Since the last time I reported on our progress, I was able to spend eleven days in beautiful Ndejje. Not only was it great to get away and spend time in the beautiful country I love, but it is nice to reconnect old friends and colleagues and remember why we do this. I thought I'd share a few of the highlights with you.
The month before I arrived, our partners Rosalind Franklin University of Medical Sciences sent a contingent of faculty, fourth year medical students, and a doctoral student in psychology to spend the month of April working with us. They trained 9 community members/staff as lay counselors in a technique for addressing trauma called Narrative Exposeure Therapy (NET). The new counselors learned a lot and are already busy working with their new clients. We rented and fixed up an additional room across the street from our main compoung that will be used as a counseling room. This is particularly exciting because it has been such a need in our community for a long time and we had no way to meet that need. We hope that addressing the mental health needs of the community will allow them to be more engaged and attentive in all other aspects of their lives.
We've had lots of paid and volunteer staff over the last four years and there is no doubt the combination we have right now is the best we've ever had. They are a smart, dedicated, creative, mission driven group. While I was there we had a staff retreat and were able to braistorm and talk about how we want to grow and improve. We were also able to officially hire two additional staff members, bringing the total up to 13 (up from none two years ago!). All of the staff members live in the community we serve, which, in addition to the collectives, has a real impact on the micro economics of our village.
One of my last days in Uganda was graduation day. Several of our advanced students passed the UNHCR English proficiency exam, many of the advanced tailoring students completed their training, and the newest cohort from the business class that the Finnish Refugee Council sponsors graduated. It was a big celebration. It started of a little soggy when the most inense storm we'd had all week hit. But, it dried out and everyone recienved their diplomas, sang, danced and ate a delicious buganda meal.
We now have over 200 adults enrolled in programming at HOCW and we are using every inch of space at almost all times. In order to keep growing and providing the services our community needs we will need additional space. We we able to identify an ideal location and are actively working toward making that a reality.
Although not funded by this Global Giving project, it is worth mentioning that HOCW now has 36 children sponsored for school (in Uganda there are fees associated with even goverment education, making school out of reach for most of our refugee children). This is more than we have ever had before. The first day back to school from term break was during my visit and it was exciting to see serveral newly sponsored children going to school for the first time as well as the returning students welcomed back by teachers and headmasters.
It has been a year since HOCW began our first Global Giving Challenge. It has been a challenging and rewarding year and we wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on how things have changed in the village of Ndejje. Three years ago, HOCW had less that ten international volunteers and no paid staff members. We now have 30 volunteers a year and nine paid local staff. We never imagined how quickly we would grow. Global Giving has facilitated a lot of that growth.
We now have seven English classes with a total of 167 students. We’ve added math and Swahili classes for 20 students. Our computer lab is bursting at the seams and with both beginners and advanced computer classes four days a week. 25 of our students are graduating (maeaning that they have passed the UN High Commission on Refugees English Proficience exam) from the advanced English class in May.
Our Collective is going strong. The women have formed four groups, tailoring, jewlery and crafts, and soap making, totalling 45 members. They have formed strong bonds, learned new skills, and are well on being able to support their families.
When we asked our students what else they wanted from HOCW, they expressed a need for community building activities. We’ve started a Kinyarwanda Dance group, a Kiganda Dance group and a soccer team. Many of the refugees we serve fled their home country without family or friends and we hope that these cultural activities will help them build the social support and resilience that they need to successfully resettle in Uganda.
One of the new activities we are most proud of is the Women’s Savings Group. In the Summer of 2013, HOCW worked with the International Rescue Committee to start a Women’s Savings Group. The model was based on that developed my Nobel Prize winning, Muhamad Yunus. A small group of women formed a community bank, making small deposits for 3,000 to 15,000 Uganda Schillings each week. They've made small, low interest loans to each other. Leadership comes from within the group and decisions are made collectively. One year and 9.5 million Uganda Schillings (that is $3,725- a huge sum in Ndejje.) later the group is still growing strong! Many of the women are using their savings to start new businesses and they plan to save even more in the coming year. They have also inspired 30 additional women to start another savings group at HOCW! We can’t to see what this motivated, ambitious group of women will do.
The fourth quarter of 2013 has been busy at HOCW!
We’ve had an intern who has been spending a lot of his time focusing on the Community Collective and the work he and the women are doing has started to pay off. Our intern organized a fundraiser and was able to buy 13 additional sewing machines as well as three more advanced design and embroidery machines. (note: we never would have had room to house these additional machines if we hadn’t built 2 additional classrooms through this Global Giving fundraiser!)
The collective now has 34 member-women. And the first group of advanced students will complete their training soon.
In addition to learning teaching basic tailoring, we were able to bring in some additional training this quarter. They women learned how to tie dye and will start making products for sale from the fabric they create.
The jewelry and crafting group has also been busy expanding their repertoires and are learning to make bags from banana leaf and grasses.
Our intern worked with the women identified as marketers and mobilizers in the collective to find local markets for their products. They have been able to develop relationships with Banana Boat tourist shop in Garden City Mall, National Association of Women Organizations of Uganda (NAWOU), and Exposure Africa, more commonly known as African Village. This holiday season, we also sold a lot of products in the US (including some bags on the Global Giving Giving for Good Catalog!) and are hoping to start an ETSY site in the next few weeks.
Many of the women involved in the collective are also members of The Women’s Savings Group, which started this year with the help of our partners, the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Fifteen women in our community come together and save 3,000- 15,000 Uganda Shilling every week ($1= 2,500 Uganda Schillings). This is collected in a collective fund from which they can borrow money at a low interest rate when in need. The goal is to create a small-scale community bank or microfinance project where women have a community fund from which they can comfortably borrow money, and at the same time collectively commit to saving money over the year for long-term projects. They have so far collected 10 million Ush, or about $4,000! In January 2014, they are planning to divide the money and start their own business or project. For those that are familiar with Muhammed Yunus’ Grameen Bank, this model is very similar.
Our adult education programs are also going well. They are on a short break for the holidays, but when they return after the new year, we will have a total of 114 adults in 6 English classes. There are 34 adults enrolled in three computer classes. 18 adults are enrolled in a business class that takes place at the HOCW compound for our students but is facilitated by the Finnish Refugee Council.
We have grown so much in the last year. Much of that growth was made possible by the fundraising we did with Global Giving. So, thank all of you so much for your support!
It's been a very busy summer for the staff, volunteers, and students at HOCW. A lot of the progress we have made over the last few months was facilitated by our Global Giving funding. So, thank you again from all of us!
The first big news is that we completed our computer lab! Its a small space that utilizes some great technology that is perfect for the developing world- raspberry pi servers, Matricom tablets and Khan Academy lite curricula. In August one of our wonderful volunteers from the US worked with our Ugandan staff to set up the computer lab. After that, we didn't waste any time getting our students going. Currently there are 5 classes, each taught twice a week for two hours each session. For 27 beginners, the classes primarily teaches students how to type and use Microsoft Word and other Office applications. For 13 more advanced students, they focus on Khan Academy videos through which they can learn about various topics such as English, Algebra, and computer programming.
Just this last week, we installed wireless internet in the HOCW compound! (until now we have been paying per minute to use internet through a portable modem on each machine- an inefficinet and expensive way to access the internet). This is a big change for HOCW staff, volunteers and students. All enrolled students can sign up for time to use the internet in the hours that the computer lab is not being used for class. Even in the village of Ndejje, Uganda technology is ubiquitious and this will allow our students to keep up with the workd around them. Wireless internet will also open up more educational opportunities for staff and students- we are looking forward to exploring those and reporting back next time!
The women in the HOCW Community Collective have been working hard too. They have worked to define their goals and objectives as well as the responsibilities that come with membership in the collective. We were able to buy some new sewing machines and hire some of the women for teaching and leaderhip roles. The women are learing valuable lessons about pricing strategy, marketing, and developing new and unique products in response to their market. They have already found a few new markets for their products- one a tourist market and one a more traditional African store. We have very high hopes for these budding business women and expect that they are well on the way to supporting their families in a higher standard of living.
Thank you again to all of our supporters!
Thank you, thank you, thank you for making our first Global Giving Campaign such a success! We're excited to tell you about everything that we've been working on.
Many of the refugees we serve have lived in conflict areas for much of their lives. For many of them this means that their education has been disrupted and irregular. We have some members of our community who have graduated from University and others who can not read. Lack of basic primary school education is a real barrier to building a successful life in Uganda or wherever they are resettled. Because we have so many people at so many different levels in so many different subjects, we needed to look for a solution that could address the needs of as many people as possible. So, we are building a computer lab where students at different levels can learn the subjects relevant to them at their own pace at the most convenient time for them.
Lucky for us a lot of technology companies and non-profits have been working on solutions that make technology more accessible for groups like us- with limited financial resources, electricity and internet connectivity- barriers that would have been insurmountable even a few years ago. But, we are taking advantage of new products made by raspberry pi, Khan Academy, Khan Academy lite, and Matricom. We are also lucky to have a volunteer who works in the Information Technology field and is taking the project to a whole new level. We have ordered equipment, are building the server and working on the policies and procedures for users. We hope to be up and running by late July. (Here is a blog post on the raspberry pi website that explains a project similar to our for those interested in the details- http://www.raspberrypi.org/archives/3829)
Another challenge that we have us space. At this time we have more people who want to attend classes than we have space to teach them. So, we are finishing the area behind our volunteer house and turning it into another classroom. We hired a refugee carpenter and his son, who both attend programming with us, to build new desks, benches and our computer lab. We also had the floor leveled and covered in concrete so that we had a level surface for our new desks and tables! Now, we can expand our programming and teach more students. This was a big job for our refugee carpenter and provided him with more than a weeks work and income for his family.
We are so excited about all of these new projects and look forward to what the coming months will bring.
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