I have spent the last 3 days in Ibanda, which is a town and the surrounding district in western Uganda. The people are Ankole (banyankole) which is a different culture than the people that live in Kampala or the Masaka region where I have visited previously.
Ibanda is not terribly remote but it is certainly off the international NGO map. There has been one Peace Corp volunteer working with a Catholic orphanage and a few foreign volunteers or missionaries from time to time over the years. There are some Ugandan NGO’s of course and likely they receive funding from international NGO’s but it is not obvious (no signs and the other community members likely don’t know). I even found myself explaining to a primary school principal about World Vision. He had no idea about them.
What is amazing and fascinating is that despite or because of this lack of international presence, there is a clear sense of community development here. Or I should say there is a very clear sense of community here and people are starting to really talk about development.
Ibanda is growing fast. And there is a feeling of opportunity and optimism here. The region is lush and hilly. It is a very good farming region including coffee. People are starting to send more produce into Kampala. But the average person is still just subsisting. And many are subsistence farmers. This means they have decent food but struggle to pay for school fees and medicine.
Ibanda is the home town of Dan, Stratosphere’s Uganda Program Director. He recognized the incredible power of community groups here. People come together for various reasons to support each other and help out in small ways. They also come together for funerals and weddings and all contribute.
Dan wanted to demonstrate the power of this community support. So he actually calculated the monetary value of every contribution to his wedding- from contributed chickens, to labour. He wanted to show his community members that as a group they could harness a lot of resources.
Since then 78 families have joined a cooperative. Everyone buys a share. The money is pooled together to provide small loans for members. Currently it is enough to provide small loans with very low interest. Most loans are for medicine and school fees. But their intention is to be able to give loans for business development, to start a piggery or to start a poultry business. They are excited to learn about how to apply for grants to expand the cooperative.
We have two other partners – a secondary school and a primary school. The secondary school is simple and only 2 years old but it seems to be off to a great start. 8 likeminded teachers came together to form a partnership and start this school. Their goal is to provide quality education to children that may not normally have access to secondary education. They work very hard to provide the best learning environment with very basic and minimal resources. They currently only have 50 students.
The primary school was founded by a small group of community members who wanted to give back. There are 300 students from the area, some of whom are orphans. Again this school is simple. There are only 3-4 textbooks per class. One for the teacher and one to be shared by as many as 100 students. The principal is very keen to provide a good education. And the founders encourage positive relationships with nearby schools to share or borrow resources.
Every group talked about starting slowly and cautiously with plans to expand over time. They are of course interested in funding they may access through grants or fundraising but are not depending on it. They are mostly interested in being self sufficient. But they seem very interested in sharing knowledge and ideas with visitors so that everyone can grow and benefit from these new partnerships.
The people of Ibanda use the power of the group and community to plan for the future. And they see their children as a priority in their planning. To them community and development come hand in hand. And I have little doubt they are heading in the right direction.