A history marked by slavery, war, famine, AIDS, and child soldiers has left much of Uganda in a state of underdevelopment and poverty. The national GDP per person stands at roughly $1.26 a day (2009) – sitting right on the poverty line set by the World Bank. While Uganda has made enormous progress in reducing poverty, from 56% of the population below the poverty line in 1992 to 24.5% in 2009, the absolute number of poor people has actually increased due to population growth. Poverty remains especially high in rural areas, where 84% of Ugandans live. About 27% of all rural people, approximately 8 million men, women, and children, still live below the national rural poverty line. Some of the poorest are small-scale farmers working in remote parts of the country, preventing them from benefiting from Uganda’s economic growth and dynamic modernization.
Access to basic health and social services is also limited, especially in rural areas. Rural women are especially disadvantaged because they tend to work longer hours than men, have limited access to resources, and have little control over what they produce. In addition to their job, they are typically the caretakers of the family, making sure that the household is fed, and that the sick, elderly, and orphaned children are cared for.
Uganda has dramatically reduced the incidence of HIV/AIDs since the 1990s, however prevalence has begun rising more recently. Based on 2014 estimates, there are 480,000 to 1.5 million young people (ages 0 to 17) orphaned due to AIDs.
endPoverty’s partner working in northern Uganda, CAFECC, faces some additional challenges. The West Nile District, Arua’s regional context, where CAFECC operates, is familiar with the difficulties of material progress and economic development. Although it now enjoys the blessings of peace and stability, it was an area only recently devoid of significant infrastructure and devastated by the Lord’s Resistance Army. It is still experiencing the effects of its past and the present corruption of the national government, with many water sanitation and power reliability issues.
Assist Community Initiatives (ACI)
The microfinance program is focused on increasing access to financial services to the economically active rural and peri-urban poor, particularly women. ACI believes providing access contributes to their empowerment through the creation of income generating activities and the improvement of their livelihoods and communities. ACI visits rural communities to solicit interest in the program. After an orientation meeting, entrepreneurs form groups of their choice and agree on the income generating activity they would like to pursue. ACI field staff train group members on basic business development skills, and facilitate weekly group meetings with members. ACI also organizes and conducts various training programs and workshops for clients where they learn about topics including children’s education, health, nutrition, and sanitation.
ACI also organizes a child sponsorship program to help children who are orphaned and/or vulnerable due to HIV/AIDs, domestic violence, abuse, war, etc., receive a formal education. ACI’s health program also seeks to provide access to quality health care services at an affordable cost.
ACI has observed significant poverty reduction among women clients in their microfinance program. They have started to break social barriers by interacting with other people in society, using their collective strength to address village issues more openly; household incomes and the acquisition of assets has increased; and more children are attending school.
Christian Action for Empowering Church and Community (CAFECC)
CAFECC focuses on reaching materially poor people in northern Uganda that do not have access to traditional banks by offering microloans and value-added financial and business training, enabling microenterpreneurs to grow their businesses and improve their income generation. CAFECC also offers savings products that provide the long-term build-up of assets that many microentrepreneurs lack, either due to inadequate access to formal savings or inadequate understanding of the value of saving. Client trainings, microenterprise development built on biblical principles is central to their approach.
Undergirding CAFECC’s services is their mission, which is to address the spiritual poverty and disconnectedness from God in northern Uganda. Seeking both to bless communities with economic empowerment and point them to Christ, CAFECC focuses on relationships and ministry. Their loan officers personally visit and support every CAFECC client; and hold monthly fellowship gatherings of staff and clients. By sacrificing efficiency and revenue to make partnerships for real spiritual transformation, CAFECC hopes to strengthen existing ministries and bolster their clients to become agents of transformation themselves.