Innovative projects for refugees, former child soldiers, and host communities in northern Uganda
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Aug 2015 03

Checking back in: three years later, a group still stands united

Posted in News

By Jasper Kubasek

 

“We want to be the heroes of our community, the agents of change.”- Group Elder

 

On July 27th our team visited one of GRG’s first groups, Can Mito Ribbe (Poverty Needs Unity), to learn what has become of their group since graduating from the GRG program. Members shared their experience and impressions: “In 2007 we were living in [an internally displaced persons] camp, and life was so hard. GRG came to us and trained us as one of their first groups. The members of this group suffered so much during the LRA war. When we came back from the camp, GRG helped us … start small projects, like farming, so that we could restart our lives. We have a number of former abducted children in our group and many mothers whose children never came home. We graduated from GRG in 2011, and we have remained a strong and united group. We are Can Mito Ribbe.”

In the next six months, some of GRG’s “Phase Two” groups will begin graduating. We met with Can Mito Ribbe to learn what keeps groups strong after GRG graduation so we can ensure that these next groups are prepared.  For the GRG staff visiting this group was inspirational. Since graduating in 2011, not a single government agency or NGO has visited Can Mito Ribbe, despite the poverty and post-conflict stigmatization that is still prevalent throughout the region. Yet it was immediately apparent that this community stood united, proud of its achievements and determined to continue bettering its future. One member explained to us, “We are united, and we love each other. Everything we do, we do together, and that is why we are strong.”

We quickly learned that Can Mito Ribbe has continued to engage in and benefit from the livelihood projects that GRG helped facilitate years ago. Group members introduced themselves one by one, explaining the position he or she holds within the group. The group not only had a designated chairperson and secretary, but also an accountant, a treasurer, advisors, peer counselors and health/sanitation inspectors. Members continue to garden as a group, increasing the efficiency and reliability of their agricultural production while simultaneously reaffirming the sense of unity that now defines them. They now have a pine garden with over 4,000 trees, and they harvest avocado, oranges and papaya for commercial sale.  They also still make bricks to sell, each year setting a target production number. The group places the money it earns from these activities into a group savings account.

As one of the final activities to prepare the group for graduation, GRG gave Can Mito Ribbe eight goats and conducted training sessions on animal health and husbandry. Since then, the group has increased the number of its goats to 120. When there were too many goats to keep together, members divided, with each member receiving four goats.

A pillar of the GRG program is group microfinance, called boli cup in the Acholi language. Despite having no access to mainstream financial services, by saving as a group Can Mito Ribbe is able to offer loans to community members for diverse purposes and earns interest when these loans are repaid. According to the rules in their group constitution, the group must meet on a weekly basis. Each week they deposit their savings to the lock box and review loan applications.

Today every single child in the community is enrolled in school. Eight members are finishing high school, and the group is working on strategies to help parents send children to university. The group credits their boli cup for making this possible, as school fees can often be overwhelming, forcing poorer families to withdraw their children from classes to work in the gardens. Now parents can take a loan when fees are due and pay it back over time when it is most economically feasible for their family. Before participating in the GRG program, almost none of the parents could afford to enroll their children in school.

However, not all of the loans given are for school fees. Every single member of the group acknowledged that they had taken a loan at some point in the last year. Many have borrowed to build other economic opportunities for themselves, such as opening small businesses or engaging in commercial farming. The group has also utilized the interest earned to invest in larger-scale group projects, such as planting pine trees. In a few years, these trees will yield a significant profit margin when they are sold for roofing and housing construction.

Can Mito Ribbe’s microfinance and livelihood projects are not only development tools, but also reconciliation tools. They help build trust and a strong sense of community among members, regardless of the horrors they endured during the conflict. A female group member who had been abducted by the LRA told us, “Life was so hard … for me and my children …when [we] came back from the bush. Now with the group I feel at home, that I have been accepted back into the community. I feel free.” As a founding member explained, “The group unites us and brings peace.”

Three years from now, we hope that the 21 current GRG groups will have the same independent strength, capacity for economic empowerment and sense of community that Can Mito Ribbe has today.

To support our current groups with goats, trees or other items that will help them build a sustainable and successful future, please visit http://grassrootsgroup.org/support-our-projects/

 

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