Saturday, July 5, 2008

Making the best out of what you have

While accompanying the coordinators of the Nakisunga Orphan Support Microfinance Project, we visited beneficiaries of the project. One or both of the parents of these orphans have died due to HIV/AIDS, and community members have volunteered to raise these children as their own.

Most of the beneficiaries are also participating in the Heifer Project, in which deserving families receive a heifer and/or female goat. The first female calf and the first female kid are given to another family to raise. This livestock program has improved food security for these families, and they are able to sell products from the animals once they have enough for themselves. This money goes toward housing, feeding, clothing, paying school fees, and paying medical fees for the orphans. However, income from the livestock coops is sometimes not enough for many families to make longterm investments. The microfinance component was added to help meet this need.

The way microfinance works is that people are given small loans to expand their capital, and they are supposed to pay it back once they have enough money. Because administrative costs had to be considered, $769 out of the $1000 that AGRADU donated is going into the microfinance pool. Loans are typically only 100,000 to 150,000 shillings
(appx $61 - $91).

One of the problems the program is experiencing is that some people are just too poor to pay back even the small loans that they are given. It's been an ongoing challenge for CBHC to deal with, but we were fortunate to hear some of the success stories as well.

I was particularly impressed by a man who used his loan to purhase cell phone minutes and supplies for a hardware store. Now he sells cell phone minutes and hardware, and he uses the money to support three orphans. I also admired an elderly lady who takes care of 16 orphans, who range in age from about 18 to 5. I don't know if I would have the energy to take care of children, let alone those I did not give birth to, at that age.

Besides financial support from organizations like AGRADU, I think what really makes the orphan support program successful is the strong sense of community in Mukono. I have a feeling that this attitude is common throughout Uganda. Without this loving, supportive atmosphere I don't think that people would be willing to unconditionally adopt orphans.

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