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From Blogging to empowering girls, this Ugandan woman is changing her world

When she is not blogging, her mind is preoccupied with creating community transformation, enabling girls to understand menstrual hygiene and being able to offer people other options of life other than the exam passing skills imparted by schools is what she is doing in  Ruhanga,  South Western Uganda. Her Name is Ida Horner Bayiga.

Her Passion led  her to start the  Africa On The Blog, run the Let Them Help Themselves (TLHT)  foundation and  Ethnic Supplies these are are all peieces that fit in her dream of changing her world.

This is Uganda caught up with Ida, to share with us her passions, dreams and what she is doing to make her world a better place.

How did you start all this?

It’s that sort of realization that you can do something, I  felt that I could reach out to those that were less fortunate, so I started by exporting handcrafts and textiles made by women and all was going well until the recession hit.

A friend of mine, Ann McCarthy on knowing what I was doing invited me to have a look at something she had started in Ruhanga, so I came back to see her project, she was out of her depth, I mean it’s a remote village, no water, no medical center, no school, no means of money generation and whatnot. So, I setup a charity Let Them Help Themselves out of poverty (LTHT) and over the years, we have accomplished a lot. Now we have a school for 500 pupils, running water etc and right now, we are focusing on skills development like tailoring skills, computing, menstrual hygiene and one of the reasons I am here this time is to review this project, where do we go from here, did it actually help, is there any one particular activity that they really really want us to develop further and to see what works and what doesn’t.

So, what is Let Them Help Themselves really about?

Our core value is community regeneration, so we speak to the community to try and understand what there issues are, to try and understand why those issues have not been addressed, whose role it is to address them and where the blockages are and those are the things that prevent people from becoming economically active because, if a woman is spending most of her time of the day collecting water and making sure that that water is safe, she doesn’t have time to go and earn an income.

If a young girl is spending a week or so without going to school because of lack of menstrual hygiene, it impacts her negatively, so we try and have such conversations with the communities so we can forge a way to try and help.

We see our role as people who want to remove blockages at prevent them from becoming economically active, we also look at transformation using the skills development initiative where if a young girl learns a skill, it becomes handy even if she dropouts at age 15 or 16, wherever they land, they can easily find employment or create a job for themselves because people have to have options.

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 What else are you involved in?

We are also involved in Humanitarian causes/emergencies, here in Uganda we were involved in the Bududa Landslides and also in some slum project in Kireka where were helping women refugees at a quary to sell their handcrafts. Also during the Ebola Outbreak In Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone diaspora came to us and we helped to provide people food in the treatment centres as their families neglected them because they were suffering from Ebola.

How do the people of Ruhanga take it in, that an outsider, a stranger is trying to help them?

It’s not easy, and it hasn’t been easy since 2008. It’s about negotiating and building relationships because we are all about transformation and giving communities other options, so having those conversations and knowing the power structures in the community, has been a bonus for us, It has helped us help them. it’s actually a privilege that they allow us to help them, but if you come with an “I know best” point of view or from an imperialistic stance, then forget it. The people of Ruhanga have learnt to accept us in and we respect that.

LTHT is mainly based in Ruhanga but, do you have any plans of widening/spreading this campaign to other places?

It’s possible, I mean, Yes we can do it but honestly, it all comes down to finance, if you dont have the funds to travel around, to pay your employees, you can dream and dream and nothing happens. And also we don’t get any funding from the UK government or the Ugandan government so we rely on individual donations, that’s how we have and are still doing it But also there is still a lot of work to do in Ruhanga, were trying to build a model and a blue print that someone can look at and take away and also replicate because it’s basically developed organically. So for now, widening and spreading is just in the pipe line.

What is ethnic supplies?

Ethnic supplies is about helping people who make handcrafts and textiles to access the market in Europe, before the recession, it was turning a small profit but after the recession it isn’t easy anymore, people priotise where and on what they are spending their money on.

How does ethnic supplies work, I mean If I wanted in, how would I go about it?

The basic principle is that we don’t work with any one group that we haven’t met, so part of my role is to travel and meet these groups and the idea behind that is to check out their employment practices in every sense of the word. So for you/your group to join, we have to have met the group and have established that you have transparent and fair employment practices.

Looks like you have been beaten to the better part of fairness, what are those things that you look at to measure or ascertain good/acceptable employment practices?

I have a very high sense of ‘fairness’, I hate seeing someone being unfair to someone else, be it a person or a brand, I don’t like people being undercut and cheated & people not getting their wage because let’s face it, most people don’t know their rights and employers use that to terminate their contracts unjustly and to manipulate them so, unethical employment practices are exactly what I am against.

What are some of those things that have enabled you to get where you are?

Social capital! Social capital allows you to get a long way which gives you privilege, the social capital has helped me to get on and my ability to help other communities isn’t because I am rich but because I have a lot of social capital. Social capital is important in all terms and ways.

As curator of Africa On The Blog, what exactly do you do?

That’s nearly a full time job in itself, I source contributors to the platform, chasing them for their articles, promoting the website, making sure that the contributors are looked after, I have to ensure that the quality of work is good and to bring new people on board.

Tell, us more about Africa On The Blog?

Africa On The Blog was started 5 years ago, It was an idea that I had and other people in the diaspora wanted. I actually thought it would only engage the women in the diaspora to talk about their Countries, experiences, and stories but the thing took a life of it’s own. *laughs*, So We ended up getting many people who wanted to be contributors from allover Africa including Men.

some of the contributors we had were lecturers at universities who started sending their students to us as a resource, it’s pretty much started a life of it’s own.

Do you have a any Ugandan contributors?

Currently, we have none but over the years, I have heard 4, first was a pharmacist, then David Mpanga who is a solicitor here and 2 others but currently, I don’t have any Ugandan contributors.

Do you think colourism is real in Uganda, because I actually think it’s on a very low scale?

Colourism is real, it’s an issue of patriarchy, low self esteem, politics and colonialism because now women believe that to get a good job they have to look like Maggie Kigozi. Just stop it, don’t do that to yourself these skin lighteners have side effects that you will have to live with for years to come. Because…

Do you have any plans of organising a charity event in Uganda like the walk around Virginia Water Lake?

Most people in Uganda don’t know exactly what I am doing and after being in the UK for close to 24 years, that’s where all my social capital is, but yeah, I would love to have a fundraiser here or run a Ugandan but it wouldn’t be easy. We have a place at next year’s London Marathon and I was almost tempted to give it to a Uganda to fundraise for us, but the VISA situation would be a difficult thing, so I gave it up.

So how can young people  volunteer with LTHT?

Currently, you/that person must be willing to travel to Ruhanga because that’s where we are currently based and some of the things we are looking at isn’t money. If you could get 10-15 comrades who owned laptops and you went to Ruhanga to help the people there to get the computers, you’ve shared your skills and that’s very important, even if it’s just for a weekend. That would be much better than money, people like me value time, if you give it your time, then it’s worth it and we would be grateful.

As a writer I assume you are reading. What book are you currently reading?

It’s a feminist book but its a good one, let me show you…

It’s Beyond the pale and I would prefer the pages but that would mean I have to move around with a book and I mean, look at my handbag, very small a book can’t fit.

Any last words to all the ladies out there and every body?

To the ladies, go do it yourself, that’s advice I got from my dad, make sure that you’re financially independent as a woman and don’t do anything to yourself like bleaching, it will live with you for the rest of your life.

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Girls after receiving free re-usable sanitary pads made by participants at the skills development initiative.

Ps. We do believe that many Ugandans out there are doing awesome things and we would like to be a part of you if you could share your story like Mrs. Ida Horner did. Do you have a story?, you can email us at info@thisisuganda.org

 

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Cody

    August 25, 2015 at 8:26 am

    I agree. Many great Ugandan women blogging out there.

    • thisis256

      August 31, 2015 at 7:21 am

      Thanks Cody for visiting our blog 🙂

  2. pmuhamya

    August 25, 2015 at 8:41 am

    Reblogged this on pmuhamya and commented:
    Good job Ida Horner Bayiga. Alot many more women like you, the world is going to be a better place for our children.

    • thisis256

      August 31, 2015 at 7:22 am

      Thanks Pmuhamya for taking off time to read our blog.

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Unsung Heroes

Being HIV Positive, Diagnosed with Cancer & Tuberculosis Has not stopped this Superwoman From Looking After 150 Kids in Slums

“A strong woman doesn’t give up even though her heart may feel heavy. She courageously takes one more step, then another and then another.” –Anonymous

Stella Airoldi first met Susan laker in 2009 when she first came to Uganda while doing research about post war victims and witnesses.

“I visited her house, where she was living with her 3 teenage kids. Back then I was 24 years old and Susan 26 years, so just two years older than me.  But her kids were already 9,10 and 13 years old.” Stella says.

Because Susan got pregnant for the first time when she was only 13, her kids didn’t go to school and neither did she. A soldier was responsible for her first pregnancy while she was living in a military barracks which by then, was the only safe place for her to go to escape the insurgency caused by the Lords Resistance Army in Northern Uganda.

“Getting pregnant when I was 13 years old was so traumatizing. I lost my childhood life. I wasn’t able to go to school which made me lost my hope for living a good future. I hated my parents for forcing me in to early marriage, my growth was totally destroyed and I segregated myself from people because I felt inferior.”- Susan notes.

Susan with some of the beneficiaries of 22STARS. (Photo credit: Stella Airoldi)

When Susan was 15 years old, she conceived again but got a miscarriage when she received a message notifying her that her uncles, nieces, a brother and sister had been mutilated and killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels.

“I was shocked and lost the pregnancy. After a few months, I conceived again and gave birth to a second child at the age of 16 and when the baby was 6 months, the father died and since I had nowhere to get financial help from, I was forced to  remarry another soldier from the barracks to get protection and when I was 19 I gave birth to the third child.” Susan says

In 2007, her husband was deployed to Somalia on a peacekeeping and never returned, a thing that left Susan very frustrated. It was shortly after that, that she found out that she was HIV positive, had cancer and Tuberculosis (TB). It was not until an organization called Reach Out Mbuya came to her rescue that she was able to start cancer chemotherapy and TB drugs for six months and now am on ARVs treatment for life.

She then fled with all her children to Kampala which were (and still remain) her main reason and motivation to keep going in life. Her kids were tested negative and she wanted them to go to school. She started making jewellery, which initially her kids would sell in the streets.

Susan and some of her children (Photo credit: Stella Airoldi)

“It was then my pastor introduced me to Stella. I was making paper beads jewellery and Stella decided to buy me jewellery on a yearly basis. At the end of 2012 when she came back to Uganda to see how I was doing, she was surprised to learn that I was going back to school by myself and I had improved.” Susan notes.

Susan has been able to buy land and built a bigger house for her family. She completed high school and did a couple of short courses to improve her skills and knowledge for example a  certificate in Clearing, Forwarding and Shipping management, Certificate in Electronics, Certificate in Counseling People Living with HIV/AIDS.

“At first, all my friends and family thought I was completely crazy starting with women who cannot read and write and I cannot even communicate with. So true, things didn’t go that smooth the first 2 years. So end of 2014 I came back to Kampala and since 2015 I am here myself 2 to 3 times a year and things improved a lot.”- Stella says.

Stella (left) and Susan during one of the jewellery making sessions (Photo credit: Stella Airoldi)

Susan is now managing the whole team of at 22STARS jewellery that comprises of over 20 women and supporting 150 children in slums. Thanks to recurring monthly donations, she (Susan) has been cooking in Acholi Quarter every Sunday since October 2016 ( so more than 14 months!) with the help of other 22STARS group members. The group started back then to cook for 50 kids and that is now 150. They get a hot meal with either fish or meat.

22STARS is a team of artisans made up by strong women living in the slums of Kampala and Jinja in Uganda making jewellery for a living. The platform is giving women in slum areas like Susan to sell their jewellery on the international market and earn a living, and in addition war running small social programs on the ground.

“Our choice for environmentally friendly products is a very conscious one. By using 100% recycled paper, the jewellery you wear does not only look good, but it also feels good. Our beads are hand made from paper and varnished with natural products.  This makes each peace uniquely different, lightweight and waterproof.” Stella says.

Some of the 22STARS women that make jewellery (Photo credit: Stella Airoldi)

22STARS also uses education and entrepreneurship to empower children and their families to rise above poverty by creating long-term sponsorships for children in Uganda, and also run several community development initiatives including a nutrition program, basic needs program, small business training and micro loans program and our holistic educational program with extra-curricular activities.

“Without the help of Susan this all would not have been possible. As she knows how it feels like to sit in the stone quarry with your kids, crashing stones all day, not being able to send them to school, she is pushing very hard to help all the families over there to send their kids to school. She is so amazing how she is managing everything. Susan is a true superstar and really the strongest woman I ever met.” Stella concludes.

Stella and Susan at the 22STARS office. (Photo credit: Stella Airoldi)

Like this story or have something to share? Write to us: info@thisisuganda.org, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Collective Good

This Social Enterprise is on its Way to Providing 1000 Solar Lamps For Refugees in Northern Uganda

When Esteeri Kabonero got back to Uganda after being raised in the United States and working in Rwanda, her focus was on energy access for under served communities. She did not realize how badly refugees, especially from South Sudan had been living.

“Headlines throughout the world had been talking about how Bidi Bidi refugee settlement, one of the largest settlement in the world located in northern Uganda, was at a breaking point.” Esteeri says.

Bidi Bidi refugee settlement is home to thousands of refugees with 64% being children under 18 and 86% women and children benefiting from Uganda’s open refugee receiving policy that has seen her become one of the leading countries in the world with high number of refugees.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees by the end of May 2017, Uganda was home to 1,233,966 refugees, originating from South Sudan (947,427), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (204,413), Burundi (34,241), Somalia (25,321), Rwanda (13,907), Eritrea (4,310), Sudan (2,549) and Ethiopia (1,798).  Still, by the end of 2016, Uganda had the fifth-largest refugee population after Turkey (2.9 million), Pakistan (1.4 million), Lebanon (1million) and Islamic Republic of Iran (979,400).

Esteeri during one of her recent visits to Bidi Bidi Refugee settlement

“Even when Uganda is one of the most hospitable countries for refugees, we do not have enough resources to provide to them. Families in Bidi Bidi for example live in huts or UNCHR tents and many are living in darkness, school children, that found a little bit of home in school, can’t study, hospitals are left in darkness. Thus, this is where I knew we wanted to start.” Esteeri explains.

This led to the founding of Powah, a last mile distribution and community development company with a mission to provide access to products and services that will better energy, education, health, and entrepreneurial activities in refugee settlements in Uganda focusing on Bidi Bidi.

“We went to Bidi Bidi Refugee settlement to understand how refugees live. I had told people I wanted to help the refugee crisis in northern Uganda, but how could I help if I had never been there. I think sometimes we hear about crisis but do not understand it. After visiting and seeing poor energy connection we came up with the PowahAll campaign.” She says.

The social enterprise is providing solar lights to school children in Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement, one the largest settlement in the world. This is being done through raising funds via crowd funding and a social media campaign (using the hashtag #PowahAll).

“The campaign aims to power 1000 refugees in Bidi Bidi refugee settlement giving them solar lamps. We have just launched our crowd funding campaign whereby anybody around the world can donate using mobile money or Credit cards at akabbo.ug/campaigns/powah/. “ Esteeri explains.

So far, the social enterprise has managed to raise 300 solar lamps out of the 1000 target that it seeks to deliver to the Refugee settlement in Northern Uganda.

But it has not been an easy ride for the team. The biggest challenge Esteeri and team has faced, is finding people that also have that motivation and vision, who are also looking to make an impact in the community.

“You can have the best idea in the world but if you do not have a good team to do it, it will never reach fruition. So, while I might have been the founder I have had a team behind me as well.” She notes.

Financing the project also remains a big challenge- which many entrepreneurs have face. Esteeri notes that many grants and funding opportunities are based in western countries, until Uganda can create funding opportunities and angel investing a lot of entrepreneurs will never see growth.

But despite the challenges, Esteeri has a vision, which is a message she wants every young person to know and believe in.

“What discourages people (especially young people) is a short term focus. If you have a vision or purpose, an end vision you want to achieve, you can create mini goals to get to that vision. If you have a purpose even when things go wrong those failures just teach you to take a different road or strategy.” She says.

Powah believes in an access to renewable energy for all. (Photo credit: Powah)

Esteeri also believes in the need to have many more female entrepreneurs to change the narrative- the few numbers of women in business. According to her, its hard being an entrepreneur in general, but when you are in the minority it’s even harder. Entrepreneurs solve problems in our communities, if we do not have females solving problems we miss out on innovations, new ideas, women centered problems that men may never realize need to be solved.

“Uganda has supported refugees from all over the world, its time the world supports Uganda. How? We must engage and support those that are making an impact and changing the face of the country.” Esteeri concludes.

Like this story or have something to share? Write to us: info@thisisuganda.org, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Uganda Innovates

Athieno Mary Lucinda is changing girls’ lives one sanitary pad at a time

She stood up in class, her classmates laughed at her. The boys said that she had slaughtered a chicken. They made fun of her for a long time. She couldn’t afford sanitary towels, the anxiety of the monthly period coupled with the embarrassment she had faced which would have destroyed her self-esteem as a young girl instead stirred her resolve.

Meet Athieno Mary Lucinda a YALI fellow, the founder of Eco-Pads a social enterprise dedicated to the production and distribution of reusable pads and environmentally friendly to girls in Uganda.

“That experience kept me wondering what I would ever do to save a girl the embarrassment I had gone through. While at university, I went to volunteer with Kadama Widows Association where I am the Executive Director now and as I interacted with the girls, they had similar challenges. I then started saving part of my stipend to make the pads and that was my aha moment.” Lucinda says.

The sanitary pads are distributed to young women in rural Uganda. These Eco-pads are Menstrual Kits that are made from very high performance fabric and provide comfort and supper protection for a period up to 12 months.

“The Eco-pads project started in 2008 as a local thing trying to just help girls in the community. In 2014 we realized we can improve on quality and start selling for sustainability and we have been growing daily from just the local community to many parts of the country with over 20 full time  and 35 part time employees.”

“I am most proud of last year when we reached 50,000 girls with Eco-Pads, the feedback from the girls attending school daily is heart-filling. The involvement of parents and the whole community in the cause is great. We have reached over 75,000 community members on Menstruation being an issue and how they support. Mentored over 10,000 girls” Lucinda says.

There are challenges that are still to be overcome. Being a local product, Lucinda’s biggest challenge has been in marketing and getting the product to be known, convincing the clients that it is a good product since it is new. The very first money that they used was grant money that they used to buy equipment and set up and buy some few materials.

Despite the challenges, she has mentors that encourage her when things are going down hill. my “Atuki Turner the ED of Mifumi, Tracey the founder of glad rags U.S, Mary Mosinghi the ED of KwaAfrica. They remaind me that I need to remain a learner and humble in whatever I do.”

At the heart of this project is the desire by Eco pads that every girl child remains in school. Eco-pads give affordable sanitary pads for girls, because many miss out of school during their menstruation. They are competing against appalling statistics 80% of Girls in Uganda are absent from school during their periods. 70% of female students reported difficulty of attending class attentively due to menstrual related problems. 90% of the poor women and girls do not use (off-the-shelf) sanitary pads, but instead improvise with unsanitary materials. Prior to their first period only 51% of girls had knowledge of menstruation and its management

“We educate girls on MHM, conduct mentorship sessions and educate the parents and teachers on the need to support girl child. We shall continue to do something regardless of the tide. One sanitary pad at a time.” Lucinda says

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