Mubende is a town in central Uganda which, for more than 20 years, has seen the impact which Rotary can have.
Abingdon Vesper Rotary in Oxfordshire has been involved with a number of projects to improve the livelihood of residents in the town since 1997.
Then, the club funded wheelbarrows and agricultural tools for women’s groups in Mubende, and that was followed by further projects involving the town’s hospital and schools.
Maya and Paul Smeulders have recently returned from Uganda to see the impact of Rotary’s work.
“By concentrating on one geographical area, our impact is much bigger than if we would flit from one place to another,” explained Maya.
“People in Mubende know what Rotary stands for and they take us seriously. We also get to know the local leaders and build up a good relationship without being hindered by corruption.
“That is the big advantage which small scale projects have over the big aid organisations. By going directly to the grassroots and local communities, the money goes a lot further. Our organisation is lean and overheads tiny.”
The results have been fantastic, with school enrolment figures up, absenteeism down, and improved exam results.”
In 2007, Abingdon Vesper set up the Mubende microcredit scheme in collaboration with the Ugandan NGO Kulika. Here, three-year interest-free loans are given to farmer groups which runs in tandem with training in organic agriculture and bookkeeping.
The interest which group members pay on the small individual loans remains in the group and forms a future loan pool for the group. The original loan is returned after three years and passed onto a new group.
The revolving fund for this programme, worth around £35,000, mainly comes from Abingdon Vesper Rotary, supported by Rotary clubs in the Netherlands, Italy and France.
So far, more than 100 groups with 20 to 35 families have benefited from the scheme. With families often comprising eight or more people, this means it has improved the lives of around 20,000 people in Mubende.
“The aim is to increase food security, family income and a wide range of skills,” explained Maya, who pointed out that Rotary members visit the microcredit groups every year to organise a two-day training seminar on agricultural and health topics.
The Oxfordshire club is also involved in a Learning 4 Life Primary School programme, which is run in collaboration with Devon Development Education, but it is now a separate charity registered in the Netherlands.
Started in 2015, funding has come from a Dutch educational foundation for the first five years, totalling £152,000, but the project will need to find an additional source of funding from 2020.
Maya said: “This project complements the microcredit scheme, as the schools are chosen in areas where there are multiple microcredit groups.
“Here, too, training is given in organic agriculture for pupils, teachers and parents, while producing food for school meals together with teacher training, school libraries, improvement of school facilities and links to schools in the UK.”
Maya said that the results have been fantastic, with school enrolment figures up, absenteeism down, and improved exam results.
During Paul and Maya’s last visit to Uganda earlier this month, they saw two new classrooms opened, along with an 80,000-litre underground water harvesting tank. The twin event attracted plenty of media coverage, including television.
Abingdon Vespers also supports a vocational skills centre for school drop-outs in Mubende which is run by volunteers. There, youngsters are learning building skills, carpentry, dressmaking, hair-braiding, welding and computing.
And they put those skills to good use by building the Kyamukoona Centre.
“Recently, alumni of the Kyamukoona Centre have started a saving/lending group in order to save up for the tools needed to set up their own businesses,” added Maya.
“Whenever Learning 4 Life undertakes building projects in schools, former and present students from the skills centre form the very capable and reliable workforce. They even sleep on site to prevent the theft of any materials.”
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