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A Trip to Uganda While Social Distancing

After 43 days of lockdown, Uganda, with 55 confirmed cases of coronavirus announced a restricted opening up of the economy. Social distancing and face masks will be in place. Public transport and schools will not be allowed to operate.

Social distancing. The definition of social distancing that resonates with me is “the extent to which individuals or groups are removed from or excluded from participating in one another’s lives.” (source: Dictionary.com). I feel excluded from other’s lives right now, both here and abroad. One way I cope with my distance from our staff and operations of Into Your Hands Africa is by reading by travel journals from my trips there and imaging the people I met, the programs and impact we have in rural Uganda over this period of lockdown. Warning: I am an optimist.

My most recent trip to Uganda was October 2018. One of our cohorts of women graduated from enterprise training while we were there. I handed out graduation certificates and lots, lots of hugs. Not a time of social distancing. My favorite speech of the day was Nakallisa Maria, alum and prosperous businesswoman selling handcrafted body creams and – soaps. Several women I met that day had business plans for soap. When I spoke with Stella, our head of staff, she told me that going into town, meant washing your hands a minimum of ten times with soap throughout any errand. I presume our women with soap businesses are making income and thanks to their eight long classes, know how to calculate their expenses and revenues as well. Some, like Nakallisa Maria will be confident enough in their skills to pass knowledge on to their households. Other women, like Namatebi Urita or Rita will use this time to gain new skills. Rita, alongside her local veterinarian, is an agricultural innovator – they mix local ingredients, bury it for three weeks and feed it to her IYHA piglets as probiotics. Where Rita has a skill gap is record keeping. One of her thirteen grandchildren, home from school where she pays the tuition, will be helping her learn and grow with her math skills. This is what I envision.

Since schools are closed during this lockdown and continuing, what remnants of our programs would I see? I would see our students spending time with their enterprise projects, usually pigs, at their homes. In 2018, some of our pig project homes had been dug about 3 feet into the ground with coffee beans for flooring. I imagine some of the students hanging out there, in that shaded cool spot, with their pigs, to get away from their boisterous and bored siblings. Maybe they will daydream about their unfinished career plans that they have started with us. What education and career they want to pursue and of course, like youth here, they will be missing their friends.

When I take my mind’s eye back and imagine the larger community, I realize our programs have nurtured resiliency. We established a stronger foundation for individuals, students and women. Some of that foundation is soft skills like knowledge, that is transferred from household to household. Hard skills like building a business ripples from individual to individual. While the formal means of acquiring skills through IYHA programs is halted with lockdown, the informal knowledge and skill transfer opportunities abound. Boredom and creativity are our friends.

I’m not feeling as excluded from lives as I was when I started this. I remain socially distanced – mask in place, 6 feet physically distant. The mental exercise of traveling to Uganda, imagining our impact there? I feel socially included there, even if it’s only in my mind.

Stay safe, socially distanced, but travel somewhere today and feel included…it’s a trip.

Julie King

IYHA Board member

Want to learn how program access during the pandemic is impacting other communities around the globe? Explore stories from our partners: 

 

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Ugandan Women and Girls: How COVID-19 is Impacting These Individuals

Into Your Hands-Africa started the Women’s Enterprise and Training Program because it has been shown that empowering women is key to empowering the community. In the rural areas we serve, most of the women are small scale farmers, often heads of households with many children. Being able to increase their incomes, whether by expanding their agricultural work or adding a new business, lets these women send their children to school,reduces food insecurity and overall raises their standard of living.

Nakallisa Maria participated in the Women’s Enterprise Training Program in 2017. She is a small scale coffee farmer who is responsible for two children and ten grandchildren, all of whom are in school. With the training she got in the program, and money from her start up kit, she launched a book and soap making business in May of 2018. Things were going well: she had linked up with traders who had been distributing her products in nearby centers and markets. She had a contract to supply books for a nearby primary school.

Then came Covid-19. In a country with a population a little larger than California, there are only 55 Intensive Care beds and 6 venitlators. If the virus becomes widespread, the results will be catastrophic. The President completely locked down the country, including all private transport. Suddenly, Nakallisa Maria could neither get materials to make her products, nor get them to markets to be sold. She had taken the books she made to the primary school, but they were to pay her after Visiting Day, when parents pay the balance of the school fees. Visiting Day was cancelled because of the quarantine, so fees have not been paid to the school, and the school cannot pay Nakallisa Maria. Those parents are also not working. When or if they will be able to pay their fees is uncertain, so she does not know when she will be paid.

In the meantime, Nakallisa Maria still has twelve people who depend on her. Money she had saved for materials are needed for food and other necessities. Scarcity has driven prices up. She does not know how she will feed her family, pay for school fees and buy materials to make her products.

This is a familiar story to anyone who has a small business anywhere. In Uganda, the situation is particularly dire, because there is no safety net except for the goodwill of family and neighbors. The government is distributing some food, but not everywhere and not enough to sustain a family. There is nothing akin to unemployment insurance.

Since the quarantine, our farmers have been unable to access commercial feeds and vet services. No traders come to buy their products. Health conditions are declining. People have to walk long distances to access health care , and do not have the money to pay for it. The savings small farmers like Nakallisa Maria have is literally and figuratively their seed corn, which they now have no choice but to eat.

 

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Ugandan Policies in Response to COVID-19

The Ugandan government is taking the corona virus pandemic sweeping the world very seriously. Although there have been relatively few cases (53) and no deaths the government has essentially locked down the country. The airport is closed and even the use of private vehicles, up to and including bicycles have been banned, even for personal use. Construction and some other work is allowed, but workers are told to camp near their work sites. Restaurants, bars and retail outlets are closed except for food, pharmaceuticals and agricultural and veterinary products. There is a strictly enforced curfew, with no movement after dark. The shutdown started on March 31st, for an original period of 14 days.

As of the latest report, there have been 55 confirmed cases and no deaths. On April 14th, President Museveni extended the lockdown for another three weeks. Maybe, with so few cases that seems to some an overreaction, but Uganda has a population of almost 43 million, a bit bigger than California, which has less than 40 million. California has over 12,000 ventilators. Uganda has six. Not 6000, six.

The president has asked banks and utility companies to refrain from disconnecting services or seizing assets. The government is distributing food to 1.5 million of its most vulnerable citizens, primarily in the cities. Some eight million Ugandans live in poverty so many more are facing increased food insecurity.

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Interested to Learn How COVID-19 is Impacting Ugandan Schools? Meet Vincent Basajja St. James SS Board President

Following the outbreak of the COVID 19, the government of Uganda took a quick decision to close all learning institutions in the country, mainly to decongest and protect people from the spread of the corona virus. This was followed by additional measures that include a total ban on public and private transport, restricted movements and other preventive measures. Adjusting to the disruption of the normal school calendar has had a lot of implications to the learners, teachers and parents but entire communities. The cost of living has skyrocketed with poor families at the verge of lacking enough food and other day-to-day family needs.

On Wednesday last week, I was able to visit and speak to some students from St. James Secondary School. They were very worried and anxious about a wide range of issues including the fear that their parents/guardians will most likely be unable to get them tuition and other scholastic materials when the school reopens. Like many other learners living in a country with no access to e-learning, and being deep in a rural setting, they faced difficulties accessing reading/learning materials.  All this is in addition to everyone here being worried about this pandemic. Adhering to preventive measures in resource poor settings is a daunting challenge. Nonetheless, the Ugandan government and our development partners are doing all they can to support the masses. Together we can defeat this pandemic. -Written by Mr. Vincent Basajja, St. James Secondary School Board President

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Working from Home

IYHA family and friends,

Working from a home office, not much and yet everything has changed these days. What does working from home look like In Uganda, I wonder? Inquiring minds want to know. Full disclosure. The “dialogue” below didn’t happen as such. It is pieced together from emails and an interview with the IYHA head of staff, Stella Nantege and sprinkled with online research I mined on the situation in Uganda. With apologies to Stella.

How has life in Uganda changed with the first case of COVId-19 (March 22)?

All public gatherings that exceed five people have been stopped including rallies, concerts and schools. All public (and now private) transportation including boda bodas, taxis and buses have also stopped. There is a curfew in place (7 pm to 6 am). We are only allowed to use bicycles or walk where we wish to go. Everyone is wearing a mask. If you move about in town you wash your hands a minimum of ten times. Only the shops that sell food are allowed to open. Only six of 100 markets are open. Everyone is calling on the government for food aid, but only two of the 200 districts have received anything.

Are you able to work?

Everyone’s life is at a standstill. Currently all of our programs are on hold, no school lessons, no training or workshops. Projects have been delayed. We are working from home but without daily interaction it breaks ongoing communication. We received a bonus (emergency food stipend) from IYHA. We are so grateful.

“People have chosen to insist on going to work if they can earn just a little rather than dying of hunger at home.”

Are most Ugandans obeying the President’s directives?

The older generation has embraced the lockdown with ease. Those younger have taken to social networks to spread lies. (The ones I found on social media were that COVID was a foreigner’s disease and could be sexually transmitted). Others are mass exercising. The Ugandan government has responded to those who aren’t obeying with more extreme measures like use of the cane.

How are you feeling?

We try to stay home, wash our hands, eat healthy and no visitors in our homes. Services are hard to access. My baby was sick and I carried him to the health center 4 km away on my back. I did not want to go to a hospital for fear of infection (baby is doing well now – bacterial infection, she got meds from local pharmacy after visit). We are worried for our jobs, too. We realize our United States family and sponsors were hit badly by the virus as well. We continue to hope for the best.

Thank you Stella, for the look into Uganda. I am once again reminded that we are more alike than we are different from here to there. Ok, not enforcement by canes.

A couple of quotes stuck with me in my internet trolling. One was so Uganda I had to share:

From the Ugandan President, “People are talking about convenience, this is war. It is not about convenience anymore, it survival.” For a country with 42 million and 55 ICU beds, it most likely is.

And finally, to end on a more humorous note, from a newspaper: “Dear men, this is the time to strengthen that bond with your wife and children. Wives please don’t make this a quarantine a nagging contest.”

Be well, IYHA community. Whichever the continent upon which you dwell.

Julie King, IYHA Board Member

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Wondering How COVID-19 is Playing out in Uganda? Let Stella our Ugandan Operations Manager Tell You All About It.

How has social distancing impacted your role as the interim Operations Manager with Into Your Hands Africa?

With COVID-19, we had to exercise extreme measures to curb the virus’ spread in Uganda. These measures include social distancing, hand washing and the use of masks. Like any other change, we have encountered many challenges from a programming standpoint including:

  • This year’s programming being in operation for only three months. Social distancing has taxed us with working from home which hasn’t been easy which has delayed program activities and anticipated program impacts;
  • Daily interaction with staff isn’t as frequent as before which breaks the ongoing chain in communication; and
  • Many of our service providers such as banks are now closed which has halted my performance and execution of administration tasks.

How are you and your family staying safe during this difficult time?

We stay at home, wash our hands, practice social distancing when required to go out in public, try to eat healthy and most importantly, do not allow visitors into our homes beyond immediate family members.

How is the Ugandan government defining social distancing? What policies have been set in place and are community members following these policies?

All public gatherings that exceed five people have been stopped including rallies, concerts and schools. These actions were taken before any case had been found in Uganda. Unfortunately since then, a patient tested and the number of infected Ugandans has continued to grow. All public transportation including boda bodas, taxis and buses have also stopped. Many businesses have closed and employees are being laid off. There is also a curfew in place.

With all the above policies put in place by the Ugandan government, people are following them with no fail. For those who have tried to turn a deaf ear, the Ugandan government has responded with more extreme measures like the use of the cane. At this time, social distancing has been really effective as everyone is at home with very little movement by foot which has limited any physical contact.

What impacts have you already noticed from a community perspective with regard to social distancing? Has this impacted markets and social sectors?  If so, How?

With social distancing, the community has lost all patience, as they are conflicted between compliance to remain healthy while also continuing to struggle for their everyday livelihood. This has required many of them to reopen their shops however general social distancing hasn’t been as effectively followed as hand washing.

How are social services responding to the social distancing policy?

Many social services were closed as they failed to adhere to the government’s directives while some of them are also challenged with the lack of transportation services for their staff. Generally when one wears a mask and washes their hands, then they care less about the distancing.

What have been some unanticipated consequences of COVID19 to date?

Two unforeseen consequences of COVID-19 has been the closure of businesses and the fall of the country’s economy. Sick individuals with COVID-19 have also escaped from quarantine centers which is also spreading the virus faster than anticipated.

How are Ugandans communicating with one another during this time?  

Communication is done primarily through phone calls or social media posts however there has been a lot of misinformation and negativity.

How is up-to-date information being communicated to Ugandans? By what source? Have there been challenges in this area?  

The Ministry of Health (MOH) communicates through their main Twitter account. This has helped many Ugandans to receive up-to-date and accurate information. The president also speaks to the general public every two to three days when polices are updated. This has been very effective in creating full compliance to any set guidelines. After information is released by these two sources radio and television stations also share it.

How has social distancing impacted daily life in Uganda?

Everyone’s life is at a standstill. Many Ugandans are demanding help from the government. Every business is closed leaving about three markets operating in Kampala, which typically has over 100 available markets.

IYHA supports educational scholarship, farming cooperatives, women’s enterprise training cohorts and small family businesses. How has COVID-19 and current social distancing policies already impacted these programs?

Currently all of our programs are on hold, no school lessons, no trainings or workshops, and beneficiaries that had been expecting to get their projects this month have also been delayed.

With social distancing we are in space of wondering when and how this will end. Will our programs run as efficiently as before? Will our beneficiaries and students survive this? Will we be okay as well?

Social distancing is a cruel reality check leaving every program negatively affected but if it will keep us safe, then we need to continue to abide by the policy. Our communities are also worried about IYHA being able to continue to support them since our United States sponsors were badly hit by the virus as well. We try to reassure them while we continue to hope for the best.

Want to know how COVID-19 is affecting other international nonprofits?  Click on one of the below nonprofit links to learn more:

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Message From Our BOD President Julie King

Dear Into Your Hands Friends,

I want to introduce you to my new friend Benna. I met Benna on my trip to Uganda last month. She rode up to our Women’s entrepreneurship group on her motorcycle. I was immediately captivated by her smile, and the bumper stickers on her bike that read: Into Your Hands. Nice marketing and we hadn’t even started the class! As Kristy and I taught an Introduction to Business class to forty or so aspiring women entrepreneurs, Benna continued to capture my attention.  She asked relevant questions during the opportunities and challenges portion of the workshop and sought to encourage her peers throughout the training.

When I asked her what business opportunity she was exploring, she explained several. She already had pigs, which started from a single pig gifted by Into Your Hands.  Now she has nine in her piggery and is considered a local consultant and role model for Into Your Hands and other organizations on pigs.  Benna also attended one of our Community Development Association workshops on drought resistant crops that helped her family with their coffee plantation. She and her husband had hired a local farmer to support them with their businesses but they want to expand. Does she grow existing businesses like pigs and coffee or does she try something new like poultry? This women’s enterprise workshop had her considering the opportunity, diversity of income versus the challenges and lack of specific poultry knowledge.

Benna was taken aback when I put my hands on her shoulders, hugged her lightly and told her she was my hero. I’m still not sure how that was translated, but she put her hands on mine, smiled and made sure I knew I was invited to visit her home.

I have to tell my friends, the people who support us; this is what happens, when we provide the resources through Into Your Hands to Ugandans like Benna.  Into Your Hands translates those resources into 350 enterprise projects like Benna’s pig and reaches over 750 community members through Community Development Groups where Benna learned about drought resistant coffee crops.

And at our annual event, we began raising money for the 53 women in this group to participate in a women’s enterprise training program beginning next year.  Maybe Benna’s local employee was the father of one our 200 students through our Hands of Hope program in 2016. The translator for Benna and I, Ronald, an Into Your Hands intern, had been one of our scholarship students when I last visited 8 years ago. I realized as I waved Benna away on her motorcycle, we are all connected. I am joined with you through your interest, passion and history with Into Your Hands. We are joined with communities in Uganda, people we don’t know, haven’t met. Motorcycles with stickers on them, women expanding a pig business sponsored by one of you from one piglet into nine and changing village lives by hiring others, who then send their children to school, who then pay another teacher. And the ripples go on.

Thank you for helping us be connected and make ripples a world away. Please stay passionate and involved with our resourceful and learning communities in Uganda. It is truly miraculous what we can do together.

 

Julie

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My Trip to Uganda

In October 2016 I had the pleasure of accompanying Kristy Hitchings and Julie King from Into Your Hands-Africa on their trip to Uganda.  It was the most amazing trip I could have ever imagined!

Part of my time in Uganda was spent visiting a few of Into Your Hands-Africa’s beneficiary schools St. Denis and St. James.  It was during this time that I was introduced to a young girl named Florence.  Florence’s parents were both deceased and she was helping raise her younger brothers and sisters.  It is very difficult to stay in school when you have a family to support!

I decided then that I would sponsor Florence’s education in secondary school through the organization’s Hands of Hope scholarship program.  It is my hope that Florence will graduate and I can then sponsor her while she attends vocational school!  We also spent some time visiting the families involved in IYH’s agricultural and livestock projects.  Through the generosity of IYH and their supporters, these families are taught valuable skills and awarded an enterprise project in their choice of piglets, chickens, or coffee or mango plants. These projects allow the families to develop and sustain a business amazing!!  The families that were helped by IYH were so awesome!  They were so proud of their piglets or farms whichever they had chosen.  And they were so thankful for our visit.  One woman gave us a gift of eggs and tomatoes, even though what she gave us may have very well been the only food she had for that day!

My trip would not have been complete without the Uganda staff of IYH. Staff members, Angella,

Suss, Lydia, Annet, Justine, and Mukasa, who guided us every day as we visited the schools and families and my trip wouldn’t have been the same without them.

My trip to Uganda was so special to me.  I’ve traveled several places but never have I felt so connected to a particular land or people.  Being part of IYH, I felt part of something larger, part of a warm, supportive community.  I can’t wait to return!

Debbie Carline, Insight Trip Ambassador 2016

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Small Family Business are Where You Should Invest Your Money

The idea behind the Adopt a Family Program is to help families become self-empowered so families in turn can build on the foundation to become self-sustainable. When a family is self-empowered they can send their children to school. They can have access to clean drinking water and medical services. They can provide their children with clothing and shoes and a nutrient-rich diet.  They can be successful models to other community members to follow.

The Adopt a Family Program allows Ugandan families to not only raise their own living standards but also lift the entire community through increased financial sustainability, food security and up-to-date agricultural and livestock knowledge and programming.

Adopting a family pairs the donor directly with a family in Uganda. Financial gifts provide opportunities to acquire business and animal-husbandry training courses, veterinary services or agricultural advisement, in addition to an enterprise project in piglets/chickens, seedlings, or coffee/mango plants.

The selected Ugandan family learns how to keep business records, how to save money and set goals and how  to be a business leader and entrepreneur within his or her community.

A common phrase most heard by Into Your Hands Africa staff is that ‘you blew my mind.’  This concept that if beneficiaries are given enough training and education, it is possible for anyone to pull himself or herself up out of poverty.

The program is largely seen as an ongoing, scalable investment as it begins by supporting one family and quickly impacts another, through a pass-on process where one family gifts a piglet or chickens back to the organization for the next generation of entrepreneurs. The cycle of giving back continues. If successful, the family becomes self-sustainable, as they continue to raise their own standard of living, and by working with other community members and then also play a role in changing the community for the better.

Adopt a Family is based on one idea, that families are vital and operate by endlessly giving and contributing to one each others well being. This program, while the distance between families, is a gift from one family to another, which has a lasting effect, and a domino effect.

For instance, through the Adopt-a-Family Program, enabled Nanyondo Praxenda, to be a beneficiary of the Send-a-Chicken Home Program. She received six four-month-old chickens. Two months later,she was able to supplement her family’s diet with 90 to 120 eggs, monthly, something that added to their diet, but also added to the families income. Merely, four months after receiving her initial six chickens, Nanyondo began hatching chicks. She was able to sell chicks that she had hatched to fellow community members for 120,00 Ugandan Shillings, which is equivalent to $35, and accounts for about half of what an average monthly income in Uganda is. By also selling her eggs she was able to create a business that put her over the monthly average in Uganda and was able to pay for school tuition for all of her grandchildren. She was also able to collect 46 trays of eggs, which ultimately totaled 1,365 eggs and was also able to sell 29 of those trays that brought in an additional $128 and was still able to feed her family with the leftover eggs her chicks had produced. She has been able to create a business where she spends only a small sum of money on animal feed and all of the funds regarding her business. In a short time she has expanded her project to 18 birds. She always keeps five, so she can continue to earn residual income from the project.

This is just one example of how adopting a family impacts a whole family but also a  whole community. Through a small sum that goes to a start-up, families are impacted, education becomes a reality and community members are able to help grow their own Ugandan communities.

Josephine Bush, IYHA Communications Intern

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Life Skills Is Shifting our Transitional Educational Programs (and we’re thrilled!)

As you may already be aware, we are in the process of piloting a new Life Skills program for secondary students in an effort to help them to self-fund their own education beyond high school.  The Life Skills Program combines a customized curriculum with exposure visits, a small-scale enterprise project, and ongoing mentorship over a period of three years.

Classroom time is spent helping students understand the importance of education and offering assistance to help them grow in the areas of self-management, self-disciple and character development.  As a part of this program, they will have the opportunity to learn viable skills such as working with a team, goal setting, understanding entrepreneurship and workable business ideas, record keeping, the importance of personal savings and career guidance.

Due to a generous grant sponsored by P, B and K Family Foundation we were able to support all twenty-two senior one students at St. James Secondary School access the Life Skills program.

This in and of itself is amazing, however once we tried out the first few lessons with outstanding results including:

  • Pre and post test assessment scores showed an overall knowledge increase of 47% through the goal setting lesson. Posttest scores showed that students were able to articulate the value of setting goals, define short and long term goals, and understood the process of setting realistic and attainable goals.  Upon workshop completion 100% of students were able to articulate both personal and career goals for their future.
  • Pre and posttest assessment scores showed a significant increase in the Defining Entrepreneurship, Enterprise Ideas, Skill Identification and Development Lesson. Post lesson results showed that 88% of students could articulate qualities of a successful entrepreneur and 84% could identify opportunities for income generation from local industries.  Finally, 81% could articulate the value of opening a pig rearing business as a mode of income generation.

We thought we might be onto something.

As a result, we wanted to expand the initial pilot to include senior two students at St. James Secondary School however we lacked the funding required to do so.  This is where you come in.

Due to a few special funders and your end of year gift, we were able to offer this program to all twenty-one senior two students, which mean that in less than three years, your support will have helped all of these children to dream bigger while sending them to college!  Initial feedback from this program has just begun however your impact includes:

  1. Project collaboration has been at an all-time high with school administration and parents participating in the Value of Education workshops. This NEVER happens!
  2. Similar programming has already been requested at alternative secondary schools by community leadership
  3. Six Life Skills personal and professional development lessons have already been completed
  4. 53% of participates are female
  5. Program Reach: 74 students (lesson workshops taught to all grades)

Through last year’s end of year gift, this is what you have helped to create.

This is your impact. Thank you for helping to leave a lasting imprint on Uganda.

Kristy Hitchings, Executive Director Into Your Hands Africa

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