Eight Canadian co-operators are visiting Uganda to learn about CCA’s Integrated Finance and Agricultural Production Initiative (IFAPI) model. CCA and the Uganda Co-operative Alliance have developed an innovative approach to rural development by linking agricultural co-operatives, marketing co-ops and savings and credit co-operatives.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The look of sustainability

We visited numerous farms during our time in Uganda. One thing that became clear very quickly was that the land is ultra fertile and the diversification among the crops farmers can yield is quite vast.
Below is a photo essay capturing a few of the commonly seen commodity crops that provide sustainability for the farmer’s families; their communities and whoever is on the receiving end of the exporting trail. Most important to note though is that the farming practice is the livelihood of many Ugandans and it truly sustains their families and provides a life with potential for future generations.

Cassava – a root vegetable, starchy much like the potato. It is a main source of carbohydrates for many and considered a staple crop. Another staple crop not pictured here, but grown extensively is maize (corn). cassava

Coffee beans – *The ripe coffee fruits (cherries) go through a number of operations aimed at extracting the beans from their covering of pulp, mucilage, parchment and film to improve their appearance. The resulting clean coffee can then be roasted and ground to obtained the coffee powder which if fit for human consumption. *To learn more about processing, click here. Cocoa is also grown in Uganda.
coffee beans

Dried moringa – Moringa leaves are considered to have the highest protein ratio of any plant so far studied on earth. The dried form of the leaf offers extremely high nutritional value and is said to also provide healing and medicinal benefits.
dried moringa

Eggs – Farmers rely on a variety of farm animals just as we do in Canada. Spotted frequently were chickens, roosters, pigs, goats and cows. As well, we did see a variety of vegetables being farmed such as cabbage and other leafy greens but they weren’t seen nearly as often as the crops pictured here. Male roosters can be sold for up to 40,000 shillings while a producing mama pig can fetch 400,000 shillings!

Eucalyptus – We finally figured out how all the Ugandans kept their pearly whites so bright! Using the eucalyptus leaf for a toothbrush, the leaf has cleansing properties and tastes oh so minty fresh! Eucalyptus is also harvested for its lumber. We also saw many farms that grew pine trees and teak trees (also harvested for lumber upon maturity which takes around 20 years).

Ground nuts – A tasty nut, much like the peanut, ground nuts (or gnuts as the Ugandans reference them) are from a legume subfamily and offer a source of protein.

Honey - Lots of bees in Uganda, lots of bees who liked to chase me! Honey collection, fish farming and mushroom harvesting (below) are common jobs that youth and women often undertake in RPOs (rural producer organizations).

Mushrooms - Unlike other cash crops, the mushroom is one of the most affordable because it requires less space and manpower but pays very well.

Oranges – Many delicious fruits can be found in groves (pardon the pun) all over Uganda. We also saw trees that produced bananas, mangoes and papayas.

Simsim (sesame) – Harvested particularly in the north, roasted sesame paste is mixed into a stew of beans or greens and served as a side dish, sesame paste may be served as a condiment; a candy is made from roasted sesame seeds with sugar or honey. *For more on Ugandan cuisine click here.

Beans - Uganda is the world’s 8th largest producer of dry beans.

Farmers receive training on crop diversification through the Uganda Co-operative Association and ACE’s (marketing co-operatives). Due to this newly gained knowledge they reach a new level of success when they branch out and begin farming more crop varieties.

Jenn Nelson

Monday, December 10, 2012

Eye-opening, life-changing experience

Taking photos at a Kampala arts and craft market, left to right, are: Laurie Tennian, Jim Harris, Cindy Corrigan and Lacey Chyz.

I found myself smiling a lot while I was in northern Uganda, infected, as our team leader Karen Timoshuk put it, by the “contagious smiles” of its warm and welcoming people.

This is despite the abject poverty that overwhelmed our senses everywhere we went, from the acrid smells of open latrines and burning rubbish to the soft cries of street beggars pleading for a few shillings.

Yet in this sea of human misery we found sprigs of hope shooting up from its murky waters. This was captured in the words and photos of the SACCO, RPO and ACE members who walked incredible distances of 5, 10 and even 20 kilometres, to share their heartbreaking – and heartwarming - stories with us.

On the last day of our two-week journey of discovery, our team of Canadian co-operators and communicators, reflected on our shared experience and its impact on us as individuals.

Cindy Corrigan, director with the East Kootenay Credit Union in British Columbia, was struck by the pride she saw in the people she met with. “That pride came to me so forcefully it rocked me. Somehow I want to bottle that and I want to take it back home. I want to stand in front of a room and share that passion.”

Rolf Traichel, director with the Federated Co-operatives Limited in Alberta, said the story he planned to tell when he returned to Canada was that Ugandans are people “just like us. They want their kids to go to school just like us. They want to build a house just like us. They want to have financial security just like us.”

Adele McGuire, an accountant with the Metro Credit Union in Prince Edward Island, was “amazed just how much they (Ugandans) believe in co-operative values. They seem to really thrive on co-operative values and really want to belong there (SACCO).”

Jim Harris, communications specialist with Manitoba Central, agreed. “The spirit of co-operation and the importance of co-operatives here (in Uganda) is something we can share back in Canada.”

Lacey Chyz, communications and member relations officer with the Lakeland Credit Union in Alberta, said the mission validated her dedication to the advancement of the co-operative movement among youth. “All along my goal has been to bring back to Canada the co-operative values I believe in so strongly.”

Both Deborah Chatterton, public relations professional with Vancity in BC and Jennifer Nelson, travel writer and representative of Saskatchewan Central, both spoke of the strides the Ugandans have made in releasing poverty’s grip under IFAPI, an innovative approach CCA and UCA have taken to rural development in northern Uganda. Though Ugandans' measure of success is small by Canadian standards, Deborah said it had changed her definition of prosperity.

With those parting words we parted ways, convinced, more than ever, that the co-operative model is the best model to help people in need provide food, shelter and well-being for their families.

We left Uganda both sad and happy. Tired but inspired. Changed people that are determined to become better global citizens.

I can think of no better way to end the International Year of Co-operatives than to have witnessed first-hand how co-operatives and credit unions are empowering people to build a better world.

Rayanne Brennan

Thursday, December 6, 2012

No longer "under the rule of guns"

Justus Kasaugatu and his wife Eves Kasangaki, members of Brecco SACCO
In a Growing Business
Today we are winging our way back to Canada, our heads and hearts filled with the moving stories Ugandans shared with us – stories of how the partnership between the Canadian Co-operative Association and Uganda Co-operative Alliance has helped them to build better lives for them, their families and their communities.

For me, the memories include clasping a farmer’s black hand in mine and demonstrating the meaning of CCA’s “hand-up-versus-hand-out” approach to aid.

We were discussing the Integrated Financial Agricultural Product Initiative, an innovative program developed and delivered by the UCA in collaboration with the CCA that links agricultural co-operatives and savings and credit co-operatives to promote rural development.

In the rural areas of Northern Uganda where this model has emerged, farmers now have access to local primary co-operatives, second tier marketing and supply co-operatives, and SACCOs which provide all important financial services.

John Kennedy, a soya and maize farmer in Nyaravur, is among the 6,000 Ugandan producers that are pooling and marketing their produce through co-ops. “With this bulking we have a ready market for our products and we are realizing more profits.”
This is confirmed by IFAPI survey findings, which showed that in 2011-12, members of rural producer organizations increased their revenue by a combined 30 per cent.
The farmers we interviewed during our two-week study mission also reported significant increases in productivity as a result of the training they received in best farm management practices under IFAPI. In some cases the growers doubled and even tripled their yields thanks to this capacity building program.

Natural resources
The farmers also recognized that Uganda’s agriculture sector could be sustainable, even profitable, given the country’s rich natural resources, but only provided IFAPI continue to bridge their knowledge gap with training.

Indeed, Ugandan farmers have natural advantages that Canadians would envy – a favourable climate that allows for two growing seasons and the ability to produce a wide variety of crops, plus fertile soil and plenty of untilled land.

However, compared to Canada’s agriculture industry, Uganda’s is decades behind, with many of the farmers we met still using hand hoes to seed their crops. UCA officials we spoke to during our debriefing in Kampala cited two reasons for the apparent lack of progress – “politics” and over 20 years of civil war.

In some cases, farmers were forced to abandon their farms and others that remained risked having the fruits of their efforts stolen by rebel soldiers.

The war’s impact on Uganda’s agriculture sector is still very much in evidence by the rudimentary practices and tools farmers employ in production.

However, this is changing as farmers, no longer “under the rule of guns”, return to the land to carve new lives out of Uganda’s red soil, aware of the tremendous potential it holds and guided by the knowledge they have gained from IFAPI and the co-operatives it has helped to form.

Rayanne Brennan

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Changing Attitudes

We all know just how difficult it is to change attitudes. It can be harder still to change habits. Generally changes in habit occur when someone has become enlightened or has experienced a paradigm shift. The difference in how one approaches life after such revelations can often bring on positive change to themselves, their environment and others.

I was fortunate to hear a story of a man who experienced such a shift he attributes to an educational experience. Deo, a farmer with the Bomido SACCO received various training sessions run by the Uganda Co-operative Alliance (UCA). One such session he shared had a significant impact on a very important relationship in his life; the one with his wife.

After receiving gender equality training by the UCA Deo realized that there would be more to gain in life if he took a different approach to this important relationship. He said that “after 30 years of marriage I have now learned to respect her, we now have peace, we now work together.”

Wow. That was powerful. As a woman who has experience a relationship with mutual respect; had the opportunity to educate myself; and the ability to exhibit and be proud of my independence and freedom, it made me think a lot. In fact, it has been four days since we spoke with Deo and now I sit thinking of our conversation while I type this post from a van that is travelling through the rural parts of northern Uganda.

Admittedly, I was truly taken aback when Deo cited this training and his change of habit as the biggest and most important life changer. It wasn’t only because he was so honest but rather it was because I haven’t had concerns about gender equality as it relates to me in terms of a relationship. My following thoughts were that gosh, his wife must be so happy and now feel so empowered. To be considered a partner and be provided with the much-needed level of respect, having accessed her independence must be life changing for her.

In Uganda, women do not always have the same rights or access to the same opportunities that men do. However, through the co-operative movement, lives are changing and the role women are playing is evolving. This has become clear to me on this journey as I continue to meet enlightened men and incredible women who now, through education and a more level playing field are doing amazing things.

Jennifer Nelson

The unbankable....

Armstrong Abdubango, Dikiri Kabucan SACCO (micro credit co-operative)

CCA-UCA partnership promotes trusted places to save, borrow, insure

Before SACCOS (credit unions) were formed in the rural Ugandan communities we visited, people hid their savings under mattresses, in holes in walls. They even buried them in termite hills.
Robberies were common. Some lost all the money they tucked away when fire burned their thatched clay huts. Savings were buried and never found after a family member died, having failed to disclose the money’s location. Savings were even eaten by rats, lured by the smell left on the bills by previous handlers, like fish mongers.

Those that did their banking at commercial institutions were frequently ripped off. Some were “very embarrassed”, in the words of Brecco SACCO members, to discover that their meagre savings had disappeared due to high “service” charges on their accounts. Often they were refused loans, being part of the rural poor that were deemed “unbankable” by the private sector banks. In addition, the distances that separated them and the banks made it too costly for most to do anything but make sure their money was well hidden from thieves and rodents.

Olivia Mugisa, Brecco SACCO treasurer acknowledged “you can’t do your banking at home.” However, the rural poor had limited options when it came to savings and loans.

That changed 10 years ago when the Uganda Co-operative Alliance, joined with the Canadian Co-operative Association, to design and implement a program that would help to build sustainable livelihoods and reduce poverty in the sectors of agriculture, finance and micro, small and medium enterprise development (MSME).

Trusted places

One of its main thrusts was to encourage the formation of SACCOs, community-owned savings and loans institutions that provide poor and middle class households with trusted places to save, borrow and insure.
In the decade that has followed the launch of IFAPI (Integrated Finance and Agriculture Production Initiative), the number of SACCOs has increased from eight to 22 in northern Uganda. These democratically-controlled, member-owned centres now play a significant role in the socio-economic development of the communities they serve.

“Now we know how to sell our products,” said Brecco SACCO member Stella Kannyege. “We know how to save money and pay it back. We know how to control our businesses. And we know how to build groups.”

The ripple effect of these micro credit co-operatives has spread throughout northern Ugandan society.

Impact on women

Louis Odhur, a widow and farmer in Omoyo, said her SACCO’s promotion of gender equality has had a positive impact on the women in her community. “They do not fear things now. When there are meetings they attend. It has given them courage.”

Robert Parmu, loans officer with the Erussi SACCO, said women are now borrowing money to pay for their children’s schooling, independently of their husbands, resulting in greater “harmony in the homesteads.” Other outcomes have been a reduction in domestic violence, substance abuse and crime.
“People can now take care of their lives and control of their own destiny,” Chegere SACCO manager Peter Aceny said. “We say no more going back. We are moving forward. We are continuing until reach our destination – sustainability.”

Rayanne Brennan

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The never ending handshake...

It may be a never ending handshake. But, that is a good sign. This is a short clip on how Ugandans shake hands.

Jennifer Nelson

Monday, December 3, 2012

An innovative co-operator

Mr Jenaro Onenboth

“I am proud of this place – there are so many opportunities”,  Mr. Onenboth beams when he talks to Canadian co-operators who visited his farm last week in the village of Erussi in Northern Uganda.   Travelling through the terraced fields at 10,000 feet, the Canadian co-operators who are part of the CCA Study Mission to Uganda were excited to meet the innovative coffee farmer.  Mr. Onenboth farms 5,000 coffee plants on 7 acres – last year he planted 2,000 coffee plants.

Mr. Onenboth was the first Chairperson of the Erussi Rural Producers Organization (RPO) which started in 2006 with 147 members.  In 2012 there are more than 400 members.  Individual farmers decided to form a co-op in 2006 to access services and training on best agricultural practices and enterprise management.  The members of the RPO grow coffee, maize, potatoes, and onions in the highlands of Northern Uganda. 

Through the training he received through the Integrated Finance and Agriculture Production Initiative partnership between the Uganda Co-operative Alliance and the Canadian Co-operative Association, Mr. Onenboth has changed his farming practices, increased his yield by 300% and now produces better coffee.   He has also trained more than 700 farmers (159 women) – 87 of these farmers have increased their income to allow them to build brick houses rather than thatched grass huts .  The RPO also conducts training session on bee keeping.

Award for best micro-entrepreneur
Last year Mr. Onenboth won a bronze award for outstanding micro-entrepreneur – he placed in the top 30 micro-enterprises (out of 1,300) in Uganda which has had a positive impact on the community, and provided local employment .  Some challenges he has encountered include transporting his coffee to market which is extremely difficult as the roads are poor, storage facilities are not available and access to markets outside Uganda and Congo (which he currently sells to). 

His plans in the next two years are to pursue agro-tourism opportunities, receive Fair Trade certification so he can export to North America and provide more training services to members of the Erussi Rural Producer Organizations.   “Through the intervention of UCA and CCA, my family has increased our income, have a better home, paid school fees for my children, improved production techniques and employed 2 people in the agro-input shop in my village”. 

Laurie Tennian
Mr Onenboth's home
Mr Onenboth (r)and UCA field officer George Okechagiw

Bridging the Gap...

Co-operatives helping the disadvantaged

Sister Mary Atimango and MUWOGORO member Paula Atimango stand before group's harvest of maize
The mothers spread blankets across the green grass and cradled their infants under the leafy shades of Itek trees. Laughter filled the air as the women talked and their older children played with news friends. It looked like they were enjoying a picnic. “It’s screening day for AIDs,” Sister Mary Atimango said as we strolled past the village’s health centre. We were headed toward the garden and fish pond her organization created as part of its mandate to help disadvantaged women become self-reliant.

Sister Atimango heads the Mungudit Women Group (MUWOGORO, which means “God is Good”). It has undertaken a number of initiatives to build the capacity of its membership through skills training and ultimately reduce poverty in Eurussi and surrounding area. MUWOGORO has a bakery to produce bread, cakes, mandazi and hosts for Catholic masses and a small mushroom farm. Members also receive training in home economics, food security and nutrition as well as reading and writing. Plus they receive counselling on HIV/AIDS and other health-related issues.
Not far from this mountaintop village, young men like Brian Ouuku are learning to become self-sufficient through the Boda Boda Association. The Boda Boda is a term that refers to fare-charging motorcylists, similar to cab drivers.
Until Ouuku, 22, joined this group of young entrepreneurs the future looked bleak. “I was idle. I had nothing to do.” He had limited education, having dropped out of school when his father died 10 years ago. Ouuku worked on his family’s subsistence farm to keep the household fed. Today he has ambitious goals for the future. “If I work hard I plan to get a motorcycle and God willing, in the next few years, to get a taxi car.” He will turn to his local SACCO, a savings and micro credit co-operative, assisted by the Canadian Co-operative Association in partnership with its Ugandan counterpart the Uganda Co-operative Alliance, for the loans.
“My life has improved,” Ouuku, who is youth representative on the Dikri Kabucan SACCO board said. “I can now earn a living, but I have not yet reached my expectations.”
When asked if he is a role model for his peers he replied, “Yes, it is obvious. There are some that encourage me, some that admire me. But there are some that discourage me,” he added added.
Life is very difficult for youth in Uganda, Ouuku acknowledged. “There are few job prospects, even for young men and women who hold university degrees. Their situation can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, and even crime. “You find the youth in the video halls. You find them in the trees smoking and drinking,” said Nyamutoro Sophie Prosper, SACCO manager, who had joined us to translate our interview.
The stories that we have collected on our Canadian Co-operative Association mission have been both heartbreaking and heartwarming. They are stories of organizations like SACCOs, Rural Producer Organizations and Agricultural Co-operative Enterprises uniting through the joint partnership of the CCA and UCA, to raise the standard of living for the rural poor.
In northern Uganda, this alliance is responsible for the development and implementation of the Integrated Finance and Agriculture Production Initiative. The strategy’s main elements are to improve skills, to raise productivity, lower poverty and to increase access to financial services.
It is making a difference for the young men that belong to the Boda Boda association and the women that are members of MUWOGORO.
Right now the 40 members of Boda Boda group shares two motorcycles but plan to acquire a third. And they have used the proceeds from fares to purchase 16 goats. Their goal is to increase the association’s membership, just as the goats will multiply in offspring, for the mutual benefit of all.
And some members, like Ouuku will learn and earn from this joint enterprise to become self-employed and self-sufficient.
Rayanne Brennan

The Most Commonly Asked Question in Uganda...

It has been a week since I unzipped my suit case, pulled out my sandals and began walking through the red dirt of Uganda with the locals.

Yesterday afternoon after a slow stroll through the village we sat under a shade tree and it wasn't long before the usual entourage of children gathered around. Two women came out of a grass thatched hut carrying two silver platters draped with a decorative doilies. Yes, silver platters. As I looked around at the kids who had no shoes on I wasn't exactly surprised that we were being served something sweet but the Canadian in me did feel a bit of guilt.

 Many times since we arrived the locals who appear to have so little, have offered us so much. These women presented us with coca-cola sodas and cookies and then I heard the echo. The most commonly asked question. "When are you going to come back to Uganda?"

Every time I'm asked I think to myself, I never want to leave, therefore I'll never have to 'come back.' Of course that isn't an appropriate or accurate response so I laugh and say "not soon enough my friend." 

As blessed as my Ugandan friends may feel to have me here, the truth is Uganda will be with me wherever I go. It is the cooperative way to want to help others so they can help themselves. As a cooperator and Canadian I wonder, do they realize how much their stories have helped me?

Lacey Chyz

Friday, November 30, 2012

You are most welcome here..

Everywhere you go in Uganda an expression often heard is “you are most welcome here.” This certainly applies to all of the wonderful hosts that we have had over the past week. Ugandans are very gracious hosts to say the least.
Here is a small snippet of this display from yesterday as we were sent off by the folks of Akoloda.

Jennifer Nelson

Uganda: Unplugged - Karen Timoshuk

Since Sunday, we have been traveling north central Uganda hearing personal stories of how membership in local co-operatives has literally made the lives of some men, women and children worth living. As over-the-top as that might sound, the wounds afflicted by years of civil war remain open for tortured Ugandans and orphans. HIV/AIDS is a skeleton, either in or out of the closet, for most families. Such stories have been clustered within a couple of the co-ops we’ve visited painting an alarming picture of the necessity of co-ops for those of us who can’t remember our co-op number when paying for our groceries. In a country where life expectancy is 53, half of the population is under 15, and one’s access to credit is out of reach because interest rates in banks can well exceed 30% with hidden fees, it’s no surprise that co-op meetings start with prayer.

It’s truly exciting to see how, during UN 2012 International Year of Co-operatives, Canadian co-ops and credit unions have either begun to donate or have generously topped up their current donations to the Co-operative Development Foundation recognizing the role, or perhaps responsibility, they have to play in building a better world through a business model that we take for granted back home.

In order to appreciate one’s lot in life, one must never forget where they have been. Ugandans have figured this out to a science recognizing that all victories, however small in the eyes of a foreigner, are to be celebrated. Our Canadian Co-operative Association study mission team finds this outlook on life contagious. We have so much to learn about life from our Ugandan neighbours in this small world of ours.

For those looking for the words of the Karen you know, you have laughed with, cried with, that you’ve grown up with, in the words of Arnold, I’ll be back…..

Thursday, November 29, 2012

We don't just think about money...

Women and children danced and sang a traditional Ugandan song of welcome as we entered their small community of thatched clay huts, tucked away in the bush.

After this enthusiastic greeting their leader stepped forward to tell us about his group – People with HIV/AIDS for the Oyam District. They included the infants, toddlers and teenagers standing before us, smiling warmly.

Their homes are located on the outskirts of Kamdini, a town of 23,000 and a bustling centre for trade. Its main street is lined with modest shops, bars, restaurants and hotels that have started and expanded with loans from the member-owned Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization (SACCO).

The activities of the SACCOs, like credit unions in Canada, are guided by the seven principles of the co-operative movement, including concern for the community. It is in this spirit that the SACCO helps to meet the needs of the most vulnerable – the poor, the widowed, the orphaned and the AIDS-infected.

“We don’t just think about money,” said the organization’s chair in explaining its mission. “We look at the social aspect too.”

Needs are great

The needs are great. As the gateway to northern Uganda, town became home to an army base when political violence erupted here in the late 1960s. The prostitutes followed the soldiers to Kamdini and so too did the deadly virus. The sex trade, however, was only one contributor to the prevalence of the disease. Women, even children, were raped as a weapon of war, spreading the disease to its homes.

“People have suffered severely,” Kamdini’s mayor Herbert Ogwal told me as we walked through the littered and crowded downtown, filled with vendors hocking their wares to the passing motorists.

However, as our visit here confirmed, SACCO is helping to ease the town’s suffering by investing in enterprising residents that large commercial institutions regard as “unbankable.”

Invested in distillery

Among them is Santa Okello, a widow with HIV-AIDS. Even though she had little collateral she received a loan from SACCO to start a distillery, making liquor from sugar molasses that she sells to the Nile Beer brewery. Her enterprise now supports 10 households.

“Without SACCO I would have been dead,” she said, when asked how this community-led institution has affected her life. “It allowed me to start this business to look after the children you see here.” In addition, the mother of ten and grandmother of 10, whose husband died of AIDS eight years ago, is able to purchase medication to treat her illness with the income she receives from the distillery.

The savings and loans centre also assists the nearby collective of people living with HIV-AIDS, led by chair James Obongo, a grandfather of 30 with two wives. “Before SACCO came we were not even meeting basic needs. “

Its 43 members, including children whose parents have died of AIDs, make arts and crafts, to generate revenue, develop skills and a sense of purpose, as well as combat stigmatization. “We are very poor and our health is not so good,” Obongo acknowledged. The activity is particularly important for the orphans who cannot go to school because of lack of money to pay tuition fees.

Obongo said SACCO has given them hope, as did the visit by our team of Canadian co-operators.

“Now we are optimistic we will continue living with your coming.”

Note: Sadly the AIDS situation is not improving in Uganda. In fact, according to a study released in August of this year, Uganda is only two African countries, along with CHAD, where AIDS infection rates are on the rise. Nearly a third of Uganda’s population once had AIDS or the virus that cause it. The rate declined in the 1990s as a result of public health strategies. However, this latest survey shows that the rate has increased from 6.4% in 2005 to 7.3%. It found that one in 10 women will have AIDs by their late 30s, the same number for the men when they reach their late 40s.

Rayanne Brennan

The value of education...

Over the course of the past four days, our team of Canadian CCA volunteers has met with a wide variety of Uganda co-op members, including members of savings and co-operative credit organizations (SACCOs), rural producer organizations (RPOs) and area co-operative enterprises (ACEs). 

The recurring theme that has emerged from those discussions is the value of education. Almost to an individual, members have told us that the education of their children is the top priority in their lives. Many have told us that the primary reason they joined their SACCO was to take out a loan to pay the school fees for their children. 

People like Boniface Ayo, one of the founding members of Ikwera SACCO in Aduku, a town in the Central Ugandan district of Apac. Ayo, a farmer with five children ages two to 18, said that like many members of the SACCO, he joined to get access to money to pay school fees.

"Money is the source of everything. With it, you can send your children to school," Ayo said. "If there is poverty, if there is nothing in your pocket, then there is nothing."

The Ugandan school system consists of both government-run schools and private schools. The government-run schools are more affordable, but class sizes can be as large as 500 students for one teacher. Private schools offer more reasonable class sizes and higher quality education, but they're also costlier, putting them out of the reach of many rural Ugandans.

Through school-fee loans from SACCOs however, many Ugandans are beginning to be able to send their children to private school.

For parents like Ayo, that means the opportunity to see his children reach their full potential.

"I would like to struggle very hard so they each can go to school and reach the level they can reach," he said.

Jim Harris

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Icebergs and Co-ops

Exposure to Ugandan culture has had an impact on the entire team. Jim Harris commented that Canadians live in a nanny state by comparison to Uganda and I agree. He pointed out how our coffee cup lids say “Caution: Hot beverage” and how we strap our children into cars like they’re astronauts. In Uganda we’ve seen entire families on one motorcycle. (Caution: Nanny state or not, do not try this at home. Have a licence, wear a helmet, keep your mind on the road, watch out for pedestrians, use winter tires as needed, keep your vehicle in good condition, and drive safely.)

CCA shared with our team the notion that culture is like an iceberg; what is visible on the surface, (especially to a tourist), is only a small part. Any culture has a massive underlying foundation that may take years for an outsider to fully know and understand. Our team has been lucky to even take a peek at the peak of the iceberg that is Ugandan culture.

Today our team had its first exposure to Masindi, a great town. Shortly after our arrival at the Hotel Victory Bijja we held our first round of interviews with local co-op members. It was enlightening to hear their stories of how belonging to a co-op has had a positive effect on their lives.

Prince, a co-op member's son
Members Feko, Joseph, Grace and Deo at co-op meeting
We headed out in a van to the Bomido Co-op Society outside Masindi. We were greeted by the chairperson, Turyagaruka Christine, ACE manager Masinguzuki James, and several co-op members.

Christine started our meeting with a prayer and introductions. We began interviewing co-op members on the spot and then were escorted on a tour of their farms. The work these Ugandan farmers are doing is impressive. Through their production co-op, Bomido RPO, they’ve been trained to take maximum advantage of their land and as a result they’re growing diverse crops. They’re also getting the best price for their crops through their marketing co-op, Bomido ACE. And they’re handling their financial transactions through a financial co-op, Bomido SACCO. 

Deborah Chatterton

A new dress...

Nsangi Ahmad Hassan

Nsangi Ahmad Hassan’s Northern Uganda home will be filled with holiday cheer this season because of a Canadian Co-operative Association-supported co-operative. The income he has earned from the co-op’s sale of bricks and fish will allow him to buy a dress for his wife for Christmas. The 28-year-old can’t remember the last time he purchased a gift for the mother of his three young children - twin five-year-old girls and a three-year-old girl. “In the African culture it is really a very, very bad thing not to please your wife.” He began setting aside money six months ago and looks forward to the day when he will have enough savings to take her to the shop and have her pick out the dress he will buy.

The Bomido co-op is the first of a number of community-led enterprises we will visit over the next two weeks as part of our educational study mission to Africa. I am one of eight co-operators from across Canada who will be capturing in words and photos the people behind these collectives.

Hassan is among the young Ugandans who have discovered the power of belonging to a member-owned rural producer organization. They share in the proceeds from a fishing and brick making co-op near the town of Macinda. Working together, they have created jobs for themselves and better lives for them and their families. “It means a lot to me,” said Hassan of the democratically-run business. “Education is a long-term investment.”

Before the co-op was formed, Hassan was “home starving with a diploma in administration.” He had worked on a road construction project as a security guard but when the road was completed he was out of a job.

Hassan said joining the co-op has “improved the standard of living” for him and his family. In fact, it has generated enough revenue that he has begun construction of a new home for his wife and three children. Only one room is completed, which serves as temporary living quarters for the five-member Hassan household.

Still, for the first time in several years, that small single room will be the site of a very merry Christmas for the Hassans.
Rayanne Brennan

Monday, November 26, 2012

In Africa!

OMG, I’m in Africa! We landed in Entebbe and took a bus to the Speke Hotel about two hours ago (a wild ride with some interesting traffic moves, but that just added to everything). It’s dark but nevertheless my first views of Entebbe and Kampala were so exciting.
I’ve spent the last hour unpacking and doing battle with both wi-fi and a rogue mosquito.
But before I sign off, I have to announce another OMG moment: I watched the sun set over the Sahara Desert through the plane window. Wow, wow, wow.

Deborah Chatterton

Black Friday

Before leaving for Uganda, I bought a book from Amazon.com. Consequently, Amazon got my email address.

I mention this only because I spent Friday — Black Friday — walking the streets of downtown Kampala. In the morning we left our hotel and walked roughly 10 minutes to the offices of the Ugandan Co-operative Alliance (UCA).  The purpose of our meeting at the UCA offices was to be debriefed on the work the UCA — in conjunction with the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA)  — is doing in Northern Uganda to connect farmers with marketing co-operatives and Ugandan credit unions.

Part of the debriefing also focused on some basic facts about Uganda, and the one fact that jumped out at me was that a full quarter of the population lives on less than one U.S. dollar per day.

That statistic is jarring enough on its own, but it was driven home on our walk back to the hotel, when we passed people begging in the streets. Old people, people missing limbs, and the one image that I was unable to shake: a woman begging with her infant child sleeping beside her on the bare sidewalk.

That image stayed with me for the rest of the day. That evening, as I was checking my email, I was bombarded by emails from Amazon, offering fantastic Black Friday deals on high-definition televisions, computers and other electronics.

The contrast between the privileges we enjoy in the developed world and the struggles of people in the developing world was never starker. 

That’s why I’m so excited to spend the coming days learning more about how the UCA and CCA are working to improve the lives of Ugandans. My hope is that we’ll hear stories about how the project is providing them with opportunities to become self-sufficient — and therefore avoid the fate of that woman and her child.

Jim Harris

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Finding our joyful place...

While doing background reading for Uganda, I paid particular attention to the pieces that paint the reality for woman in the country nicknamed “The Pearl of Africa”.

  • The average number of children born to a woman in Uganda is 6
  • A Ugandan woman’s life expectancy is 54.5 years
  • 80% of women are involved in agriculture and 42% of Ugandan women are unpaid family workers
  • Women account for 57 percent of all adults living with HIV/AIDS with practically all women being affected either directly or indirectly by the disease.

These realities paint a bleak picture for Ugandan women.
Driving home from Harris the other day, in a rare move I changed my radio dial from CBC to a Saskatoon rock station for a music fix. Of all musicians, Pink made a comment that stuck with me upon which I plan to frame my learning of Uganda and its people….
When in the depths of despair, it’s important to move to our joyful place.
I want to learn when, where and what that place is for rural Ugandan women and whether I can help them find and be in that place.

Karen Timoshuk

On our way...

There are no more sleeps and only hours to go before I board a plane bound for Toronto, then London, and then Entebbe to begin our two-week educational study mission to Uganda. Excited? Yes. Nervous? Yes. But would I turn back the clock and say 'No' to this journey? Not a chance. This is an exceptional opportunity to see first hand the important role the Canadian Co-operative Association is playing in the socio-economic development of Uganda by supporting and strengthening the country's co-operatives and credit unions.

I know from a similar mission I was on to Nicaragua in 2010 what an incredible learning, life-changing experience this will be. I thank CCA for the privilege to be part of this "storytelling" trek with fellow co-operators and communicators across Canada.

Rayanne Brennan

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Put me in a metal tube and launch me into the sky...

This is it: The Big Day. I’m blogging now from Vancouver International Airport, where I’ve just downed a California omelette to help my stomach deal with the malaria medication, which is bearable but not great. I’m flying to Toronto, where I’ll meet the rest of the team, then we’re all travelling tonight to London and Entebbe.
I know people have travelled to Africa before. And I know people have taken much wilder journeys than mine – witness Hilary Clinton, who has just flown to the Middle East to try to stop a war. But although I myself have been to interesting places like the Arctic, this trip feels different to me. I feel like I’m making up a story when I tell people I’m flying to Uganda.
It is surprisingly difficult to snap a shot of a plane flying when one has first to grab one’s iPhone off the table and turn it on. But here’s my best attempt at showing you the view I am seeing now. Except that that plane is long gone.

Deborah Chatteron

Monday, November 19, 2012

Time is drawing near...

In Africa, I will learn how farmers in Northern Uganda are improving their livelihoods through an innovative and integrated program that brings together production, marketing, and financial services co-operatives.  

Follow us on our exciting journey of discovery, as we learn about how co-operatives are alleviating poverty and building a better world.  

This is my second mission to a developing nation where CCA is helping to build pathways out of poverty. The first was to Nicaragua in 2010 and it was a life-changing experience.  

Rayanne Brennan

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Follow along on a journey to Uganda

I want to take the opportunity to share an experience with you. In a little under a week, I will arrive in Uganda, Africa as part of a mission to learn about the Canadian Co-operative Association’s (CCA) highly acclaimed Integrated Finance and Agricultural Projects.
As the lone member chosen from Saskatchewan, I will be one of eight individuals who were selected from across Canada. All who were selected are communicators and will be trusted as storytellers to share the work that is being done by the CCA.
This project will expose me to the creative alignment between co-operative farmers, credit unions and marketing. It is a glowing example of how co-operatives play a key role in strengthening entire communities and can help bring people from poverty to prosperity.
I invite you to join along, learn about the ways in which co-operatives are changing lives in Uganda and share it with others.
Jennifer Nelson

Monday, November 12, 2012

Telling our story...

I have decided to subject some of my dearest friends and colleagues to my thoughts during my CCA Study Mission to Uganda. 
As lead up to our departure on the 21st November, I hope to share with you small facts about Uganda to help paint a backdrop for the adventure ahead. And, while in Uganda, when we have access to internet, I plan to share with you the magic of Uganda, its people, their culture, and their relentless quest for building a better world through working with others.
Karen Timoshuk