Stepping It up for Gender Equality

Reflections from Our Regional DIrector – Mrs. Priscilla M. Serukka 

As I reflect on the International Women’s Day celebrations, I am challenged on behalf of our organization to really see if we are doing our best to ensure that women, girls are still not treated as secondary humans. Being an organization that is keen on development, we have learned that development of any community cannot be fostered if our mothers, sisters, wives, daughters are left lagging behind. We have progressed from advocating for just educating the girl child to empowering the women through Microfinance. This article shared a few highlights from our work in the hope that many other organizations could pick a few lessons or come alongside us on this journey.

The Bonga program reaches out to vulnerable adolescent girls to equip  them with life skills, numeracy, literacy and vocational skills.
Over the past five years, we have empowered over 6,904 adolescent girls in Eastern and Northern Uganda. Our goal this year aims at empowering at least 2,370 girls in 79 bonga centres.

Highlights from the Bonga program:
– 5,986 graduated girls have been able to mobilize savings and started Income Generating Activities
– 1,384 Adolescents are trained and engaged in farm and non-farm based income generating activities
– 566 girls have been able to get back to school
– Graduated girls and animators have been involved in campaigns on social issues through community theatres and other ways. Out of this xxx latrines have been constructed, improved nutrition, hygiene and sanitation in homes
– Participating girls have reported increased stability in their homes and reduced domestic violence
– Adolescent girls and their plight is becoming more and more recognized in the local communities of intervention

Bonga has helped me regain my self-esteem.
“Becoming a fashion designer seemed far even though I had always desired to be one. I often asked myself, where will I get money to even study?
After completing my primary Seven, I had nothing to do, my family was poor and they couldn’t afford to take me to school. I used to be redundant at home until Bonga came along.
Bonga helped create a sense of responsibility within in me. The life skills we did in our meetings helped me realize that I am important and that I have a say in whatever concerns my life. That’s when I woke up and started taking my life seriously despite the challenges I had gone through. And now I and my friend own this sewing machine, we use it to earn a living. I can buy my own basic needs and also contribute to my home. I no longer have to wait around to be told what I should do so that the men can give me upkeep. I like this feeling.
I am not desperate to get married but I want to have children some day and I will make sure they stay in school and become important.” ~ Kaynet Mourine, 20 years old (Bonga graduate under WENIPS Nebbi)

Economic Empowerment of the Women.
As a development organization, we do not believe in handouts but rather we focus more on hand ups. We prefer to work alongside the women or other community members in bringing about both individual and community development. Our work is implemented through partners who are based in the local communities. In economic empowerment, partners are trained in delivering what we call the Community Managed microfinance (CMMF) program. This program involves community members mobilizing themselves into groups of 30s to save and borrow amongst themselves. They together come up with a constitution, choose their leaders including a treasurer and they decide how often to meet. The model is unique in a sense that it allows members to take ownership. We have introduced the CMMF program to all our Bonga groups as early as the first 3 months. For some, by the time they graduate, they have already saved up enough money to buy equipment to continue with whichever trade they will have acquired skills in.

Women-receive-loans-through-their-CMMF-group
Other than the adolescent girl, this community development program emphasizes that for each partner organization enrolment be 70% in favor of women. We focus on women because according to human development statistics, they are the most marginalized especially in sub Saharan Africa. Many women in Africa are left to cater for their families after their husbands die or abandon them. We find that rural women bare the biggest burden when it comes to providing basic needs to their families. Therefore we thought if we empower this woman to a favorable level of financial freedom, she can live confident, securely and able to cater for her children. This is the reason why we target at least 70% women to participate in this intervention. As at the end 2015, we had managed to reach 52,880 women in Uganda. In 2016, our target to reach out to 8,750 women in rural hard to reach areas of Uganda.

However, this is not enough. Our government needs to come up with a strong policy that is followed through to protect adolescent girls. Teenage pregnancy is still a big issue. Girls below 18 years are sadly still being treated as clan property and offered into marriage in the rural areas. There is a great need of sensitization if we are to see this vice adjudicated. If left unabated, we are still raising a generation of illiterate young people who may also never value Education of their children
It is still common to find girls dropping out of school to look after their siblings or in favor of the boy-child. Strict enforcing of Education for all needs to be done, whereby school-age children should not be found at home during school hours. Girls need to be taken as important as the boys.

Many girls drop out of school during puberty. It starts with them missing four days of school each month, resulting in lagging behind in class and eventually losing interest in school. Assistance should be made for girls to remain in school even during seasons of menstruation. Adequate places of convenience and provision of sanitary towels should be made. Sending girls to school by the age of six years also helps avoid girls beginning school late.

Our approach moving forward is not far from other international development bodies. We intend to utilize our strategic plan to work towards the UN goal of Planet 50-50 by 2030. We are pledging to step it up for gender equality. We shall continue with existing programs geared towards empowerement of adolscent girls and women. But most importantly we want to stregthen civil society through the CMMF selfhelp groups and BONGA centres.

We would like to see more advocacy carried out on gender equality in the communities we work. Community members need to be enlightened, women and girls need to be aware of their rights so that they can confidently keep the duty bearers accountable. We shall also focus on improving livelihoods through our microfinance programs. Some communities are still behind in gender issues due to poverty and we believe that when people acquire financial literacy, they begin to fight poverty and some of the backward cultural traditions are rebated.
We need to together with the group members address the real root causes of poverty, issues of domestic violence and empower the communities to address the root causes.

In conclusion, as an organisation we are committed to empowerment of vulnerable girls and women so as to foster community development. When you empower a girl/woman, you have empowered a nation and future generations.

Aligning to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

In case this has not yet come to your attention, starting September 25th 2015, the UN launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) to replace the MDGs aimed at ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all.

These are the 17 areas of focus.

  • No poverty
  • Zero hunger
  • Good health and well-being
  • Quality education
  • Gender equality
  • Clean water and sanitation
  • Affordable and clean energy
  • Decent work and economic growth
  • Industry, innovation and infrastructure
  • Reduced inequalities
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Responsible consumption and production
  • Climate action
  • Life below water
  • Life on land
  • Peace, justice and strong institutions
  • Partnerships for the goals.

As always, SF will endeavor to align our programming to these SDGs so as to contribute to sustainable development globally.  We are glad to be on track already with our new strategic plan and hope to strengthen the partner engagemnent more with these SDGs.

Here’s a download link of the SDGs in full description.

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS (465.7 KiB, 233 downloads)

Bonga Adolescent Girls Graduate in Nebbi, Uganda

Monday 20th April 2015, was filled with jubilation and celebration as we witnessed the first ever graduation of Bonga adolescent girls in Nebbi district, Uganda where West Nile Private Sector Development Promotion Center Ltd (WENIPS), a partner to Stromme Foundation East Africa (SFEA)  runs the program. The ceremony kicked off with an awareness match on the streets enlightening people about issues surrounding adolescent girls.

Girls Matching

Some of the girls doing the match

Young Lady jubilating

Girls celebrate their new achievement

276 girls successfully completed their 9 months Bonga adolescent girl’s empowerment program which equipped them with basic life skills, literacy, numeracy and vocational skills. For six months, the girls were taken through topics like primary health care, reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, women and child rights among others. Most of these girls who previously dropped out of school have dropped out of school due to various reasons such as early pregnancies and forced marriages now acquired both numeracy and literacy skills to keep them going. Sharon one of the graduates excitedly while scribbling her name in a note book remarked;

Before I enrolled in Bonga, I could not write my name or even read it. But now see what I can do with my life.”

In his speech the Chief Executive Officer of WENIPS, Mr. Onegi Jenaro, highlighted that WENIPS partnership with SFEA has enabled them to boost the education in the region. Through the support received, WENIPS has extended services among adolescent girls who had dropped out of school and others forced into early marriages and also trained communities in matters of savings and developing themselves through the Community Managed Microfinance (CMMF) program. WENIPS has also been able to support primary schools sanitation by constructing toilet stances in selected schools. This support from SFEA and her development partners including NORAD and DFID is well appreciated.

Receiving a certificate

One of the girls greets the chief guest just before she was handed her certificate

Oyella Mary, one of the graduates gave remarks on behalf of all the other Bonga graduates. She extended appreciation to their parents, WENIPS and SFEA for the support rendered to them through the program. Mary said she chose hair dressing as her trade for the vocational skills part of the training because she has always loved making women look beautiful. Other vocational trades that were availed to the girls included bakery, tailoring and handcrafts.
Now that they are all equipped with something to earn them a living, the girls have gained self-esteem, are more in charge of their lives and no longer playing victims of circumstances. Mr. Jenaro committed to continuous empowerment of the young ladies through various training that were being organised. In addition, WENIPS together with SFEA handed over start up kits to the girls to enable them start their small income generation projects following the skills  that they had acquired.

The Regional Director, SFEA Mrs Priscilla M Serukka congratulated the girls upon completing the training and attaining the great achievement. She expressed disappointment towards some of the parents and guardians who had not taken the program seriously leading to drop out of over 20 girls.

“51% of Uganda’s population are women. Uneducated and unskilled girls are very vulnerable and therefore a threat to the development of society especially in today’s global village. Protecting these young ladies should be a task to everyone in society.” Remarked, Mrs. Serukka.

She further urged the new empowered lot of ladies to continue working hard and saving through the micro finance program so that they can be able to stand on their own.

Mrs. Acayo Christine Cwinya-Al,  Woman MP, Nebbi district graced the ceremony as chief guest. Also present were the Local Council Five, chairperson and local government leaders, community leaders, parents and policy makers in Nebbi district.They all cautioned the girls and parents to actively participate in development programs brought to them so that they can altogether put up a fight against poverty and its associated vices.

exhibition

Guests checking out exhibited products made by the Bonga girls

Bonga entertainment

The guests were not left unmoved as they joined the Bonga girls in a dance to celebrate the day.

 It was indeed a great day of jubilation crowned with a great lunch feast for everyone that had gathered to celebrate the liberation of the girls.

Empowered People Empower Others – Rubirizi, western Uganda

Over time, SFEA has registered great success in poverty reduction through our community micro-finance intervention. Stories of transformation at individual and community level keep streaming, encouraging us that it is indeed possible to see a world free from poverty. Kiconco’s story is no ordinary one, it’s a story depicting community transformation through a simple woman’s dream.

Kiconco

Elivalda Kiconco, CMMF beneficiary via COVOID (SFEA partner in Rubirizi district)

Elivalda Kiconco is 52 years old who lost her husband at a young age and had to quickly adjust to single motherhood. The demands of parenting forced her to quit her teaching job because of the long distance between her home and village school she worked at. She then decided to concentrate on  subsistence farming  which would  provide food for her family and earn some little income to cater for the basic. At that time, she had a small tea farm,  banana plantation and she would also grow some vegetables.

 “It was so difficult, at the beginning of each school term I would get so stressed out to the point of almost being hospitalized. But somehow with handouts from some kind friends and relatives we got through the days. “She recalls.

 In 2011, Kiconco after hearing numerous stories about how CMMF had transformed an entire village, she decided to visit that particular village just to confirm the stories and perhaps   learn more about the CMMF methodology. She left the meeting convinced about CMMF, she it to help move her to the next step.  Later COVOID facilitators agreed to train the group she had mobilised in her village, and that market the birth of the first CMMF group in Kiconco’s village. COVOID is one of SFEA’s partner organisations operating in western Uganda.

With her children grown and almost through with school, Kiconco’s focus shifted from school fees to addressing a her community needs. She had always dreamed of starting up her own school. She had observed that parents in her community had one option of school for their children and it was quite a distance.  Many of the  young children (aged 1-5 years) were lingering around the village because they could not manage to walk the long distances. So they had to wait until they got to 6 years or older to start school. This was not helping with their early childhood development process. Kiconco hoped that she could address this gap by starting up an Early Childhood Learning centre / Kindergarten.

Kiconco facilitating and ECD class

Kiconco facilitating and ECD class

With the help of the CMMF group, Kiconco started saving  with her vision in mind. In 2012,  with a loan of UGX 200,000, she set up 2 classrooms at the back of her compound. She then decided to start with 7 pupils but the number soon grew to over 25. She asked parents to contribute just UGX 10,000 towards facilitation of the caregivers and teachers. By the end of 2013, 25 graduated and transitioned to primary school. Currently Kiconco has graduated 2 sets to primary and has 25 more in the centre going through early learning. She employs one staff at the kindergarten.

“I am still growing, I have made bricks and hope to construct more rooms so I can expand the kindergarten and hopefully employ more people,” said Kiconco.

 All of Kiconco’s group mates speak of her. They are pleased with the different innovations she has brought to the village. John one of the members and also area chairman, is so grateful that Kiconco introduced them to CMMF. “CMMF is a liberator, it liberated us from poverty. We used to struggle to get loans from these banks but now we no longer struggle because we can save and borrow from our own bank. People have built good homes, they take their children to school and can afford to dress well.”

At 52, you could say Kiconco should be slowing down, but this is far from her mind. Upon successful establishment of her kindergarten, Kiconco plans to set up a small village vocational centre to help impart skills to adolescent girls.

Bye-bye

Kiconco with some of the pupils at the centre