My name is Nakiguli Margaret, and my story is now filled with hope.
While previously very poor, I was able to come out of poverty, and am now a respected and valued member of my community. Distrust, suspicion, and fear are often socially experienced in my village in southwestern Uganda. For me to have overcome these obstacles—especially the fatalism that comes with poverty—still surprises me. It makes me wonder what happened to make my situation improve.
I live in what could be considered a typical rural community. When you enter my home village, you see scattered homesteads separated by banana plantations and fruit trees (papaya, mango, jackfruit, and avocado), with each dwelling up to a mile apart in distance. There are children everywhere—scattering like chickens, making noise, and being mischievous. Older men are under trees conversing, trying to make sense of their situation, and watching the social interactions of the young and old around them. Everyone sees and knows you.
Like most people in this village and community, I am a peasant farmer, selling my produce (fruits and vegetables) at my home. On rare occasions, I take my produce to town, or sell on the roadside of the highway that connects Kampala with Mbarara, and which continues to Rwanda. I live about eight kilometers from Lyantonde Town Center, which makes it difficult to transport my produce to the market.
Life in the village has always been extremely difficult. I have worried mostly about my children, but I also agonized about my own personal safety, health, and security. Would I get infected with HIV/AIDS? Would my children be able to go to school? Would my husband treat me with respect and not abuse me? Would I be able to fetch water on my own from a distant borehole when my children are grown up and living far away? And, when my young daughters were at home helping me, I worried that they would be raped and defiled while looking for water late at night. Water and firewood were always scarce, and we constantly struggled with how to solve these problems of satisfying simple, basic needs. Our homes are normally constructed from mud and wattle, with thatched roofs that leak, and poor ventilation made worse by fires in the cooking rooms nearby.
While my life was not easy, I have been able to overcome many challenges through the support of the Salama SHIELD Foundation (SSF). This is how it happened for me, and the other women in our group.
I am currently a member of the Kyakakala Kyaterekera women’s group in the Lyantonde District. SSF has had a long history of involvement in our communities, beginning in 2009. Originally, they concentrated on revitalizing a mentorship program to educate and support us on matters pertaining to HIV/AIDS risk. Then, they realized that women like us were most at risk since we had no choices in sexual risk negotiation (e.g., insisting on a condom with a risky partner), and because we were poor. It was then that they addressed the poverty issue by providing us with loans so that we could make choices and have more control of our lives.
Let’s sit under the shade of this mango tree I planted, and let me tell you a bit more about myself.
I am 49 now, with no formal education (having never finished primary school, because I was scared of being caned at school), or any job history. In October 1983, I got married to my older sister’s husband. My older sister had become exhausted and weak, and could no longer perform most duties for her aging husband. He wanted to marry another wife. My sister told him that instead of marrying someone she did not know, someone who would mistreat her as the first wife, that she would find a new wife for him. She decided to bring me, her younger sister, to marry him as a second wife. I was 17 at the time. He was about 60.
I produced ten children with my husband. Sadly, he passed away three years ago. Of the ten children I produced with him, four children passed away due to maternal complications. Currently, I have four children, all girls, staying at home, with three of them in school. My two other children, both boys, left home after going for vocational skills training, and are now motorcycle mechanics working in another district. One of the boys is now married with his own family. One of the girls has completed the Primary School Leaving Examination this year; another girl is in Primary Five; another, aged six, is in Primary One; while another one, aged 14, is intellectually challenged, and not in school.
We never had much money in the house, and little time to work to make money beyond just staying alive. That is why the loan program was so important. I first heard about the microcredit revolving loan (MCRL) program in 2009, when SSF conducted community meetings in my village. We were informed about the microcredit process, and the requirements for selecting women in the community who would be beneficiaries.
I was told about how the process worked and became convinced of the benefits. Of course, I had to first inform my husband about the idea, and surprisingly, he agreed. Together with the other women in the group, the SSF team educated us about the program and the interest we would have to pay. On hearing of these conditions, my husband gave me permission to join the group. We were then trained in the identification of possible income generating activities, project management, group dynamics, sanitation, savings, and how to protect the environment.
After the training, I talked to my husband about our biggest challenge. The house we were living in was in a very bad condition. “What if I use part of the loan in constructing a new house for the family?” I asked him. He agreed. And so, during the first loan cycle, I borrowed 300,000 Ugandan shillings (approximately USD$88), which I used for buying iron sheets. I also sold a cow for 500,000 shillings (USD$147) to add to the iron sheet materials I had purchased to start construction. I was able to pay back the loan since my husband was understanding; I would contribute half, and he, the other half. You see, I had created a small banana plantation, which provided revenue to pay back the loan. And, since my husband was a casual laborer, and supportive, he would bring his wages to assist me in paying back the loan. Most husbands are not like that.
Through the loan program, I have been able to develop money-making schemes. Being a peasant farmer, I rear animals like cows, goats, and pigs. I then sell them to earn an income. For example, during the sixth loan cycle, I was also able to buy a calf at 300,000 shillings (USD$88), which I reared for one year. If I were to sell it now, I would earn over three times that. I am also a seasonal crop grower and grow maize, beans, ground-nuts, cassava, bananas, and other fruits (avocado, jackfruit, and mangoes). I also have a coffee plantation.
What’s more, the loan program has helped bring together the women of my community to find ways to work together. Our group of women—my friends and neighbors who intentionally organized as a group to receive loans from SSF—conduct monthly group meetings. During these meetings, we reflect and talk about the benefits of embarking on different projects, and also discuss how we will assist each other during the planting and harvesting season. It gets very practical and supportive. What we do is work in one member’s garden one day, and the next day, we go to someone else’s garden. In this way, we are able to support each other, especially during the rainy season when there is a lot of work in the gardens. Casual laborers are scarce and expensive. We talk about everything of importance to our lives personally, and our obligations in the community, as well as gender and inter-faith issues.
One result of thinking about our community as a whole is that we have solved our clean water crisis.
In our village, we formed a sanitation group with the aim of providing every village member, whether a member of the loan program or not, with basic sanitation and hygiene facilities. The only condition was that every village member must gather the raw materials for the construction of the washing facilities for their home. These facilities included a kitchen, washroom, drying rack, or garbage pit. Once the materials were assembled, the village would install them. This project was started at a time when SSF also introduced energy saving stoves project. I am happy to report that now, in most homes, many members have pit latrines, better washrooms, drying racks, tippy taps, and garbage pits. This has helped us in reducing the spread of diseases due to unhygienic practices.
Our village has experienced water shortages for many years. Lyantonde District is in “the dry corridor.” As a consequence, my village experiences long dry spells, with unsafe and limited water sources. Most of the time, the burden of fetching water falls on women like me, and young girls. This is a taxing challenge. It becomes even more so when you are a widow. For example, in my village there is only one borehole, which has been in existence for the last ten years. Most of the time it breaks down and it takes a lot of time to repair. The problem for me is that the borehole is about one kilometer away from my home. It also produces salty water, which most of my neighbors do not like for drinking. In this situation, I used to access limited water at valley dams. Yet during the long dry spells, the boreholes dry up and the owners do not allow us to collect more water from these sources. In the past, we used to collect water from dug up wells close by, but when the owners sold the land, we were chased away. The new owners refused to let us collect water, especially during the drought season. When this happened, my children and I would walk four kilometers to collect water from an adjacent town. It could take me almost half a day to collect water and get back home. In our area, however, there was one rich man who had a vehicle, and whenever he would take his truck to collect water from the dam for his animals, my neighbors and I would also load our jerry cans, and in that way, be able to get water. Unfortunately, this man died ten years ago.
It was at this time that I felt that I needed a water harvesting facility that would enable me to access clean water without having to travel long distances. “What would prevent me from constructing a water harvesting facility?” I asked. “One like the one built by the local Chairperson?” Having lost my husband, and with my children in jobs and at school, I soon came to the realization that I might be able to turn a water harvesting project into an income generating activity to earn a living as well.
How did I come up with this idea?
Remember the time when I told you that one day a gentleman from a district in Western Uganda visited me and informed me that the water problem we had was like the one he had in his village? It too, was located in a “hilly place.” He informed me that he had come up with a strategy of digging a pit, and lining the pit with polythene in order to harvest rainwater. He had first set it up for the local area Chairperson at the place where community members used to access clean water. And so, I eventually approached the Chairperson and asked him how much it could cost. He made calculations for me, and it amounted to about 700,000 shillings, or USD$200, which I did not have at that time.
After about two years reflecting on this opportunity, and knowing that I now was able to get a loan from SSF, I applied for my sixth loan. With this money, I started constructing the water facility as my very own, unique, income generating project. I hired young people from the area to dig the pit, construct it with bricks, and then line it with polythene. I also increased the measurements used in making the Chairperson’s water facility, in order to have a facility with a larger capacity. To avoid harm from insects, especially cockroaches that could damage the polythene and contaminate the water, I lined the pit with polythene and then, again, used a harder polythene as a second lining.
The first water harvesting facility I built measured eight feet down, 12 feet long, and six feet wide. I use a long stick with a small jerry can tied onto it to collect the water from the facility.
During the rainy season, I do not get many customers, but during the dry season, I get many customers and sell one jerry can at 500 shillings (USD$0.20). During severe periods of drought, I am forced to send people away when the water has been reduced. I try to avoid having to empty the tank completely.
During the first rainy season, I was able to earn 150,000 shillings (USD$4.40), and I was also able to contribute about 50 jerry cans for my family to serve during the funeral of my grandson. This gift to the community and extended family has minimized their envy of me, and made me a more respected leader in the community, as someone who encourages development.1
Having learned that I could also earn an income from the water project, I soon realized I could build a second facility. During the eighth loan cycle, having borrowed 600,000 shillings (USD$176), I decided to construct a second water harvesting facility. This one measures five feet down, five feet long, and four feet wide. However, this second water facility is for my own consumption.
When the water is reduced in the facility, I put down a ladder and my daughter climbs in, takes out all the water and cleans the tank. Thereafter, she dries it up with a piece of cloth to make it completely dry. Then, she pours in water so that insects do not come in to destroy the polythene lining the pit.
It has been a huge success. Many people in my village and community have come to me for information about how I was able to construct the water tanks. They ask me: “What are the costs for construction? How do you protect and maintain the polythene so that it is not destroyed by insects?” They wonder how I was able to accomplish this as a widow. As I am telling you now, I laughingly inform them that I am a determined woman who does not go after men for support because I know my supporter is Salama SHIELD Foundation who was able to educate, sensitize, and empower me, and which enabled me to start such a project.
And so, I am able to share my experiences with other community members, as I encourage them to access clean and safe water. When I ask myself why other women have not set up such facilities, I realize that most women are fearful and not as strong-willed as I was. You see, I am a determined person, who has no fear to engage in any loan project. Once you realize you want something, then you have to go for it, and surely, you will get it, with God’s blessing. When I wanted the water harvesting facility, I realized I could do it, just as the Chairperson had done it. And then, I applied for a loan, bought the necessary materials, and there I had my water harvesting facility. All of this has saved me time to engage in other projects, and participate in social gatherings. Even my animals, cows, goats, and pigs have also been able to get clean water.
I am still encouraging other group members to combine resources and support construction of water harvesting facilities for everyone in the group. If they are in a group, they can convince a member who wants the facility to contribute at least 100,000 shillings for the polythene. If they are together in such endeavors, they would be able to have more members, especially among low income earners having water facilities, and this would ease their water challenges. The need is great. There are very few clean and safe water sources and rainwater harvesting facilities in my district. There are currently only two members in the whole village who have constructed these facilities; the one for the Chairperson is no longer functional.
But, as I said, many women are afraid of investing in business for fear of losing money, yet they have the responsibility of educating their children and taking care of their homes, especially when they are the sole bread-earners. That is why I am humbly requesting that SSF provides more sensitization to community members on project identification, management, savings, and entrepreneurship. If this were offered, members would be provided with more information on alternative investment options. They could invest in different income generating activities, such as fish farming, and not merely agro-farming. I am also requesting that more sensitization and monitoring be done among groups for WaSH promotion as a way of securing healthy behaviors, and the prevention of diseases like diarrhea, typhoid, and cholera.
If it were not for SSF, I do not know how I could have managed, especially during this time when I am alone, having lost my husband. I would not have been able to educate my children, but now all my children are in school. Now, I have a good house and clean and safe water. I have achieved all of this because of the MCRL program.
One day, my brother visited me, and was amazed by my water facility. He asked me about my plans and encouraged me to invest in fish farming. He informed me what was required, like buying poles and polythene, like that which I had used in collecting the water in my facility. This was all that was required for a fishpond, which I would put in the shade to protect from preying birds.
I was amazed by this idea, but I did not know where I could buy the fish, and did not have enough knowledge of what the fish feed on, their diseases, and other information. In my area, there is no one who has done it. Maybe this will be my next step—after all, it pays to be ambitious.
- Wagner, D, Gamble, E & Willms, D. Cautious trust with allies: an ethnographic study amongst microfinance clients in Uganda. Paper submitted to the Journal of International Business Studies manuscript number JIBS-6478-2016-08-OM (2016).