Stories From Uganda: Parents investing in the future of their children

When I was in Uganda I enjoyed meeting Stephen Tusilme and his wife Christine. They welcomed me into their home in the village of Busingiro in the Ibanda District of rural South West Uganda. Stephen told me the inspiring story of how a group of parents in the village are investing together in future of their children.

Stephen and Christine have seven children of their own and look after one orphan.  Stephen was born in Busingiro to his mother Faith and father Baziro. However, his early life was influenced by the history of Uganda. His mother’s first husband was among the Asians deported from Uganda by Idi Amin. When Stephen’s father then married another woman his mother gave her property to the sons of her first husband, leaving Stephen with nothing.

Stephen told me how he developed a strong desire to have a piece of land of his own to construct a temporary shelter so that he could marry and have a wife and children in his own property.  ‘When the passion developed,’ he said, ‘I started working on other people’s farms. When I earned some money I constructed a grass thatched house at my sister’s place. Then I started a business making and selling ropes and taking them to the market. I started making pancakes and baking bread as well, until I had earned enough money to marry my beautiful wife Christine.’

Stephen told me how he continued to develop various business enterprises, buying and selling maize and beans. He began to rent out other people’s land so that he could grow his farming business. Today he has ten acress of land with four cows producing 20 litres of milk per day, a small shop and two motorbikes that he hires out. As a result of his hard work and entrepreneurial spirit, Stephen has been able to educate his children through Ryamugwizi Primary School. One of his children, Patience is sponsored by Fields of Life.

Along with parents and guardians of other sponsored children at Ryamugwizi Primary School, Stephen established a SACCO (Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization) so that they could sustain payment for their children’s education once their sponsorship by Fields of Life comes to an end. The twenty parents established the SAACO in 2015, and have made regular savings ever since, which the SACCO has invested successfully in maize. This has produced a very good return each year so that the members have been able to buy piglets and goats while continuing to grow the SACCO profits at the same time. Stephen even showed me the books!

It was inspiring to hear how this group of parents had come together to invest in the future of their children. I asked Stephen of their plans for the future and he said the parents group has three main goals:

  1. To develop members of the SACCO
  2. To sustain our school
  3. To continue to educate our children when sponsorship stops

‘When it grows to the next level,’ said Stephen, smiling broadly, ‘we will be able to provide a cow for each member. Then, if we can get some technical support and advice we can become a regional SACCO to help more people to reach their dreams.’

Stephen and Christine are typical of so many of the people I met in Uganda. They are very grateful for the support of people from other countries such as the Fields of Life child sponsors from Northern Ireland, but they are determined to build self reliance and to sustain their families and schools for themselves. It was privilege to meet Stephen and Christine and to hear yet another inspiring story from Uganda.

Stories From Uganda: A Dedicated Teacher

Beatrice Kebirungi (58) has been a teacher at Ryamugwizi Primary School in rural South West Uganda since the earliest days of the school. For twenty five years, her dedication to the children in the school and her commitment to the people of her local community have never wavered. This is another inspiring story from Uganda.

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Beatrice qualified as a Grade 3 teacher in 1993 and has been teaching ever since. When Ryamugwizi Primary School was first opened by the church it was a private school with no government funding. Beatrice told me that she often worked without pay in those early years. Eventually in 2004 the government began to support the school with some teacher salaries.

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As the school continued to grow, in 2007 the government provided some further support with a small building of classrooms and salaries for more teachers. In the same year Beatrice decided to go back to study to qualify as an Upper Grade teacher.

Beatrice explained how the school really began to develop and grow when the  REAP Project and Fields of Life began to support it in 2014. This included the construction of ‘a wonderful building’ with new classrooms, pit latrines, a kitchen and a rain water harvesting system.

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Today the school continues to grow and develop. Beatrice smiles when she says, ‘Now we have classrooms and I get a salary!’

This year the REAP Project added a staff accommodation block for teachers to live on site, to increase their time spent at school and to attract the best teachers.

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I asked Beatrice about all the changes she has been through in the school in the last twenty years. She replied, ‘The school enrolment is increasing, we have water, we are attracting very good teachers and academic performance in improving. I am proud of our pupils. Some of our past pupils are doing very well.’

39558336770_20a9f1061a_oBeatrice is married and has five children. Since she began receiving a government salary she has been investing her income in her family and in the local community.

‘I’ve had to look after my five children and their education,’ she said (two of her children are now at university), ‘and I’ve built a small home and managed to buy some land to develop projects.’

Beatrice has developed two hectares of land with coffee and banana plantations. She has built a house for commercial rental and premises for her son to operate a retail business. I asked her why she was investing in this way. ‘It’s for the future of my children,’ she said, ‘I have future plans for four hectares of land and I would love to rear cattle.’

I found it inspiring to hear that after years of not being guaranteed a teacher’s salary, when Beatrice began to earn a regular income, she looked outward, with an entrepreneurial spirit and invested in development projects in her local community.

On the day Beatrice welcomed the REAP Project team into her home I asked about her hopes for the future of the school. She did not hesitate to reply.

‘I want us to continue to improve the standards, to start a boarding section for children who live further away, as this will enable children to study for longer and improve their academic performance. A boarding section will also bring income into the school to help subsidise the children from lower income families.’

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‘I come from here,’ said Beatrice, ‘and I want to be a role model for the children, especially the girls. I tell them stories of how I have persisted to stay with them. I want to inspire them to be like me and more.’

I have no doubt that Beatrice Kebirungi will continue to teach and inspire the children at Ryamugwizi Primary School for many years to come.

Stories From Uganda: A Successful Entrepreneur in Rural Uganda

One of the most inspiring people I met in Uganda is Bwengye Luciano, Director of Bwelu Investments Ltd. Like many young men in rural Uganda Bwengye (43) started out as a subsistence farmer. However, in spite of many challenges, he has made a remarkable transition to become a successful local entrepreneur and role model, creating many jobs in his local community in rural South West Uganda. One morning last week Bwengye showed the REAP Project Team around his mills and farm, welcomed us into his home and shared his success story with warmth and humility.

img_6552Bwengye grew up in the Bushenyi District, the last born of a family of ten. His parents died of malaria when he was twenty years old. He told us that after losing his parents his life was very hard. It was simply a matter of surviving and he said it was the lowest point of his life. He talked about his faith, explaining how he turned to God at this moment. ‘I had no one else to turn to and I wasn’t sure if I would live another day.’ He started to go to church, found faith in God and is still an associate pastor in his church to this day.

Eight years later he married Nora and moved to Ibanda in search of fertile land on which his family could subsist. However, he found that with subsistence farming it was always a challenge to have enough for his family. He started a business buying and selling maize and then decided to move into milling and selling flour. He started his mill by renting a small building. Bwengye showed us the mill and introduced us to his workers.

He asked the workers to show us the process of milling from raw maize to packaged flour.

It was fascinating to see the milling process, much of it carried out by hand and without running water or sophisticated machinery.

Over time, as his milling business grew, Bwengye decided to buy another 5 acres of land and to construct a brand new mill that would employ 70 people when operational.  He showed us around the newly constructed mill, which he designed himself, explaining the milling process that would take place in the new building.

He wants to invest in more machinery to improve the quality of his products. The biggest challenge he faces is to secure a stable electricity supply to the new building. This will cost around £20,000.

Bwengye’s dream for the future is to have good machinery in the new building that will  produce five lorry loads of produce per day, so that he can sell across Uganda and export to other countries.

Bwengye has four children of his own and he also looks after another seven children from his brothers who have passed away. He welcomed us into his newly constructed home for fresh coffee and fruit and he introduced us to his wife Nora, who now manages the farm.

They have ambitious plans to develop the farm to produce timber, papaya and coffee.

It was fascinating and inspiring to meet Bwengye and to hear how he has developed his business from humble beginnings into a significant local employer. He is a perfect example of what is possible in rural Uganda, in spite of all the challenges, and he is clearly a role model for young people in Ibanda.

Stories from Uganda: An exceptional young entrepreneur in rural Uganda

Yesterday I met 19 year old Benjamin Mujuni in his home in the village of Busingiro in rural South West Uganda. He’s an exceptional young entrepreneur with a high motivation and a talent for business.

Benjamin tells me that he went to Ryamugwizi Primary School (the school being supported by the REAP Project) but he was always more interested in practical work than books. When he left school he learnt how to grow crops and he started digging, cultivating and growing plants.

He started out by planting a quarter of an acre of beans. He harvested a bag of beans and with the profit from the beans he bought chickens and when he sold the poultry he bought a goat. While expanding his crops to a half an acre of both beans and maize, he farmed more chickens and goats, and each time he sold his produce (more bags of beans, more sacks of maize, more chickens and goats) he reinvested the profits in his business. Eventually he raised enough money (570,000 shillings) to buy a cow and continued to make enough profit to then purchase five cows. This is an exceptional achievement for a 19 year old in rural Uganda. He proudly shows me his cows (even though I was a little nervous around the long horned bulls!).

I ask Benjamin how he has been so successful in such a short space of time.

‘I don’t waste and I invest!’ he replies.

He tells me that he enjoys trading and doing business. The biggest challenges he faces is having a limited amount of capital to invest in the business and also losing out at times when his produce loses market value. He is concerned about the impact of drought on his business and explains that he wants to invest in a water pump and an irrigation scheme for the dry season. He also wants to be able to buy pesticides to protect his crops from pests and disease.

Benjamin’s eyes light up when I ask him about his dreams for the future of his enterprises. He tells me how he wants to continue to grow his business so that he can construct a good home and become a businessman, buying and selling produce across the region. Having met this smart and hardworking young entrepreneur I have no doubt he will achieve his goals. It’s another inspiring story from Uganda.