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.

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