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Improving food security for families

Family sufficiency kits are a key part of the Community Outreach programme. These kits include seeds and other farming materials. In our latest blog post, Hillary gives an account of the impact of this in life in Uganda.

It’s break time at Jolly Mercy Learning Centre and a group of pupils has converged on the wire fence, all throwing grass and leaves at a rabbit in the fence. The small animal chews on some compound grass while keeping an eye on the playful kids. Soon the bell to end the break rings and as the kids run back to class, the rabbit too makes a hop and jump into its wooden cabin.

Rabbit in JMLC compound

“We strongly believe that a good environment is a right for every child,” asserts Dr. James Kimera Ssekiwanuka, Director of CALM Africa. CALM Africa adopted the strategy of using food crops as a means of protecting the environment. This policy was generated out of the need to supply food to disadvantaged families and vulnerable members of community, while protecting the environment.

“We do give emergency food to these families. But in the long run, emergency food is not sustainable and therefore we needed to develop a food security mechanism,” explains James. Most of the families that CALM Africa cares for are poverty stricken families, which need constant assistance. “We decided to distribute planting materials for food crops like cassava, yams, sweet potatoes, maize, beans and banana stems. We also encourage backyard farming, where soil is put in sacks or buckets to grow fast maturing foods like vegetables,” explains James.

In order to get value from the gardens, CALM Africa works together with government agencies like National Agriculture Advisory Services (NAADS) to provide improved seed varieties that mature faster, resistant to prolonged drought and produce more harvests. With most farming seasons reliant on nature, the farmers need update information on weather patterns to be able to plan on the farming phases.

“Field officers are in constant touch with the people, informing them of weather updates as announced by the government’s metrological centre,” James adds. In addition they are encouraged to farming programmes on the different radio stations so as to keep aware of better farming techniques.

With all these strategies, community members are still skeptical of using agriculture as a means to fight poverty and create a food security mechanism. “This is because returns from farming, and agriculture in general are realized in long term and not short term gains that most of our people are interested in,” James explains. “We therefore had to modify our policy and introduce fruit trees that mature fast”.

Papaws

Fruit trees include mangoes, jack fruit, papaws and oranges. Hybrid varieties of these fruit trees mature fast, meaning in less than 2 years members are selling these fruits, while the crops provide food for the families. The modification phase also introduced mixed farming.

Apart from crops, animal and bird rearing was also introduced. “In animal keeping, we introduced rabbit rearing because rabbits are easy to look after and give birth quickly,” he explains. These rabbits produce between 4 to 8 kittens every month. “Each rabbit costs an average of thirty thousand Uganda shillings, so if you sell a hundred rabbits a year, you can easily raise three million; that’s fighting poverty,” beams James. “We have so far given out over 200 rabbits to the community and others to our pupils to rear at home,” he discloses.

In order to set an example, CALM Africa had to get involved in farming as well. “We have about 6 acres of land on which we do agriculture. We plant all these fruit trees, crops and rear the rabbits in the JMLC compound.” Even teachers are involved in farming. Most teachers are privileged to be allocated plots of land on which to do their individual farming. They sale the extra harvest to the school and to fellow teachers, earning an extra income. And pupils of JMLC, as part of the co-curricular activities do participate in the farming as well.

Most of the farming as of now is done using manual labor, but James is optimistic that “if we could get a small tractor to help in cultivating and have a permanent farmer manager to look after the farm especially during the holidays, our farm would be a model farming in providing food security to CALM Africa, emergence food to the vulnerable families and planting materials to the community”.

Empowering youth through crafts

Our Ugandan journalist, Muheebwa Hillary, tells us of another initiative as part of CALM Africa’s Outreach work – youth apprenticeships in craft-making.

The slum area of Kalerwe has one of the highest crime rates in Kampala city. Youth here spend day time in makeshift dingy houses chewing ghat, smoking marijuana, inhaling petrol or dosing off. When darkness falls, they waylay people snatching their possessions, break into houses and take off with any valuable they pounce upon. With poverty levels high and literacy levels low, unemployment rate raises higher. The area is a reclaimed swamp that is prone to flooding whenever it rains.

Within this neighborhood is one of the city’s abattoirs, where hundreds of cows are slaughtered daily. Most of these cows are brought in on trucks from upcountry. After slaughtering these animals, one of the parts that used to be thrown away or burnt were horns. But they are no longer thrown away; they are now a raw material.

Just across the road a group of men and women are at work. Some are boiling the horns. Others are slicing them. And inside an improvised ‘warehouse’, others are crafting them. Welcome to Horn Products Uganda Limited.

“We can craft anything out of horns, especially if you give us a design,” says Charles Ggala, the Programs Director. Some of the items already sold and on display include; bangles, coasters, ear rings, egg holders, finger rings, horn bead necklaces, key holders, napkins, polished horns, shoe horns, toggles, tumblers and vases.

Most of the youth who work at Horn Products are from the neighborhood. “We pick youth who would like to learn some income earning skills. This helps to keep them off the peer influence into bad habits,” adds Charles. “We give them lunch, transport cost and some money regularly to motivate them. The youth are kept busy from morning till evening, with a one hour lunch break in between.

Workers craft-making
Workers craft-making

CALM Africa does frequently recommend youths to be taken up for orientation and training in horn crafting at Horn Products Uganda Limited. CALM Africa also provides counseling services to these youths, giving them wealth creation strategies and self-sustaining tricks.

According to Dr. James Ssekiwanuka, Director of CALM Africa, “we got involved with Horn Products because of the desire to train young people and enable them acquire skills, make them hard working and teach them self-discipline; this is an empowering strategy’’

James adds that they are an environmental friendly organization. “Initially, horns were burnt. They take years to decompose, but these young people are now creatively adding value to the horns and its by-products without negatively affecting the environment.”

With the training and assistance, the youth gain skills while earning some little money for self sustenance. At the time of our visit, there were about 20 youths actively involved in this crafts industry. “Some leave after they have acquired skills. About five of our trainees that have left now have their own workshops nearby, making horn by-products” says the Program Director.

“We would be willing to take in more youth for training, but we have to be realistic and take in numbers that we can adequately maintain within our production costs,” Charles reveals.

A pair of horns costs on average Shs 18000, (average of $6) and in a day they can use about 50 pairs. “Getting horns is an expensive venture; we now get most of our horns from our collecting centres in Mbarara in western Uganda, and in Arua and Gulu from the north. We get other horns from as far as Democratic Republic of Congo,” Charles explains.

“We need long horns, preferably those from local breed cattle, but most farmers are now into cross breeding with exotic breeds. These have short horns which are not viable for our products”. He adds.

Most of the products are sold directly to customers who send in orders from abroad, including Europe and America. They also have a stall in Dubai that has been operational for the last 5 years.

“The immigration personnel usually disrupt our shipments making us pour our packages onto the floor, thinking we are smuggling elephant husks because of the symmetrical resemblance. They always probe into whether we are not poaching the animals. Yet these are horns from cows slaughtered at abattoirs,” Charles emphasizes.

The leftover cuttings and dust are burnt and the ash mixed with other ingredients to make animal feeds and soil manure. “These bones are rich in calcium; mixed with other feeds they make mineral rich feeds for chicken and animals. The peelings are also used for garden mulching,” explains James.

Plans are underway to expand the production facility, and craft out more by-products. “We are researching on how to make some medicinal products, and making car window glasses out of horns. That way we will get to utilize the horn more and engage with more youth,” James and Charles concur.

Ride to prosperity

CALM Africa’s initiative to ride youth out of poverty.

The mid morning tropical sun is out, but he is not bothered as he takes cover under the mango tree shade, seated on his motorcycle. As two people emerge from a corner carrying a travel bag, he gets off the motorcycle quickly and stands up. Picking up his helmet, he beeps the horn, signaling whether the pedestrians need mobile transport services. All this happens before his colleagues turn off their eyes from a football fixture paper they are crowded around. When one of the approaching pedestrians gives him a thumbs up reply, he quickly kick starts his motorcycle and gears towards them.

He will transport the passenger deep from Nangabo village to the main road at Kasangati trading centre. And for this he will earn one thousand five hundred shillings, roughly, just over half a dollar.

Life was never as enterprising as this for Alex. Living in a community where poverty levels are high, and majority of the residents survive on less than one dollar a day, he was earning no regular income. And with no formal education, hopes of getting a steady job were slim. He used to loiter around the villages, searching for casual jobs as a laborer at construction sites, garden clearing and other domestic tasks.

Then in 2009, CALM Africa conceived a community engaging initiative called ‘Ride to Prosperity’. Under the Ride to Prosperity campaign, CALM Africa envisioned empowering youth using the most common mode of transport in the area, bicycle.

“We conceived an idea, Ride to Prosperity, using ‘bodaboda’ bicycles as a flexible and quick maneuverable means of transporting people and their goods, get to school, exercise, but most importantly be able to earn a living”, James Ssekiwanuka, Director CALM Africa, explains the inception of Ride to Prosperity Initiative. “We chose bicycles because they provide a flexible means of transport, convenient, easy and cheap to maintain, and are eco-friendly.”

Through community engagement, CALM Africa identified a group of young people to benefit from this initiative.

“To Ride to Prosperity, we had to introduce the youth of Nangabo community to a quick and yet familiar means of income generating activity, the culture of saving, and the importance of keeping health and free from HIV/AIDS,” James further adds.

The identified youth were given this orientation training at CALM Africa’s offices. They were also introduced to safety riding, traffic signs, bicycle maintenance and repair. With the youth prepared, CALM Africa contacted and requested for assistance from its donors.

“Our foreign volunteers mobilized funds for CALM Africa to procure bicycles. The said funds enabled us to procure a batch of 25 bicycles which we distributed to the youth. First priority was given to youth engaged in community civic education, especially in child protection issues,” James explains.

CALM Africa signed an agreement with the recipients of these bicycles. “The recipients take the bicycles but pay back 50 percent of the cost in installments, over an agreed period of time,” reads the agreement. “That way, when a donor gives us 50 bicycles, he is already directly impacting on more than 75 youths,” illustrates an excited James.

Each bicycle costs about Uganda Shillings 270,000, and it costs Shillings 20,000 to deliver it to CALM Africa’s workshop. Making a total cost of Shillings 290,000, this converts into about British Pounds 68.

CALM Africa has so far given out over 89 bicycles. Of these, 40 bicycles have been distributed in Lwanda and Kasasi sub counties in Rakai district and the rest in Nangabo and Kiira sub counties in Wakiso district.

“Within the next 3 years, we plan to have over 1000 bicycles delivered to young people to ride out of poverty in the districts of Wakiso and Rakai,” the Director CALM Africa projects.

Some of the earlier recipients have already graduated from bicycles to motorcycles. “Five of our first recipients have now bought for themselves motorcycles,” James reveals the potential impact

Alex is one of them. With his motorcycle, he can now earn up to 8 dollars a day. In a country where around 20 percent of the population survives on less than a dollar per day, Alex’s life has been improved. During workshops to inculcate the culture of savings and goals of Ride to Prosperity, Alex and his team are called upon to provide peer education of progressive riders.

“For the bicycle riders, they too easily transport passengers, their goods and run errands at a fee, there by earning a living, that’s Riding to Prosperity while others are able to go to school easily to acquire education and on the way they can earn a living”, James concurs with Alex.

CALM Africa has now introduced annual riding competitions, with small trophies. This is to give the youth a chance to network. During such events, the youth and riders are challenged to form savings and credit cooperative organizations and support groups.

There are so many people in need of bicycles to improve their lives and those of their families and children, enhance child protection and monitoring mechanisms, and get a quicker means of transport.

By Muheebwa Hillary

Director of CALM, James Ssekiwanuka, further commented on how this programme has continued and evolved over the years.

“This Ride to Prosperity started way back in 2009; we started this in Rakai District and in 2011 we gave more bicycles to young people. In 2013, the program was revitalised after receiving support from Toy Trust. The Toy Trust support was building on something existing. This time around we gave bicycles to our main Community Supporters, who are young people, to enable them to improve Child Protection work and boost their enterprises/income generating activities and have easy transport.
The impact is quite visible; children in difficult circumstances are regularly visited and helped, the young people are now able to easily transport produce to market and earn a living. CALM Africa presence is more visible in communities; children from vulnerable families are now able to attend to school more regularly supported by our local volunteers who got the bicycles and community-based foster care is being promoted by CALM partly because of the bicycles.”

Integrating Teachers into a School Environment

The night’s darkness persists on at dawn. A dense cloud hovers over Wakiso district and the surroundings. Soon, the tropical skies let loose their waters. The rains pond the green grasses of Jolly-Mercy Learning Center’s compound and newly formed streams run off. A rain water harvesting tank is collecting its share from the roof. Students walk around the verandahs heading to their respective classrooms.
But only a handful of the teachers have made it in time to the start of the day’s lessons.

Most of the teachers stay a distance away from the school. The rains started before most of them had arrived and now the roads are impassable. Students seem to enjoy the teachers’ absence, as children do, as they play and crack jokes in their classes. Some noises are overheard over the rains pattering the roof. This is one of the challenges that JMLC is facing – trying to get teachers and students to spend effective time together and complete the syllabus in time. But a solution has been found.

CALM Africa was started with the pressing aim of promotion, observance and protection of the rights of vulnerable children. One of the channels used to achieve this mandate is to provide quality and accessible education to these children. “Already, CALM Africa is sponsoring over 80 orphans and disadvantaged children at our Jolly-Mercy Learning Center”, explains James Ssekiwanuka, the Director of CALM Africa.

One of the challenges that JMLC has faced is to attract and retain professional and experienced teachers, against competition from long established primary schools. A means of securing quality education for the children, CALM Africa provides living accommodation for the JMLC teachers, in a rented property some distance from the school.

As a result of that morning downpour, teaching sessions have been missed. With four weeks remaining to sit end of academic year examinations, this will affect the quality of education; teachers fail to finish the syllabus and students miss out.

To address the welfare of teachers and boost their teaching morale, CALM Africa secured a 6-acre piece of land just a few meters from the school compound. On a part of this piece of land, CALM Africa has already established a foundation and built walls up to the mid-window level, for a total of 16 rooms to accommodate the teachers.

Loughborough University volunteers and locals work to build the foundations
Loughborough University volunteers and locals work to build the foundations

“With the help of volunteers, we cleared the site and started construction in mid-march this year. Our plan was to finish the construction as fast as structurally possible. But with limited funds, the building is still under construction and we have failed to complete it,” explains James.

“If we secured funds, according to our engineer’s projections, we can finish the remaining construction phases in one month, and the earlier we finish it the better” he explains.

Teacher's house in progress
Teacher’s house in progress

“We are in need of financial support of £6000 to finally complete our teachers’ house. With this money, we will finish the next two main phases: final construction of the walls and roofing. With that finished, all that will be remaining will be to add in shutters and do final construction touches,” as James gives the expenditure plan.

Once completed, the 16-rooms will house 8 teachers, with each teacher having 2 comfortable living rooms. By establishing teachers’ quarters within the school surrounding, this will have a significant, sustainable impact. The teachers will have more time to focus on and interact with the students; the school will save money in the longer-term.

Teacher's house - rooms

“At the moment we spend over 10 million Uganda shillings per year on teachers’ rent payments. With the saved money, we will right away start on constructing another block of teachers’ quarters because our plan is to have all the teachers within the school environment. Land is already there, we are seeking assistance to help us begin setting up the houses,” James adds, leaking the plan ahead.

During holidays, some teachers stay within the community to identify vulnerable children in need of support, mentor students and engage the community and leaders in child protection and child rights advocacy. If the teachers can live within the vicinity, this will boost their morale and make them more result-oriented.

Contributors to this project will be directly supporting CALM Africa in its mandate of promoting the observance and protection of the rights of vulnerable children. And will indirectly be empowering vulnerable children to have access life enhancing skills, rights awareness and quality education.

You can support this campaign to enhance education for CALM Africa’s children by donating online at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/BuildingLearning

Please feel free to email fundraising@childrenfirstuganda.co.uk should you have any more questions or ideas about this campaign. Thank you.

A Great Meeting

AGM usually stands for Annual General Meeting, the annual get-together the board is obliged to have to discuss our operations and deal with regulatory stuff. Sounds dull, huh. Well, with our directors and members living all over the UK, and one abroad, our AGM is the one time of year we all get together in one room to catch up, reflect on what we’re doing and where our future plans lie, in person. So our AGM stands for A Great Meeting – and Saturday 28th June certainly was one!

Our Directors and Members gather for the AGM
Our Directors and Members gather for the AGM

In a day-long meeting, there is a LOT to cover to review a year in the charity. So we thought we’d just give you some of the highlights!

First things first, we welcome a new director into our team, Terry Goddard. Being a group of volunteers doing this in our spare time, our board tends to see some changes over time with people’s commitments naturally changing. But this new addition brings us up to five directors, joining the other four who have all been with the charity for between 3 and 6 years, and two members. We’re so pleased to have him alongside now and look forward to our roles developing.

An extremely positive outcome to note between our 2013 meeting and 2014 is a significant increase in our regular donors who are giving monthly donations to help cover core costs at CALM Africa. This is absolutely fantastic; these regular donations are what will help CALM Africa sustain their operations and standards.

Across the day we discussed ways to improve our internal communications as this is always a difficulty for a geographically divided group! We reviewed what fundraising activity has been done and where we need to focus our efforts. Some volunteers have been absolutely brilliant supporters over recent months in running their own activities to raise money for various areas of CALM Africa’s work and we can’t thank them enough for their proactive effort!!

Our focus as we set out at the beginning of 2014 remains the same for this year, to increase the level of unrestricted funding we raise. Fundraising for specific projects is always fantastic, but our constant need is for funding that can be provided to CALM Africa to be allocated to priority areas of work at a given time.

We’re also so pleased to see an increase in the number of our supporters as well. Our followers on our social media channels have grown hugely this year – join us if you haven’t already at www.facebook.com/childrenfirstuganda or on Twitter @childrenfirsug! This year, our social links have even created connections with other charity organisations who have just visited CALM Africa in June to see about working together in future! Helping us grow further on social media is invaluable in raising awareness of our cause.

Needless to say there were many ideas flying around for things we can do, so watch this space for what we manage to put into action over coming months! A great meeting full of positivity and on-going support for our friends at CALM Africa, finished off with a lovely view of the river to unwind!

A relaxing bite to eat after a long day, before we bid each other farewell until next time!
A relaxing bite to eat after a long day, before we bid each other farewell until next time!

Our next newsletter will be out later this summer. To receive your copy of news and updates on activities at CFU, please email media@childrenfirstuganda.co.uk to get onto our mailing list!

Loughborough University takes Action in Uganda

Loughborough University’s Action volunteering programme gets their students involved in community activities in the UK and abroad. Last year, Loughborough Action gave students the opportunity to go to work in Uganda with CALM Africa for the first time. Last week, the second group of students returned from a 16 day placement with CALM Africa and we caught up with their project leader, Josh Turner, to see how it all went…

Why did you decide to join the Action trip to Uganda?

I was already involved with Action as a hall-rep and I wanted to further my experience within the section. I spoke to a couple of people who had been on trips like this before and they highly recommended them. I then looked at the different overseas trips available and decided to run for a project leader position. I was kindly offered the Uganda position, so I looked into the charity (CALM Africa), saw the great work they do out there and spoke to the previous project leader Steph, who was very helpful and that confirmed my decision to go.

How much did you fundraise for the trip and how did you raise the money?

For this trip I roughly raised £500. This was raised via a collection of methods. Firstly via social media: creating my online giving page, then using Facebook and other social media websites to get as wide a reach as possible. I sent the link to family and friends to act as further means of spreading the online page. I then started collecting offline donations by bucket collecting around my student hall which consists of 310 people and I also hosted a pub quiz for the hall.

What were your first impressions when you got there?

When we got there it was the early hours of the morning. We were kindly picked up and taken to the volunteer house. When we first arrived I was very impressed with the house and provided facilities. We were then greeted throughout the day by the CALM staff members who made us feel at home.

What did you do with the money you fundraised?

The money fundraised helped with the facilities at CALM Africa and went towards resources for the construction project we worked on and community outreach, which allowed us to complete the volunteer work in these areas when we were out there.

What were the top highlights of the trip?

The top highlights of the trip would be the outreach trips, where we got to visit some incredible families and help local villages. Also, seeing the construction work develop from the start to when we left and being allowed to teach at the Jolly Mercy Learning Centre where the kids and staff are amazing. Getting to visit the capital city – Kampala – experiencing a great place and also getting to visit the Baha’i temple in Kampala, which was a great experience and a real privilege.

What did you find most challenging while there?

I think the heat was the most challenging part of the trip. The construction work in the mornings required a lot of endurance in the heat, therefore a massive amount of respect is deserved to the other construction workers who powered through all day. The heat just in general was something I was not used to, it was much hotter and humid than summer days in England bearing in mind it was the rainy season as well.

Did anyone in particular have a big impact on your trip?

There are simply too many people to thank for making this trip so amazing, there isn’t enough words to describe how grateful I am to each and every one of the CALM Africa staff.

How do you think your trip has had an impact on you?

This trip has made me a lot more organised and independent as an individual on the project leader half of it. On the other half, this trip has made me realise how lucky I am as a young person and how grateful I should be for what I have. It has also shown me what a great country Uganda is and how welcoming, polite and respectful the people are; wherever we went we were welcomed whole-heartedly and this makes visitors feel at home and enjoy their time whilst out there which is priceless.

Would you like to go back/recommend it to someone else?

I would love to go back, not only to see the children of Jolly Mercy and the wonderful CALM team but to further help with their cause and aid with their great work. I would fully recommend this trip to anyone else and I plan on promoting this trip and the work of CALM hugely around Loughborough University, as this is a fairly new trip with the University, but hopefully as time grows the number of volunteers and the amount of work the volunteers at the University can do will increase year after year.

Any other thoughts/comments about your experience?

Just again a massive thank you to the CALM Africa team including Natalie and Tony who have been a massive help to me organising the trip. This has been an unforgettable experience which I will cherish for the rest of my life and it wouldn’t have been the same without any of the CALM team.