We also met Agnes, the rural bank manager, her little baby girl Precious, and the bank loan officer, Jacob. The children in the epicenter school, one of our largest, welcomed us with a beautiful song, which was reciprocated by the investors who sang, “We shall overcome…” and “Eensy Weensy spider,” in the hopes that the rains which are so needed would come!

The Bulamagi community is in its first phase and has yet to build the epicenter building. The people expressed their readiness to take the next steps towards building their epicenter, sharing that they now had secured some land for the project. One of the projects on which the women are working is bead-making, through which they sell their colorful creative designs to Bead for Life.

May 10 was a travel day during which we took a six-hour car ride to Mbarara district. Along the way, we saw zebra and local deer roaming freely in a National Park by the highway, visited the source of the Nile, stopped at the equator and enjoyed the beautiful, diverse and verdant Ugandan landscape.

On May 11, we attended the rural bank opening at Kiruhura Epicenter. Under the leadership of Sophie Wegalo, THP-Uganda’s Microfinance Director, the community had organized a phenomenal celebration. Amidst lots of presentations by village leaders, recognition by local officials, singing and dancing by young children and adults, the epicenter committees proudly expressed their happiness to have reached this important economic milestone of having their rural bank be recognized by the government. We heard many of their achievements: their success with organic farming methods to increase food security, their production of handicrafts and their sophisticated community garden where they showed their skills in grafting trees for increased pest resistance, quality and production. We also visited the epicenter food bank, which currently houses 50 metric tons (110,000+ pounds) of maize grown by the village people, which is ready for sale.

Our last day brought us to Eric and Ida’s farm, in the beautiful countryside of Mbarara. Eric Kafuruma, a self-trained farmer and innovator of botanical techniques, shared his passion for food farming and his vision for a better future for his wife and family. We got crash courses in composting, rain water harvesting and grafting techniques. He told us that a mango plant which is grafted with a new variety can grow a fruit up to two kilos, versus a regular variety tree (where three fruits would weigh two kilos). Eric and Ida shared their challenges — gravel soil and very little rainfall — as well as the solutions they had invented: building pits for in-house composting and digging a well to capture rainfall. The most inspiring moment was when Eric brought out his journals where he documents every action he takes on his farm. Here we came across his five-year plan for future growth.

This kind of transparent record-keeping does not stop at the individual level. Supported by our Monitoring and Evaluation Officer Paul Muliika, many of our epicenter community buildings have a “dashboard” with the statistics of their goals and accomplishments. The THP-Uganda office team in Kampala also proudly posts a Uganda-wide dashboard with its annual goals in the reception area of their office. To a person, the THP family in Uganda is aiming to succeed in our mission, learn and keep growing.

The participants on this trip are deeply grateful to our staff team in Uganda and our village partners at all the epicenters for sharing their journey in ending hunger with us. As one of the travelers said as she was boarding her flight, “I will be looking at my own investment, and invite others to invest as well. Meeting my partners in the field has changed me forever.”

Download this full report in PDF (with more photos!)