Our women’s group in Patongo, Ribbe Aye Teko (“women are strong together”), includes 47 vulnerable people. Most of them are widows and orphans, half of them HIV positive. Some are also child mothers who live hand-to-mouth, lucky if they eat once a day. Their average weekly household income is £1.31/$2. Their short-term goals are to feed and educate their children, all of whom missed school during the war with years of malnourishment and illness in refugee camps. In the long term they aim to earn enough to send their brightest children away to good schools, not available in their deprived region. The women believe passionately that education will enable them to break the cycle of poverty that blights Patongo. The Ribbe Aye Tekko group, formed in 2010, is a business cooperative of 47 women. They focus on gaining agricultural know-how lost during the war, making the most of Uganda’s fertile land, sunshine and rain. Vegetable gardens encourage an awareness of local biodiversity, sustainable use of soil and water.
Thanks to Liberty Wines, the women each bought a bicycle in 2010, reducing time spent collecting firewood (up to 8 miles away), taking their children long distances for school or medical treatment, and cycling to their vegetable plots.
Joyce – I used my bike to fetch firewood and transport it back to Patongo to sell. It paid for my son’s transport to go back to school. My son also uses my bike to go to school.
Josephine – The bike saved my child’s life. My baby had malaria and was sick. The health centre in Patongo had no treatment and so I had to cycle with my baby on my back to Kalongo Hospital, 22 miles away. It saved his life.
Teddy -I had difficulties with chest pain and used to walk to fetch water. I could only do this once a day because my chest hurt so much. Now I can cycle and collect more water in each trip. My health has also improved.
Centuries of low status for women and girls mean that women have no traditional rights to land ownership, and they are routinely abused by their partners. Network for Africa has provided training in their legal rights under the Ugandan constitution, as well as classes in health, nutrition, family planning, mitigating HIV, malaria and TB. We continue to provide the women with advice on family planning, at their request. Some men cling to tradition, so women conceal their contraceptive implant.
In 2012, thanks to Liberty Wines and Goats For Life, the Ribbe Aye Teko women received 59 goats . The female offspring are kept for breeding and the males for mating. Goats will eat almost anything and their meat and milk are valuable, making them an appropriate choice for the women.
In 2012 the women rented two acres of land and planted soya beans and sunflowers. Late summer rains were heavy, resulting in a mediocre first harvest, but they sold the crops at a competitive market price.
The Ribbe Aye Teko women are also in Slow Food’s ‘A Thousand Gardens in Africa’ project, cultivating vegetable gardens. They had four days of training in permaculture, and received tools and traditional seeds. Permaculture means turning plant waste into compost; using scraps for animal feed; water harvesting and conservation; intercropping; using local plants; drying and preserving food.
Using the modest profits from their farming project, Ribbe Aye Teko established their own microloan system which enables them to take out loans for small-scale business activities, school fees and vital medical treatment. They meet each week to discuss their projects and divide up the work, striving to create opportunities for their children that they never had.
Uganda is the highest per capita pork consumer in Sub-Saharan Africa, and demand outstrips supply. The piggery project, funded by the St Clare and St Francis Trust and Liberty Wines, became operational in April 2014 after much preparation growing animal feed crops. Their piggery consists of two large rooms with concrete floors, in-built feed troughs, and separate space for the pigs to sleep and feed their piglets. The pigs also have an outdoor space, a small wallowing pool and a large drinking trough. Situated close to a bore hole, the water supply for drinking and washing is conveniently close.
All group members received in-depth training in pig rearing and the pigs have been vaccinated and will receive regular checkups from the district vet.
The women have a rota to ensure there is always someone taking care of the pigs. The stronger women carry out the more physically demanding activities while the less strong women prepare pig food and clean out waste.
Once the pigs produce piglets (in 7-8 months’ time) the women’s individual and savings group income will increase substantially. The women will take it in turns to take home a female pig to raise to boost their individual income.
With the help of the St Clare and St Francis Charitable Trust, Liberty Wines, Goats for Life and Slow Food International — and with a great deal of hard work — the women of Ribbe Aye Teko have made dramatic improvements to their physical and mental health, education, skills and future prospects. During our July 2014 visit to Patongo, the chairperson, Christine, told us:
“I am very happy for what has been done to support us. The support we are getting is helping us, our children and also our neighbours. There are many people who are indirectly benefiting from the help you give us. There is a big difference in the women who began being supported (in 2008) to now — we are stronger, better. Slowly our energy is building up toward being self-reliant. Network for Africa needs now to support other groups and build them up as they have done for us. You should help others.”