One thing that has been crossing my mind a lot recently is the future of our support of Ndeeba Primary School. Right now we support 70% of the running of the school. As mentioned in previous posts, the school is a fee paying school which is standard in Uganda with only a handful of government schools in the country. The fees are £6-£8 per term depending on whether this is the Nursery Section or the main school. The problem is that many of the parents cannot afford the fees, so pay nothing, some pay what they can and those that can pay do. But the expenses are still the same regardless.
There are 20 teachers.....(18 on the sponsorship programme) who need to be paid, texts books and writing equipment, maintenance of the buildings and importantly food. We give all the children a main meal at lunchtime during the term time even the Nursery Section who finish at 12pm. Its important to know that the children are getting at least one good meal a day. But food is at a premium, even though it is the basics of poshu (maize flour) and beans every day, being in the city in an urban slum the prices are higher than out of town per sack. We did try to purchase in bulk from the village but we just didn't have the storage and the food did not keep well. This is just the basic expenses.
I worry a lot about what if something happened to me or to our sponsors.....could the school survive. I know the answer is no and the feeling of having that responsibility on my shoulders can weigh heavy sometimes. But seriously......for the long term, the ultimate goal is to make the school self sufficient so that they CAN support themselves and no longer need our help. I would love one day to be able to say to our regular sponsors......'thank you so much for your support I am thrilled to tell you it is no longer needed'. However I fear that day is a long way off.
Originally I was convinced that what we needed was an agricultural project to feed the children and the sell the surplus food. In fact I had been convinced by this for about the last 3 years! Last month whilst I was in Uganda I had the opportunity to go and visit an agricultural project just outside the city which is running as a vocational training centre. I was really looking forward to seeing the project, meeting those people involved, picking their brains and learning from them about how I could move my ideas forward. I felt really positive as we arrived there (Rose and I). As I drove into the farm we were welcomed by lovely people and instantly put at ease. We stayed there for about 4 hours learning how the farm worked and being shown round and it was during this time I have the most amazing 'light bulb' moment!
In that moment after all these years I realised that we most certainly did not need an agricultural project to help us. It was not appropriate or feasable. In fact the answer to what we did need had been right in front of my eyes all along, in fact I had already been doing it!! What we needed was microfinancing!!
Definition of 'Microfinance' A type of banking service that is provided to unemployed or low-income individuals or groups who would otherwise have no other means of gaining financial services. Ultimately, the goal of microfinance is to give low income people an opportunity to become self-sufficient.About 3 years ago one of our mums came to see me to discuss a problem she had. She told me that she could no longer stay in the area as she could no longer pay her rent of approx £10 per month. She had 2 young boys, (if you watch the film inc Mosquito Net Day you will see a small boy with a sticker on his forehead that is her eldest Wangi) and she desperately wanted them to remain at the school as we had supported them a lot and so she requested that we take them into the boarding section so she could move back to the village. I said no without hesitation. These boys were 4 and 5 years old and they needed their mum, they were too young to be separated from her. So I asked her 'what can I do to help you be able to help yourself stay in the area'? The lady was working selling tea at the local bus station but that did not earn her enough money and her husband had died. She explained that if she had a small market stall she could earn enough money to stay but she would never have the money to start something like that up. I told her to go and put together a quote of how much this would cost, which she did......approx £200, this included her pitch for 6 months, the actual items to sell, table, chair, receipt book, large umbrella for when it rains to go over the table etc....I decided that the charity would loan her the money.....not give it to her because one thing I have learnt as that people have pride and they don't always want charity, what they want/need is just help to get on that first rung of the ladder and to be able to achieve something for themselves. I put together a short one page contract where she decided on the repayment terms and off she went. The only stipulation I had was that she was not to tell anyone that the money came from me. Now Wangi's mum was one of the poorest parents at our school and we often helped out with food and clothing for the boys so to see this lady have hope in her eyes was amazing. How did it go?? Well Mama Wangi succeeded in her dream and repayed her loan on time every month and even started paying her school fees!! I was there the day that she came one time to make her first school fee payment. I put on a smiley face but inside I could of cried.....tears of joy for seeing this lovely woman turn her life around, with just a little help from us. I saw her again last October and I could not believe how well she looked, she had put on weight and even moved to a better room withing the slum area. She was so happy.....and so was I.
Off the back of this I offered a small loan two more times to two women who's children attended the school and whose life was a particular daily struggle. One lady received 2 big black bags of donated clothes from the UK and we paid for her to set up a clothing stall, the other wanted to sell smoked fish along the railway track. Both women succeeded, repaid their loans and are now supporting themselves in a way that gives them some dignity and pride and they are able to pay their school fees! But once more these 'arrangements' were to remain private between only Rose, the lady involved and I. I did this so that I could control the arrangement, I didn't want a rumour spreading that the white lady was giving cash handouts to everyone. It needed to be controlled.
Anyway......my light bulb moment was this....I don't need to launch a huge agricultural project! The problem at our school is that the parents cannot afford to pay their school fees. If they could.....there would be enough money coming in for the school to support itself! So what problem do I have to solve?? I need to empower the parents to be able to pay their school fees! How will I do that???
Microfinancing on a larger scale!!
And right there and then, in the middle of a field, in a farm outside of Kampala, I created the Empowering Parents Project.....a project to enable the parents of our children the opportunity to start their own businesses, increase their income and support their families.....and pay their school fees!
The feeling was overwhelming when suddenly that light bulb switched on! I don't think I will ever forget it!!