LIRA. Ketty Acen’s three children had dropped out of school because she was unable to raise their school fees from her petty business of selling local brew.
Under the pressures of abject poverty, with too many mouths to feed, Acen’s husband abandoned his family at Barr- Sub-county in Lira District 10 years ago and has never come back.
“Before he left, he had abandoned all his responsibilities and I was the only one struggling to put food on the table and send the children to school,” says Acen.
Acen is among hundreds of women, whose husbands, driven by poverty and lack of employment opportunities, abandon their partners every year.
But Acen’s story has a relatively better-off ending, and she has managed to turn her life around thanks to the Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP) of the ministry of Gender.
Under UWEP, the women are availed with interest-free revolving credit to initiate or strengthen their enterprises.
Lira District started implementing the programme in November 2017 with seven projects worth Shs36 million being funded in Barr Sub-county.
Mene Ayot women’s group in which Acen is a member received Shs5 million earmarked for equipping women with the skills for enterprise growth, value addition and marketing of their products and services.
The group was started in 2014, with a vision to eradicate poverty, promote education and gender equality. And the objectives of the group are, among others, enabling members to have revolving funds from the group savings. Another objective is to identify income generating activities and build the capacity to run small scale enterprises.
In December 2017, this group of 13 women set up a small restaurant at Barr Trading Centre where they live.
In just two months, members’ incomes have improved, and Acen, like the other 12 women, is now able to educate her three girls in secondary.
“Before the intervention, our members had difficulties in paying their children’s school fees, but now most of our children are back to school; the money alone has brought us together,” says the group secretary, Alice Ongu.
The group coordinator, Ketty Acen, explains that they picked on catering services as their enterprise because their restaurant is strategically located.
“It’s located at the trading centre where many people would want to eat,” Acen, who also doubles as the head cook, says.
Every day, Mene Ayot’s profit exceeds their investment. “When we buy materials worth Shs75,000, we are sure of fetching Shs80,000 as a profit and, now we have employed four girls to help us run the business,” says Acen.
This particular success story is not the exception either. In Barr, six other groups have received some interest-free revolving credit to initiate or strengthen their enterprises, with encouraging results.
In many groups, these women have started making weekly contributions to their own local savings groups, so that there is a source of a larger loan in cases of emergency.
But aware of the programme guidelines, Mene Ayot women’s group wants to pay back all the UWEP money by December this year.
According to the guidelines, the beneficiaries are supposed to have paid back all the money they received under the programme in within three years. The beauty is that when you start paying within the first one year you don’t pay with any interest. But when beneficiaries surpass the second and third year, the guidelines provide that they begin paying with 5% interest.
Immediately they got money from UWEP, Mene Ayot women’s group bought, among other things, 100 plastic chairs for hire, 300 cups, 350 plates, four sets of serving dishes, 10 saucepans and four tables to be used in their restaurant.
“Our capacity has increased and the project has exposed us to the outside world,” says a member, Mary Abura.
Sammy Opio, another group member, says: “We are known at the sub county, the district and national levels and even the Ministry of Gender knows about our existence.”
Barr Sub-county community development officer, Molly Alwedo, commends the Gender ministry for choosing the “right” group.
“First of all the women listen and their demands are so limited compared to the youth. When you tell them that tomorrow I need you for this, they normally turn up. It has even made our work at the sub county very easy,” she says.
Ms Alwedo says amidst all the successes there are also challenges in the implementation of UWEP. Beneficiaries say the money given to them is inadequate to make their enterprises expand fastest.
“There are groups in my sub-county that applied for farming and the money was given to them in November – at the onset of dry season – and up to now they have not implemented anything,” she says.
“Now I’m seeing a challenge with such women. All their money is kept in the bank and the bank is now chopping and by the time they will receive all their money automatically it will be less and they will have to pay all that money.”
The community development officer appeals to government to invest more money in UWEP since women are willing to pay back the money.
“The government should continue supporting these women by at least increasing the amount of money given to them,” she adds. For instance, the budget for Mene Ayot women’s group was Shs12 million but the government only gave them Shs5 million – which is inadequate to accomplished their plans.
“To make these women active the way they are, the ministry should do continuous monitoring of these groups because if they don’t, they (beneficiaries) will relax like YLP (Youth Livelihood Programme) groups that got relaxed and they disappeared with the money,” she says.