By Jennifer Timmons, Safeworld Field Partners Manager & Editor
"Hopelessness is the greatest challenge for the women's progress; some women see themselves as if they cannot attain anything."
Poverty, HIV/AIDS, violence against women, gender discrimination, child kidnappings and child sacrifice, lack of nearby water sources, and lack of education combine to make a potent recipe for hopelessness among women in children in Uganda's rural communities.
One grassroots organisation, Empower and Care Organization (EACO), situated in the Mukono District in central Uganda, has been working hard to address these issues since its founding in 2004 through various outreach projects.
EACO’s activities are targeted toward vulnerable women, particularly widows and those living with HIV/AIDS, as well as vulnerable children, youth, and the elderly. The local community is largely rural and the majority of the population are subsistence farmers.
"Considering that in EACO’s community, 74% of members of the general public earn less than two dollars a day and 71% of widows earn less than one dollar a day, the Vocational Life Skills Program meets an urgent need in the community – and has succeeded in making 80 community members financially independent." - Mirina Nanziri.
Jen Timmons interviewed Mirina Nanziri about her work with EACO to tackle the challenges faced by the women and children.
The town of Kyampisi has one of the highest levels of child kidnapping and child sacrifice in Uganda; EACO has proposed building water sources closer to family homes to improve safety. Are there any other proposals you aim to introduce to combat the rise of ritual killings in Uganda?
Well, setting up community schools to provide education to the school children and also to shorten the long journeys children take to get to their schools; yet in returning back home from school, it gets too late and this gives an opportunity for the witch doctors/agents to kidnap them on their way home. Therefore, the proposal for setting up community schools will reduce that scenario.
An increase in the number of self-help projects which are the income-generating projects will help reduce this act because some are kidnapped for sacrifice in search for what to do and earn a living. So, the more number of projects, the more a decrease in job searches and wicked acts. Child sacrifice is the ritualistic killing of children in order to please, propitiate, or force 'supernatural beings', in the belief that this will alleviate problems such as poverty or ill-health.
In the projects, we include the piggery, poultry, and cattle-keeping project under the live stock farming, as well as maize, beans, banana, and potato-growing under crop farming, which will provide a great deal of work.
What daily hardships do women and children face living in the rural Mukono District of central Uganda?
Women face having to do house core jobs to be done in time; for instance, laundry, cooking food for the family, and taking care of the home-based projects, which is initiated by the distant water sources whereby they have to cover long distances to get water for their domestic work.
Domestic violence, whereby the women are treated harshly by their husbands, affects the children, and more so, the girls; this tortures them and makes their day a bad one. This affects their planning for the day because most of the time, it happens at night or early in the morning.
At times they miss out on eating food for the day and go to bed on empty stomachs, which make them feel bitter about life.
Women in Uganda face a wide range of issues – low status, discrimination, a lack of economic independence, and a greater risk of HIV/AIDS, for example. What do you believe poses the greatest challenge to women progressing?
Hopelessness is the greatest challenge for the women's progress; some women see themselves as if they cannot attain anything.
How is gender discrimination affecting the well-being of women and their subsequent life choices? How is EACO combating gender discrimination?
In Mukono, and more so in the rural areas generally, women must submit to an overall lower social status than men.
For many women, this reduces their power to act independently, become educated, avoid poverty, and or escape reliance upon abusive men.
Many girls and young women are coerced into sex or can be obliged to trade sex for economic survival, which is produced from the discrimination. We find that in certain districts of Uganda, HIV prevalence among 13–19 year-old girls is at least 10 times higher than in males of the same age.
Why is there such a significant difference between genders?
Within the Mukono region, the causes of domestic violence and commercial sexual exploitation of children are diverse.
While it may be easy to place blame on criminal syndicates, to reduce exploiters to pimps and perverts, to disparage the children themselves as promiscuous or sexually irresponsible, no social sector can escape responsibility for sexual exploitation of children.
Large numbers of the population in the region are chronically disadvantaged economically and have little access to alternative sources of livelihoods.
The demands of survival for this group can precipitate sex trade.
Poverty-stricken families send their children to towns to look for employment, but since they are illiterate, they are unable to secure well-paid employment, which in turn leads to incidences of sexual abuse and exploitation.
Violence against women continues to prevail in male-female relations in Mukono district. Cases of sexual and physical violence happen in the homes of married couples and in this, men are not prosecuted yet they do these acts of violence toward women. The women are helped by the justice bodies and organizations like EACO – though at times, justice delays. The women at times are not heard because the more the case delays, the more the evidence of their abuse fades away, which makes their cases hard to follow.
Children – including orphans, have been frequently subjected to sexual assault and violence by relatives within the extended family, as well as by school teachers, people helping in the home, and other people in other jobs..
What are your passions and interests?
I am so passionate at helping the hopeless people in the community – mostly women and the girls to help them find their hope for the future – that they are like anybody else and that they are relevant to the community.
I love music as an art for life.
Yet my interests are seeing the projects and programmes set up a success and real according to their cause.
Sharing people’s biographies, for it is the only chance for me to help when it is called for.
I love keeping company with the children and the youths: they broaden my understanding when discussing different issues which make my day, mostly in my free time.
When did you first decide that you wanted to personally help vulnerable women and children in Uganda?
That was when I in was in my secondary school level, i.e. the Senior Six long vacation, before I joined the university; I had a friend who was orphaned at a tender age and told me her story – about the fact that she was living with a guardian who could not also support her that much and through school, because she had not much help.
After this, I took a close study on my community and the people in it and away from it; the information I received pushed me to offer service to vulnerable women and children – more so the orphans.
Thank God I stuck on that, and I see I am making a difference in their lives, socially, emotionally, economically, and spiritually.
What inspires you to continue working with local women and children?
The success I see this group of people benefiting from the projects we set up for them continually inspires me so much, and also the rebirth of other activities from the projects they set up lifts my spirit for them.
How have EACO's Income-Generating Activities (IGAs) helped to alleviate financial issues and improve life prospects for Ugandan women? Do you have examples of women that have benefitted from your mentoring?
EACO has supported the community in which it operates through programs that address some of its most pervasive needs.
Since 2004, through its program, Restoring Hope for the Marginalized, EACO has provided 70 grandmothers and 270 orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) with support tailored to their specific needs. This has included activities such as “top-up” of school fees and funding midday meals for school children, construction of houses for the elderly, and the provision of gardening supplies in order that families may grow their own food.
The women in this program have seen their children in school and have provided scholastic materials to help them in their course in school.
For example, Nalwadda Jane, 50, a widow of five children and who has HIV, has benefited from this mentoring, and succeeded with the piggery project and also started some activities which generate money for her.
Constance Kyalimpa, 37, a widow and mother of four children, has also succeeded with a piggery project which has helped in supporting her family.
Among the elderly, we have Nakawalya, who was given the maize growing project. She had a good harvest, sold off some and then also started the potato growing. Now she can support her family and other relatives.
What types of domestic violence do women face? How is EACO combating this issue?
The types are;:
- Physical: Pushing, hitting, slapping, grabbing, beating, hair pulling, kicking, punching, choking, burning, twisting arms, use of a weapon, and banging her head on the floor or wall.
- Emotional: Shouting, swearing, insulting, threatening violence, humiliating, embarrassing, criticizing, threatening to hurt the children, locking her out of the house, extreme jealousy, threatening to leave, and constant questioning about her activities.
- Sexual: Forcing sex /marital rape, unwanted touching, grabbing sexual parts making her do sexual things against her will, coercing, unfaithfulness, inserting objects into her private parts, and refusal to have protected sex.
- Economic: Withholding family finances, stopping her from getting or keeping a job, making her ask for money or an allowance, demanding her earnings, spending family finances independently without her consent,preventing her from owning property, snd not allowing her to have money.
EACO combats this issue in the following ways:
- We ask the people to become a changemaker to challenge and change their own attitudes and behaviours that maintain and promote violence against men and women. And then we ask them to reach out to at least 10 people around themselves and influence them to change their attitude and behaviour.
- We inform them about the dangers of domestic violence, to learn as much as they can about the issues, and share their knowledge with others. When more people understand and refuse to accept domestic violence, it becomes more and more difficult for the violence to continue happening.
- Our clients are asked if they know a person who is experiencing domestic violence, and if so, we reach out to them. We let them know that we are there for them and that we are ready to give them non-judgmental emotional support.
- Remember, we urge them to make their own decisions about their lives; we do not try to force them to do anything. We guide them to services in our organisation ejovj could help them.
- If we happen to know a man or woman who is violent toward his or her partner, we find an appropriate time and talk with them about it . We do not ignore the problem; ignoring it means accepting it. Share healthier ways of expressing emotions or dealing with conflict, and encourage that person to use the services in the community that can help them.
- If he or she is reluctant to go, we offer to accompany him/her. We make it clear to them that violent behaviour is their responsibility and that it is unacceptable.
What is EACO’s central mission?
Accordingly, EACO’s mission is to reduce poverty and HIV/AIDS in and around Mukono County through the creation of economic empowerment and educational opportunities for disadvantaged groups of people.
EACO’s activities are targeted toward vulnerable women, particularly widows and those living with HIV/AIDS, as well as vulnerable children, youth, and the elderly.
EACO regularly works with widows and women living with HIV/AIDS. Your Sexual Reproductive Health Program offers community outreach services, such as counselling, educational training and family planning. How has this service improved the lives of women living with HIV/AIDS?
EACO works with its partner organization, Hopacom, to carry out the Sexual Reproductive Health Program, which focuses on counseling and guidance, educational trainings, and community outreach related to HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), family planning, and life skills planning. To implement this program, Hopacom administers free voluntary counseling and testing for HIV/AIDS and other STDs and provides HIV+ individuals with ARVs.
EACO volunteers make regular home visits to those who have tested positive in order to supply them with foodstuffs that have been donated to EACO to improve on their lives. Moreover, income-generating activities have been set up to help these clients to earn a living, and there has been a positive response to our efforts.
What other programs have you implemented to create sustainable development for women and their communities?
Restoring Hope for the Marginalized
This program targets grandmothers and orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) living with their grandmothers. Ensuring food security by supplying garden tools and seeds.
Vocational and Life Skills Training
This program targets vulnerable women, particularly widows and those living with HIV/AIDS, OVCs, and grandmothers caring for vulnerable children. It seeks to address lack of economic opportunity for these groups of people by providing training and individualized instruction in entrepreneurship, marketing techniques for small businesses, microfinance, and the implementation of income-generating activities (IGAs), including farming, vegetable growing, chicken rearing, piggery, mushroom-growing, tailoring and design, arts and crafts, and hair dressing and styling.
The Beads Project
This beads system development program aims at individuals, who can create their own jewelry made out of assortment of different beads. EACO is making this project to expand and increase on the income of the vulnerable families to empower poor women with skills and expand their range of skills which will include stitching, weaving the beads, then marketing them for them to increase on their income- generating business .
Can you share a few EACO success stories of the women who have benefited from your work?
Rose Misago is really very happy for the support given to her through EACO:
“I didn’t have food but now I have food to eat and sell to the market, I have managed to take my children to school and they are now living a happy life. Thanks to EACO management and those who are supporting its activities. May God bless you in abundance.”
Nalongo Plaxeda did piggery and she has started making money since her pigs have given birth:
“I am really happy with this project. My income level was very poor but now I can earn something bigger. I have been able to take my children to school as well expanding my garden and now I have enough food to eat and sell to the market in order to sustain my family. Thanks to EACO and to all those who are supporting its activities may God bless you ”