Community /kəˈmjuːnɪti/ – The people of a district or country considered collectively, especially in the context of social values and responsibilities. A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.
In my time and interactions with the people of Uganda, especially the community based organisations (CBOs), this is a concept that I have found to be thoroughly upheld.
One of the first CBOs I met with in Uganda was the Needy Support Centre (NSC) in Kampala. This is an organisation founded to “support, educate and empower” its members. Everyone in the group qualifies in some way as needy, and includes orphans, widows and widowers, single mothers, people living with HIV, elderly, disabled and/or people living in extreme poverty. Each member has their own individual struggles and adversities yet they all come together as a group to lift each other up and offer whatever support they can.
Most recently NSC revitalised a Village Savings and Loans (VSL) micro financial model, in which they meet weekly with each member contributing what they can to a savings account as well as a loans account. This system allows the group not only to save but also provide micro loans to its members to invest in various income generating activities. Their VSL also includes an emergency fund, which can be accessed with no interest in the case of a death or other tragedy.
When the members of the group were telling me all about this project I couldn’t help but feel great pride for them. Through this project the group has been able to extend their reach to financial support and give their members a means of self-sufficiency.
I definitely appreciate and admire the hard work that NSC is doing to bring more stability, security and even confidence to their community.
Next, I met with the Obanga Ber women’s organisation, a group of women in Boroboro village. All of the women in the group are HIV positive, and despite the continued stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS that exists in rural Uganda, they are open about their status. Their hope is that through this openness they can break down some of this stigma, spread awareness and educate the people in their villages.
In previous years, the women of Obanga Ber have partnered with CAP-AIDS Uganda on various outreach initiatives and they continue to be very enthusiastic about encouraging voluntary counselling and testing within their villages. Through their demonstrated courage and dedication, they help those infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS in ways that only members of the community could. They can relate to the struggles, to the setbacks and obstacles, the stigma. The women of Obanga Ber prove to the community that being HIV positive does not exclude one from living a positive, successful, and happy life.
Many of the members shared their personal experiences of how being open about their status has directly influenced either members of their family, group of friends, or broader community to seek out voluntary counselling and testing, to be aware of ways to prevent infection, and if already infected, where to seek treatment and care.
The Aboke HIV/AIDS Women’s Association(AHWA) is another CBO I met with. Their group has been active for many years and have partnered with CAP-AIDS for many of them. Outreach and education are very important to them and they pride themselves on the work they do for people living with HIV/AIDS in the Aboke region.
Every month each member pays a small membership fee which goes into the group’s savings account. This account is used for emergencies – for transporting sick community members to receive medication or treatment or for buying necessities such as cooking oil, salt, or soap. It is so inspiring to see how a group of people who are living with very little themselves are so willing and happy to give their hard earned savings to help those living and suffering with HIV/AIDS. Again, I could only feel proud of their altruism and commitment to their cause. Needless to say, my emotions got the best of me as the group sent us off with animated cheers, waving branches and dancing, demonstrating their appreciation for our partnership.
All of these CBOs and the people in the villages in general truly demonstrate how working together benefits everyone. There is no need for leaving anyone out. Whether its simply helping with household chores in the villages, committing to taking in orphans and vulnerable children, or sharing successful farming techniques. It is a stark difference from the very common “every man for himself” mentality of Western society. A difference that contributes to a trusting, hopeful and connected community where everyone can count on each other.
I can only hope that in my time here I can contribute even a fraction of what these CBOs have and take some of this attitude of inclusion and sense of community home.