Nimbus Blog, Trips

Supporting child headed families in Teso, Uganda

I knew before I left the UK that visiting the child headed families in Teso region of Uganda would bring personal challenges and take me outside of my normal trip experience in visiting Africa. It was, however, top of the agenda for Rob, a Transformational Business Network partner, who travelled with me on this expo trip.

It is the last few weeks of the dry season here, and access to water is a challenge to most. The shallow wells are dry and it is only the deep boreholes that have water available. Every time we passed one, there were big queues of people waiting to fill their containers. From the anecdotal evidence I gathered it was clear that this queuing was pretty much a 24/7 experience for the area. There are just not sufficient boreholes for all.

It is always the poorest who are most affected by such times of pressure and this was certainly the case for the child headed families that we met. We were taken to visit three families by the Ugandan team at Edith’s Home (http://www.edithshome.com ) as they had received reports of such families needing intervention. In the course of just three visits it became abundantly clear that the needs of such families are each very different.

One family was in crisis, needing immediate aid to address the obvious hunger, malnutrition and medical care. It was a difficult home to visit and surprising to find a family headed by a 15 year old and caring for such young children without any support from neighbours and the wider community. This is more normal in Africa, and perhaps that lack, is itself telling of the wider pressures on the community. We left John Omagor, from Edith’s Home with food to distribute and he planned to speak with the community to find further support for the family.

The other families were both very different, neither in crisis but both trapped in poverty with few resources that they could utilise for income generation and a list of family needs that they could not meet. The challenge we took away from the encounters was to find ways for the families to have means of income generation; it is the only sustainable way to help such families over the long term.

Later in the trip we connected with a Ugandan group who had been using Toughstuff (http://www.toughstuffonline.com ) solar panels and charging equipment to start small business. Over the six months they have been using the equipment they have found out that the rental business model, using solar panels for charging peoples equipment is the most likely to be successful.

The two aspects came together and gave us the opportunity to create mobile phone charging businesses for the child headed families. People are already used to paying for mobile phone charging and those with generators in the areas without electricity provide this service. A solar charging business has lower running costs and offers wider environmental benefits.

Each family was provided with four panels and kits to enable mobile phone charging services. They will be able to charge 500/- for each charge, taking up to 2 hours on a solar panel (depending on the state of the battery). As a method of income generation it has the possibility of generating around 6000/- per day, considerably more than can be earnt by manual labour (which is only around 2000/- per day in the locality). If the business works as expected, then the income generated will be able to support repayments for the equipment and enable the business to be rolled out to other similar families in different locations.

The experiment has been started and we are eagerly waiting for feedback from the field. Will the families be able to create a business that generates enough income? How will they cope with competition? What problems will they face with theft of equipment? What have we not considered? What other simple income generating business can we promote for such families?

I hope to report on this is due course………

Paul

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