Alexander and his bike

Do you remember Alexander? The warm-hearted man with the big smile who many of you supported to buy a bike last year? Well, he is still going strong and is one of the key people in Empowered Voices. He is extremely loyal to the group and helps out in any way he can. Every time a meeting is schedules he bikes around to the five villages to tell people about the time and place for the meeting. Since power is so unreliable and a lot of people can't afford to buy air time for their cell phone, it would be impossible to reach people unless Alexander biked around to spread information. Go Alexander! :)

Check out some photos of our communication-handyman below. Even giving it a go at the computer! (NB: The last photo does not show Alexander's new bike - that's Sylvia's old bike. Photos of new bike will come later!)

Leadership training in Kampala, November 2016

Leadership training is one of the core activities of Empowered Voices. For communities to change and develop we need leaders that can take on responsibilities and be role models.

The training is a motivational and inspirational learning experience for the participants. It is also in a way, a reward strategy for the leaders to focus more on personal and organization development through such learning exposure.

This year’s retreat (November 8-9) attracted a total of 14 EV leaders. For the first time, these women leaders also allowed in 5 men who are serving on various committees and are instrumental in the day-to-day activities of EV. To focus on gender equity is very important in Empowered Voices' work and one way of doing that is through dialogue with the men and involving them in the organisation.

Group photo at the NOGAMU visit.

Group photo at the NOGAMU visit.

These were the main activities during the leadership training:

  • Visit to SIRACO irrigation systems where EV was introduces to water harvesting technologies and irrigation systems, agronomy, modern way of raising seedlings in seed trays, and greenhouse technology. The purpose was to expose EV leaders to appropriate technologies that can be used to address the current climate adversities and continue in profitable farming business.
  • Visit to NOGAMU - the National Organic Movement of Uganda. Several of the EV members have started producing organic vegetables and NOGAMU encouraged them to strive towards a certification.
  • Tour of Kasenga Organic Farm.  This is a family run business with various enterprises including crop and animals, which are all managed organically. The main aim of visiting this farm was to expose to EV members commercially viable organic production.

After the training the participants were asked to list 3 activities for individual development and 2 activities for group development as an action plan for 2017. Many interesting ideas emerged and hopefully we'll be able to embark on some of them in 2017. These are some of the group activity suggestions:

  • Establish a group garden for EV to grow one high value crop for income to the group (e.g. cherry tomatoes).
  • Acquire sewing machines and be trained in tailoring.
  • Become true ambassadors for organic farming.
  • Organize training in bee keeping.

To many of the EV members, it was an eye-opener to so much that they didn’t know. The trip helped them believe that one can run profitable farming enterprises, demystifying the earlier conviction that organic can only be done for subsistence production not profitable commercial production.  Because of Julie's skills and knowledge, her network and her enthusiasm for community work we are able to organize such trainings and we hope to make this an annual happening.

Opportunities creates aspirations, dreams and action

In September (26th and 27th) we had a training for one of our village banking groups. These grops (called VSLA=Village Savings and Loan Associations) save money together since they cannot acces a regular bank. It gives people a chance to take control over their finances and learn how to plan, access small loans when they are in need (e.g. for their children's school fees) and empower themselves through the benefit of being in a group.

This particular training was for our third and youngest group in the Nkwandwa village. The training was guided by Julie Matovu and assisted by some of our extraordinary EV leaders (see photos).

What was really fantastic was how the group expressed an keen interest in learning about how to initiate development projects within their community. In a discussion they shared their views on the advantages of working in groups. The most outstanding advantages that were mentioned included knowledge sharing, peer encouragement, accomplishing much more tasks as a result of team work and being able to generate credit through member savings.

We hope the Nkwandwa savings group will continue to work together towards a better future for themselves and their community. Empowered Voices is proud to have them as part of the team! :)


Milly - a role model in Empowered Voices

Milly.JPG

I want to tell you about Milly. She is the treasurer of Empowered Voices in Mubende and now using her own experience as a leader to inspire others in her community. She was part of the first savings and loans group Empowered Voices started in 2014. These groups save money together and learn to handle their finances in a secure, practical and smart way. She now tells her story to other people in her community to support them to believe in change.

This is Milly's story:

"My name is Milly Katongole, a mother and a wife. I have had a great experience with Empowered Voices (EV). When I first joined EV, my husband was not very supportive, He was usually very skeptical about our activities. He always thought this was a time consuming encounter that makes women unruly!I Eventually I became the Treasurer of EV VSLA - our saving scheme, this totally changed our family status. As a leader, I had to learn to be an example, I learnt the art of saving in every sense; at home in my own box, in the EV scheme, and in other aspects of our lifestyle. This changed our life and the way we view things."

Milly and her husband once had a problem with some bricks they owned that was kept at another farmer's land. This farmer decided to sell everything immediately and Milly's husband had no way to fix this. Milly opened a savings box she had kept at their home and to their surprise the total amount of $85 had accumulated! They were able to transport the bricks right away because Milly had put into practice everything she had learned about saving and finance planning. Milly's husband was amazed! :)

"I continued saving and we later bought a solar system in our house. We access loans periodically and support our children in school and have been able to repay. We usually agree on a particular asset or investment each year. I’m very grateful for Empowered Voices, Bisoboka!!!"

Bisoboka! is Empowered Voices motto - it is a Lugandan word and it means Anything is possible! :)

 

With iPad and camera in the village

Empowered Voices' fabulous leader, Peninah Kaniyiginya, keeps learning new things and is developing into a progressive leader with many important skills. She can now use an iPad and a camera to document EV's activities in the villages. This is of tremendous importance for the group to become more visible in their district especially to the politicians and leaders, but also to other NGOs and community-based organizations, and potential funders.

Here are some photos from our latest workshop in the village Nkwandwa. The focus was on a village banking system called Village Savings and Loans Association. This system makes it possible for people living in poverty to save money and plan their finances together in a group. The Nkwandwa group is the newest VSLA under Empowered Voices and they are learning how to run the group by themselves and take responsibility as leaders.

The Super Five - on the road in Mubende

What do you do when the roads are bad and bumpy, you don't have a four wheeler and it poured down last night?  You just drive! And when a problem arises you take care of it! Like we did April 1st this year when we drove on the red soil, rural, village roads in Mubende - in the heart of Empowered Voices land - on an important mission :)

We had a tight schedule to reach out to all the people who had participated in the health and livelihood survey we did in 2014. We had promised to bring hoes and other tools as a gesture to show appreciation that they participated and also to follow up on the results form the survey. Although April 1st, it was not an April fool's prank that we got stuck about 25 times!

One time we got really, really stuck and I thought we would have to call for help, but lucky for us we had tools in the trunk and we were 5 strong women to dig, push and maneuver the car. We called ourselves The Super Five! :-) And for good reason - we got ourselves out of every bush, every hole in the ground and every banana field the car so mischievously entered into.

Just one tip: Never place yourself right behind the back wheels when you're on a muddy road and the wheels are spinning - YES, it's true - I got myself a little mud shower and we had to buy me a new dress before visiting the next village :-)

Alexander's bike

Thanks to all the generous donations from our dear friends, Empowered Voices has now been able to buy a bicycle for Alexander! He is now the happy and proud owner of the brand new bike you can see in the photos (we know the photos are a bit blurry - taken with Peninah's new iPad - but we'll get better photos later where we can also capture Alexander's great smile!).  We hope the bike will be of great help to him when he's collecting beans in the different villages and doing other volunteer work for EV. We're extremely appreciative of Alexander's efforts in EV. Bike safely, Alexander! :)

Bicycle_Alexander_1.jpg

Our Julie at the COP21 in Paris to represent organic farmers

After presenting our survey to the sub-county we traveled to the villages to tell the community members of the results. No matter who Julie talks to she's able to convey the message about organic agriculture so everybody understands and feels important.

After presenting our survey to the sub-county we traveled to the villages to tell the community members of the results. No matter who Julie talks to she's able to convey the message about organic agriculture so everybody understands and feels important.

You all know our incredibly gifted and talented on-the-ground manager in Uganda, Julie Matovu, who is invaluable to Empowered Voices and who is not only our consultant but our friend and inspiration. Well, what you didn't know is that she was invited to come to COP21 in Paris to represent organic farmers from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Julie did not only attend the conference but also asked a very important question to Al Gore and got a very inspirational answer back from him. Her question was how farmers could continue to access seeds in its full biodiversity when faced with corporate companies patenting life, knowing that he who controls the seed, controls the food. Watch the videos to see his answer and the presentation of the organic farmers :)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcsIvU6BFjo&sns=em

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfKl_dm9iC8

We are very proud of Julie and to have her on board with Empowered Voices. With her knowledge on sustainable farming and organic agriculture we are certain that the members of EV is on the right track to a better and healthier food production without polluting the soil, the food or themselves.

Julie giving advice in the banana field.

Julie giving advice in the banana field.