Co-operatives in Northern Uganda have invited Six Canadian Co-operative Association volunteers to help them measure their enterprises against international standards using CCA’s Development Ladder Assessment Tool (DLA). Follow Linda Archer’s exciting account of their 2-week mission working side-by-side with Ugandan co-operators as they plot the path forward for their co-ops and credit unions. The result is a snapshot of how the co-op is doing - and a set of benchmark scores for measuring progress as they grow their co-operative enterprise.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Reflections on Uganda

I’ve been back 2 weeks now and a little distance from the trip has given me an opportunity to reflect on the experience.  
First thing is to answer the question ”would you do it again?” In a heartbeat.

The second thing is lasting impressions.
The most important is the people.  There is no doubt that Uganda is a developing country with all that implies.  Many, in fact most of the things we take for granted as basic aspects of life are not there for most including: electricity, running water,  shoes for children and safe, reliable transportation.  Life is hard but in spite of all this the people are optimistic and generally happy.  Singing and dancing are common. 
I know the majority of the people I interacted with were better educated and more affluent than most and had positions, as managers and directors, of responsibility and respect in their communities. As I mentioned, their dedication to make life better in their communities and to the cooperatives they work with is amazing. 
The second most important is that although their business model is simple, they’re doing so many of the right things and for the right reasons.  We’re in a tremendous position to help them and not necessarily with handouts.  Isaac quoted the phrase “give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for life”.
So, yes, we can donate safes for SACCOs, tractors for producers  and money to build warehouses for the marketing coops.  More importantly we can provide knowledge and expertise to help them learn better ways to run successful coops that will raise the standard of living for their members and in their small communities.  They will be able to not just feed and clothe their children but to educate them.   Help them to help themselves.  I really believe that education in its many forms is an important, and perhaps the most important, key to Uganda’s future and that future is bright. 
It won’t change overnight but it is changing.  What they will achieve won’t necessarily be “our way of life” and fact, in many ways I hope it isn’t our way of life.  They will and should make it their own.  They have so much to work with and tremendous potential.  By helping them we help ourselves. 
I’ve been talking to my colleagues who traveled with me to Uganda.  The common theme is that even with only 2 weeks distance from the experience, it seems almost like a dream.  We look at the pictures and almost find it hard to believe that we were really there and really did those things.  Of course, we hope we’ve made a difference for the people we met.  Just as importantly we’ve changed.  
My challenge now is to find ways to keep this all alive and to continue to make a difference. 

I just can't get!

Gorilla trekking - a youngster

John and I being presented with honey.  The producers are hoping to export it and hve designed a label for that purpose.

Just hanging with my friend

This is an example of the contrast that exists.  This is Para Lodge which is a high end resort mostly for tourists, complete with  swim up bar.  Compare this to the average homes you've seen in previous pictures. 

Selestino in the one wearing the tie; he's the one looking for a Canadian bride.

The big silverback

The light was green wasn't it?

The whole gang cruising down the Nile to see the falls.

This SACCO is only 6 months old but they have a 3 month action plan.  They don't have a safe yet but Isaac is working to get them one.

We really were that close.

What's all the traffic in the neighbourhood?

presented with a hat made for me by the local HIV/AIDS group

they actually pay to ride on the top of the trucks; this one is a cattle truck.

working together with the board and management

A group photo before we leave.

Anna taking a picture of us taking a picture of her taking a picture of us

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Even more photos

Our work here is done for now - a group picture with their sign.  You'll notice reference to both UCA and CCA.

SURENET SACCO, our next cooperative and luckliy they're located on a main paved road.

On the way back to came across someone selling sugar cane.  I'm walking with Anna from CCA and John, a CCA intern who's working on a project to assess the affects of climate change and to assist farmers with their farming techniques.  

The SURENET SACCO premises where we met.  These premises were better than most.  The blue couch that you see was in lieu of repayment of a delinquent loan as well as several bags of ground nuts (a type of peanut) in the back room which you can't see. 

The board and manager hard at work.

This is a picture of Rose, a retured teacher who is on the board for SURENET.  Another example of gender representation.

This is a picture of people selling produce to the passengers on a passing bus.

This was typical and we felt lucky to make it back to Lira.

We tried but this is why we couldn't get through on day 2 to Chegere ACE.  Isaac will work with them to finish the assessment after I'm gone and when the road conditions improve.

Cooling off at the break with the SURENET group.

Julius from UCA is talking to the group and Stella is the woman with the short who is the Manager of this SACCO.  She's one of 2 women managers that I met.

Matias and Isaac with the group.  You may remember that Isaac is my partner.  Matias is the fellow that I mention later who collapsed in the field and had to be taken to the hospital.

More Photos

A typical grouping of family and neighbour houses.

This is a picture of the connections between the various coops.  The RPOs (producers) form cooperatives.  Groups of RPOs come together to form ACEs (marketing coops).  The ACEs often get their financial services from a SACCO.  When it works it's a great example of how cooperatives can work togehter to support their communities and their members.  Through this interconnected system the goal of CDF (to alleviate poverty through coops) actually works.

Ikwera SACCO - a group picture after our work has been done

Ikwera board hard at work in the parish hall

Laying of the cornerstone.  You can see that CCA is given credit on the poster that they've made up.  This was a proud moment made possible because of CCA.   

Members of the board engrossed in our work. Peter is the manager who is a volunteer.  You'll also notice that there's a woman in the photo.  In fact most cooperatives have about 40% representation from women as gender is a big issue that UCA is supporting. 

Speeches. The board of the SACCO as well as the villagers were so thankful for the help that CCA was able to provide.  Without the SACCO there are no financial services available unless they get themselves to Lira (no small feat as they have to walk or take a "taxi/mortorcycle" or get a ride on one of those trucks loaded with cargo and people hangng on for dear life on top of the cargo).  CCA has such a positive reputation in the cooperatives here that it's a privilege to be associasted with them.

The Alira Womens Group in Aduku who sang and danced for us

The first day with Chegere ACE where we met in an empty warehouse.  This is a Marketing Cooperative which is composed of several RPOs (producer/farmer cooperatives).

a VSLA (Village Savings and Loans Association); this is the step before forming a SACCO and they meet under a mango tree in the village

a ride to the market

And home we go.  This is an example of the road conditions when they weren't that wet - add in torential rains and imagine it after that.  These board members walk or somehow get the the meetings and the Vice Chair is lame due to a leg injury - if that isn't dedication I don't know what is. No director remunerations for them and no travel subsidy.

marching to the builidng site to lay the cornerstone

market day

swarmed by girls at the girls school where we met the first day with Ikwara SACCO