Our staff in Nwoya district in Northern Uganda had their work cut out for them when we entered this new region this past April. Nwoya town is home to only a couple dozen storefronts along one tarmac road. Just beyond the main road, the green savannah sprawls endlessly in every direction. Electricity lines have yet to reach this remote pocket of Northern Uganda. And yet, within this scenic and somewhat sleepy town, Village Enterprise is transforming lives.
This region has a complicated relationship with Murchison Falls, the nearby national park transected by the Nile. Elephants and other wildlife threaten the livelihoods of subsistence farmers as they roam freely, often disturbing and eating their crops. Furthermore, like much of Northern Uganda, Nwoya was devastated when the Lord’s Resistance Army’s terrorized the region in the nineties and early 2000s leaving tens of thousands of people dead, internally displaced, or haunted by the horror of the war. And yet, the two days I spent in Nwoya left me exhilarated and inspired. In the wake of harrowing tragedy and crippling poverty, Village Enterprise is partnering with Geneva Global to harness the power of entrepreneurship to send children to school.
Partnering with Geneva Global
Our partnership with Geneva Global allows families living in extreme poverty to send their children to school and ensure that they stay there. Geneva Global’s Speed Schools cover the curriculum of the first three years of primary school in just one year. These schools target children who have never been to school or have been forced to drop out because their parents could not pay the fees. To ensure that children will be able to matriculate into a formal school upon completing the curriculum, each Speed School student’s parents participate in our program.
Using the profits from their businesses, parents dedicate a portion of their savings each week to a Savings With A Purpose (SWAP) fund to save for school fees. The program also includes a hygiene component that encourages families to construct WASH stations in their homes. WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) stations include a tippy tap for hand washing, a covered pit latrine, an enclosed bathing area, and a dish drying rack.
Meet Adong Jacqueline
One of Village Enterprise’s newest business owners, Adong Jacqueline is a widow who lives in Lamoki Village. The first thing I noticed about Jacqueline was her arms–pure muscle. This is a strong woman.
Jacqueline told her story with humble determination. Jacqueline used her trainings and grant to start a small retail business. She buys and sells foodstuff, like dried silver fish. In the two short months since she started the Village Enterprise program, she has transformed her life and the lives of her six children.
Before entering the Village Enterprise program, Jacqueline was unable to pay school fees. She relied on finding petty labor to try and feed her family. She worked on other household’s farms and dug only a small piece of her own land, which rarely yielded enough to feed her six children. “I really used to have short vision, I could not think outside the box,” Jacqueline explains. At one time, Jacqueline’s oldest daughter was living with a relative who was paying her school fees. However when the relative could no longer afford the fees, she dropped out of school and returned home. Now, she is enrolled in a Speed School is progressing well. “Ever since she started she has never missed that school.” Jacqueline says. “Her mind has opened. The Speed School is really offering a quality education.”
Jacqueline’s passion and determination to transform her family’s life are inspiring. “Every time I went from the training I would come back and meditate on what I had learned and how I could do it well.” Jacqueline states simply. For example, “When they told us about WASH, I was like, ‘now what is the way forward?’…Before…I did not have the idea that there should be a rubbish pit or a toilet or wash facilities.” Pit latrines require a pit almost six feet deep and a covered toilet requires making and carrying dozens of heavy bricks. This didn’t phase Jacqueline. “I dug some soil and built the bricks and even that pit for the latrine, I was the one that made that hole and even if I stand in it, it is taller than me. I did it myself. I even made the blocks and constructed that toilet you have seen. Then from there, I moved to the rubbish pit. I constructed this bath shelter for two days and then I came to the drying rack. Now I’m very happy because now my home is just like a home where there’s a man but I’m a woman.” Jacqueline says with pride.
For Jacqueline, the most important part of the program was learning to adopt savings culture. “Because of the training, I am now saving.” She held up a 50,000 shilling note (about $15) and continued, “For now I am having this 50,000 Uganda shillings that I am going to pay the money (for school fees ) to that school,” she explained, pointing to a simple building across the road. “I strongly believe that my life has changed forever,” she tells me. “I am really full of hope. Because of the training, I am now in position to do everything that I thought I could not do. I have already seen…results and now I can’t even stop, I will just continue to do even better.”
While packing up my camera and preparing to head back to Nwoya town for the night I looked out over the rolling green bush and turned to Jacqueline. “Is there anything else you would like to add?” I asked. Jacqueline paused thoughtfully before saying, “I am pleading with Village Enterprise since you have heard my story. There are so many mothers that are just like me in my previous condition. Do not just stop with me, go ahead and bring in those other ones so that they can also see like what I have seen. This is my humble appeal to Village Enterprise.”
I looked at Jackie and smiled. Then I looked around to our team, “We’re trying,” I said.