Village saving schemes offering ray of hope for the vulnerable in Uganda
With groups like Nyamwamba East and Kyambogho, there is hope that more women will get themselves out of poverty
Margaret Masembo looks every inch a grandmother that she is, her elder daughter having recently given birth to a baby boy. At 32 years old, Masembo doesn’t look her age though. She is quick to note that her life has since turned better when she joined a savings group three months ago.
“Life is much better today. I can weave baskets and sell them to earn some income and look after myself,” she reveals with pride as she picks dry tree leaves of the pine species that form the ridges of the multicolor baskets she is making.
She worried about her children since one had already given birth at 16, like she did 16 years earlier. “I didn’t have a job and was worried about my children who had turned to providing entertainment in bars. I didn’t want them to be like me,” she says.
As she pondered about her own future, that of her children and now her grandchild, a community member approached her and informed her of an opportunity for training to make baskets and plait hair. “I listened to the team and picked interest,” she adds.
“Once I started making baskets and plaiting hair, I went to my eldest daughter and asked her to join me instead of being on the streets and in bars. I am happy she listened to me and she is here with me,” she says, pointing to a girl making baskets.
Masembo is a mother of five children with the youngest only 20 months old. “I haven’t only learnt this skill, I have been also taken through personal hygiene and family planning lessons which are very crucial for us in this community,” she adds.
Masembo is just one of 30 members of Nyamwamba East Art and Craft Village Saving and Loan Association in Kasese Municipality. The group started with 15 members and has since doubled its membership. “We are 26 women and four men,” 28-year-old Grace Muhindo, the Chairperson says.
Members save at least Shs2,000 every week, which they borrow to start up other businesses.
“Some of our members have started vegetable stalls in the market while others are making baskets and plaiting hair. If we continue with this progress, our members will start saving at least Shs10,000 every week,”
In Nyamwamba East, an informal settlement with high poverty levels, jobs are scarce leading to high school dropouts and teenage pregnancies. “I am just 28 but my eldest child is 11 years old. The majority of the girls here give birth at an early age. This is something I want to change,” Muhindo says.
Muhindo’s group is one of the Village Saving and Loan Associations (VSLAs) being supported by UNICEF Uganda with funding from the FNS Charity Campaign. Mothers to Mothers, an NGO is implementing the catalytic intervention to end child marriages and HIV/AIDS and address their impact among children and adolescents in Uganda project on behalf of UNICEF Uganda.
This informal settlement gets its Nyamwamba name from River Nyamwamba, a river known to regularly burst its banks destructing everything in its path. Majority of the people in this community have mainly been working as labourers on smallholder farms in the Rwenzori mountain ranges.
“The river makes it impossible for people to cross to the mountain side to look for work where they are paid Shs4,000 (about a US dollar) to work in the gardens for several days,” says Florence Namukwaya, the vice chairperson of the village local council. “We have lost some women and their babies in that river. So many women have abandoned that dangerous work and look at marriage as their source of income, yet the men are also jobless,” she adds.
“We are working hard but if we can get more support in creating a market for our products, more young parents like me will be able to send our children to school thereby halting the high rates of teenage pregnancies and early marriages,” adds Robert Thembo, a 23-year-old member of Kyambogho II Adolescent Savings Group in Kasese District.
With groups like the Nyamwamba East and Kyambogho VSLAs, there is hope that more women will get themselves out of poverty and put to an end to early marriages and teenage pregnancies that are rampant in Kasese, a district near Uganda’s border with Democratic Republic of Congo.