Case study of the UWESO (Uganda women’s effort to save the orphans) I am not one of them but I have been following their activities, services and continued support to the orphans of Uganda under the patronship of the first lady Janet Museveni.
For over eighteen years now, the Ugandan women have played an important role in the development of Uganda through several initiatives like children projects, orphanages and other societies as regards development in the economic and social welfare of the people in the communities they serve.
I am depicting a case study from the UWESO community organisation which has been lady by the First Lady of Uganda for the past years. (Lincoln Joel Nsubuga)
The Continued Success of a Women’s NGO: The Uganda Women’s Efforts to Save Orphans (UWESO)
After almost two decades of civil war in Uganda (1971 – late 1980s), the Ugandan economy and society were in ruins, poverty in the rural areas being particularly severe. Social services and infrastructure were dangerously depleted and rural health care, water supplies, sanitation, roads and telecommunications were inoperative.
The country’s recovery over the last decade has, however, been striking. The Government has restored law and order in most areas and has set in motion a wide-spread, decentralized democratization process. Rehabilitation of the economy has been made possible by effective government programmes underwritten by the donor community, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and by market-oriented structural adjustment policies. The achievement of annual GDP growth rates averaging 5% in real terms has been made possible by assistance from external donors, effective government programmes, a resurgent private sector and, most importantly, by private initiatives on the part of Ugandan civil society.
Of the multitudinous victims of civil strife, the saddest and the most vulnerable were the many orphans who had been left homeless, were mostly suffering from malnutrition and were exposed to disease, especially malaria, gastroenteritis, and tuberculosis. In the Ugandan context, orphans are children of less than 18 years of age who have lost one or (commonly) both parents, initially due to civil strife but increasingly because of the burgeoning Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) epidemic that now affects the entire country. In the latter case, the father usually dies first and is quickly followed by the mother, mostly due to malaria, which destroys body resistance. The orphans are doubly penalized because not only are they deprived and vulnerable, but the foster family that takes them in usually comes from the most vulnerable groups. The heads of the foster families are overwhelmingly female, i.e. surviving widows, elderly grandmothers, often a female teenager, aunts or cousins who themselves face serious labour constraints in terms of food production and farming, as well as inheritance problems and reduced purchasing power and creditworthiness – all of which reduce their food security, nutritional status and schooling. A recent study showed that the magnitude of the problem is large and likely to become greater. There are about 1.6 million orphans in Uganda, i.e. about 18% of the estimated 9 million children under 18 years of age, and these numbers are likely to grow to about 2 million by the year 2002. The traditional caring mechanisms of the extended rural African families are stretched to a maximum because one family out of every four is now looking after children that are not their own.
Support to this particularly vulnerable group is provided by UWESO, a national voluntary NGO that was founded by a group of Ugandan women in 1986 to address the orphan problem and is based on the mobilization of women volunteers in rural areas who are not paid and initially received no support. Membership now numbers about 10 000 women throughout the country, but, as of July 1998, UWESO still had a full-time staff of only about 25. The NGO operates outside of the government structure and administration and relies on voluntary efforts (in terms of time and resources) at the grass-roots level and on whatever external or domestic support that can be mobilized. UWESO began as a relief agency that distributed food and medicines in war-torn areas and gradually extended its activities to providing welfare assistance to needy orphans. An earlier activity was to sponsor the school fees of orphans attending primary school. Prior to 1994, UWESO’s activities were constrained by the small scale of its funding, i.e. membership fees, locally generated funds, individual contributions and limited bilateral grants. However, in 1995, the BSF.JP provided a major boost to the NGO by financing a UWESO Development Project (UDP). The grant of USD 1.45 million for the period up to July 1999 made it possible to build on the innovative and cost-effective action of volunteer members and to establish the first phase of a structured development project. The BSF.JP first of all strengthened the capacity of the small national secretariat through technical support, skills training and resources to create a proper financial control capability, basic transport and equipment. It subsequently funded investments and operational costs so that UWESO activities could be decentralized to branches at the district level and to support income-generating activities for targeted foster families and orphans. IFAD appointed UNOPS as the cooperating institution for administering and supervising the BSF.JP grant to UWESO.
With the help of the BSF.JP project, UWESO has evolved into a development organization with a small core of full-time professional staff and a strengthened management, fund-raising and implementation capacity. The organization’s approach has shifted to empowerment of foster families and, as reflected in the 1995 mission statement, it now seeks to improve the quality of life of needy orphans by empowering local communities to meet the social, moral and economic needs of this core of children in a sustainable way.
At the beneficiary level, the UDP has had a positive impact on foster families, as shown by household surveys undertaken during the interim evaluation and the Rapid Rural Appraisals (RRAs) undertaken in selected villages. The savings and credit services have been especially popular. The rural finance system and associated income-generating activities, effectively backed up by intensive training for beneficiaries in bookkeeping and business management, successfully introduced individual loans through groups. This involved some 1 875 persons, of whom 87% were women. In all, 4 000 loans were advanced, equivalent to a cumulative total of about USD 400 000 at prevailing interest rates. Overall loan recovery rates were about 90% and were lower only in the northern districts where there is still a degree of local insecurity. The savings and credit services helped boost the incomes of foster parents which meant that living conditions improved, small-scale businesses prospered and 10 000 children were kept in school. Since the majority of clients are widows, about half those children are likely to be orphans. Thanks to these services, UWESO members and clients are now introducing a regular savings habit.
Orphan sponsorships funded under the project have had a mixed impact, but the most successful innovation was the introduction of informal vocational training of orphans on the part of local artisans for one year. Practical skills training was provided by local artisans living near the families in order to meet neighbourhood needs such as bicycle and radio repairs, carpentry and tailoring, and the scheme was open to children as young as 12 years. Despite UWESO’s efforts, boys outnumbered girls in taking up such training because of the high dropout rate of girls from non-traditional trades. However, UDP sponsorships of primary school and formal vocational schools did not prove to be cost-effec-tive and had a limited impact. The support of such school sponsorships by UWESO reflects a residual relief orientation from the past rather than a new focus on empowerment and development.
The project has strengthened UWESO’s capacity as an institution through enhanced staff training based on a training needs assessment in management communication, financial control and computer skills. As a result, the preparation of annual workplans and budgets has been to professional standards, with timely reporting and no qualification of the annual audits.
Overall, the UWESO project has made it possible for the NGO to make the transition from one-off welfare-oriented operations for the benefit of single orphans to a development approach that targets all members of the foster families caring for the orphans. Operations have been decentralized to volunteer branches, which cover five of the country’s 45 districts. UWESO has gone from being a local welfare-oriented NGO to a diversified provider of services with emphasis on development and empowerment. In this respect, a major innovation pioneered by UWESO in Uganda’s rural areas has been the introduction of an effective rural savings and credit scheme. The NGO’s past advocacy of school places for orphans contributed to the Government’s decision to restart the Universal Primary Education Programme in January 1997, under which free education is provided for four children in every family and for all orphans thus making it unnecessary for civil groups such as UWESO to sponsor school places for orphans. UWESO’s learning culture, which stresses in-service training, and the adoption of promising ideas from external training institutions and lecturers, will foster the sustained growth of the NGO.
The internationally renowned Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, who visited Uganda at the invitation of IFAD and BSF in April 2000, produced a documentary on UWESO. It was shown at the 54th Cannes Film Festival in the Films Out of Competition category, and was Kiarostami’s first film outside his home country.
A second phase of UWESO was approved in August 2000 and the UWESO Development Programme is making a potent contribution to the overall advancement of Uganda, serving as a shining example for other African countries to emulate.
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