A Year in Review for Empowered Voices

For those of you who haven't followed our progress, Empowered Voices USA seeks to catalyze local development by working directly with a local women's group within the Mubende region of western Uganda. Through the support of small business development, agriculture, empowerment workshops, and a village savings & loan association, among others, Empowered Voices aims to improve the livelihoods of the 176 women members and their communities.

As we prepared our latest report for one of our donors, we thought it best to share it here with you all to get a glimpse into our activities over the past year. It's beyond inspiring to us how phenomenal these women are and how much they have accomplished throughout the year! As they say in Luganda...BISOBOKA!!!! Anything is possible!

OUTPUTS: We currently have 176 women benefitting one way or the other from this project. The ongoing projects are: handicraft business (56 members), growing of beans with associated sustainable agriculture training (started with 40 in 2013, increased with 70 in 2014), VSLA (Village Savings and Loans Association) training and establishment (32 members), and leadership development (focusing on 15 of the women). Also related to the main project, but not directly funded by Empowered Voices USA are the piggery (pigs were bought from sales of handicraft) and bee keeping (1 family is piloting this project but others want to follow) projects.

OUTCOMES:

Handicraft
Design has been developed all through this period. We've received two big shipments of jewelry (necklaces, bracelets, earrings) and baskets.

An online Etsy shop was launched in mid December 2013.

Parts of the sales have been transferred to the women as salary and they have purchased household items to make their daily activities easier, in addition to the pigs mentioned above.

Local organization and leadership development
After our involvement in the villages started, a core group of women began taking on initiatives of their own. They have registered the entire group with the local authorities under the name Empowered Voices Kyakasengula Women's Group.

In February 2014, Julie, Lene and Kaley held a three day leadership training retreat that included finance handling, gender equality, empowerment (including breathing and yoga techniques from The Art of Living), visits to other successful women’s groups, family planning and organic agriculture. Following the workshop and field visits, the women began growing organic vegetable gardens. They have begun liaising with Julie to sell the produce through Julie’s company, Fresh Veggies, and ultimately plan to embark on a group marketing scheme along the main roadside between the villages.

The women now have an office space to thoroughly manage their projects across the villages and meet and coordinate when necessary.

Village Savings and Loan Association
There are 32 women and men involved in the Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA), with 13 leaders sharing responsibility for its operation. The VSLA works to encourage savings across group members with the goals of growing communal savings for both individual gain as well as the increasing ability to loan from the group fund. The VSLA is structured to grant loans to participants once they reach a certain amount of personal savings within the group. They are able to loan from the group investment (10% interest rate), to be approved by the group, for business projects, health, family or personal needs. Since its launch in December 2013, the feedback has thus been positive, encompassing the men of the village as well as the Empowered Voices leadership.

Demographic, health and agriculture survey
In February 2014 after our visit to Mubende, the team conducted a survey on behalf of Empowered Voices. A standard questionnaire with questions concerning reproductive health, diseases, household data, water source, kitchen status, and agriculture produce and yield was used. We are processing and analyzing the data. Results will be available late summer 2014.

Bean project and sustainable agriculture
2013 season: 40 beneficiaries were given 20 kg of beans. Average outcome: 276 kg.

2014 season: 70 new beneficiaries were given 20 kg of beans, except 13 who were given 10 kg. Harvesting for the second season was after the period for the annual report.

We can't wait to see another successful year for Empowered Voices and can only imagine where these women's goals will take us on this journey! Thank you beyond words to everyone who has supported us along the way.