Goats, Loans and Hope

We have moved from Kampala to Gulu, and today Madelene and I, along with our program director of northern Uganda, Jennifer Oketta, went out to visit the first of four groups in the Gulu area that we initiated into our economic development program this past February. The group that we visited today in the village of Purongo is, like those we visited last week in Kampala, comprised mostly of women, who when we met them, had no real means of financial support. And also like the women in Kampala, all were struggling to care for children; some their own, some grandchildren or other relatives, and some that they took into their homes because they had no one else to care for them.

So while they shared many similarities with the Kampala groups, they also had one very important difference: almost all of them are HIV+. HIV/AIDS has ravaged Uganda, and left in its wake an almost innumerable number of people afflicted with the disease and branded with a stigma that makes them, in many Ugandan’s eyes, not worthy of care, or even acknowledgement as a person of value.

Imagine 25 women, all with multiple children in their care, sick with HIV and living lives of quiet desperation in little groupings of mud and grass huts on the bare, red dirt of northern Uganda.

I’ve traveled to Gulu many times before, but when I visited these people in February; I have to say that they struck me as some of the most destitute people I had ever encountered in Uganda. Something about this place, forgotten and overlooked along the route to one of Uganda’s most popular tourist attractions, Murchison Falls National Park, seemed almost beyond hope. But, we know that with God, there is always hope.

This group desired to raise goats to sell, so four months ago Sweet Sleep purchased each member a female goat and then one male goat for every two group members. Knowing that the goats would take some time to begin to produce income, we also provided the group with a seed fund for a VSLA (village savings and loan) that would allow each group member to borrow money for other small business ventures that might provide more immediate income and relief.

Knowing the process might be a little longer here than with some of the other groups, due to the normal reproductive cycle of goats, I didn’t really know what to expect from today’s visit, and didn’t have really high expectations. To my surprise and pleasure, I found that the women were telling stories similar to what we heard last week in Kampala. Businesses have been started with the VSLA funds and the women are finding themselves able to send their children to school and to provide better and more frequent meals. They spoke excitedly about how over 50% of the goats have either already given birth or are expected to soon. They spoke with hope in their voices and broad smiles on their faces.

The group has now grown to 50 women, and while not all of them received goats (since some were not a part of the group in February), all have benefited from the VSLA funds and have the opportunity to borrow, generate income, and repay those loans with interest that will continually increase the amount of money available for investment.

This is how you change a community and a country.

Perhaps the most striking thing we repeatedly saw was that as women expressed their gratitude, they never asked for more for themselves. Instead, they urged us to consider those in the group who had not received a goat at the beginning of the project. They wanted for their community the changed life they had experienced themselves.

So now, we’re in need of 38 more goats; a great problem to have, as a community transforms! It’s amazing how little it takes to make a giant difference in someone’s life – only $35 for a goat! If you’d like to jump in and help us meet that goal this week, go to sweetsleep.org and enter “goats” in the comments box.

We can’t do this without you! Thanks for your prayers and support.

 

Stuart

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