By Eithne McNulty Overseas Officer for War On Want
Northern Ireland, EU July 19, 2017 (Guest Contributor) War On Want Northern Ireland (WOWNI) is a small, independent International Non-Governmental Organization (INGO) based in Belfast Northern Ireland. This year, 2017, it celebrates 56 years of working with poor communities in Africa. WOWNI implements programmes in Uganda and Malawi focusing on supporting local groups of farmers to reduce poverty and promote equitable and sustainable development through building their capacity to produce more food to feed their families and have a surplus to take to market. Fostering entrepreneurship and building income generation are important aspect of how the organization works and special care is taken to target the most vulnerable of the poor such as orphans, women, elderly, child headed households and people living with HIV/Aids. Care for the environment is central to WOWNI’s work ethic as is gender equality.
Joyce Mary’s story is a heartening one. It shows how a little help can go a long way when there are people as enterprising and entrepreneurial as she. And the vast majority of people in poor communities in Africa have this amazing ability to be business people in their own right. Joyce Mary talks about her “business dream coming through” with the help she got from WOWNI. She now has her chicken rearing farm!. She talks too about the training she received on business development and agricultural technologies. WOWNI hears this said all the time. Training is such a key element of the success of the projects.
Joyce Mary references borrowing from her local Village Savings and Loans Scheme (VSLA) – a kind of credit union set up and managed by local people. VSLAs are a lifeline to people and form part of every intervention WOWNI designs with local people. VSLAs provide a safe savings scheme locally, they provide borrowing facilities for business set up and importantly, they become a lifeline when a ‘rainy day’ hits. Ironically, a ‘rainy day’ in the East African context more typically means drought!. This leads to failed crops as does other disasters such as floods and pest invasion like the army worms which are sweeping Sub Saharan Africa at the moment and destroying poor peoples’ livelihoods. So, the challenges are many. Fortunately, the resilience and talent Joyce Mary exudes, as do so many other of the poor, sees communities through the tough times. Ironically too, when you visit these communities what you meet is not despondency and desolation – not at all. It is always song, dance, ceremony and celebration. Always a smile and a welcome.
WOWNI has a deep belief in the capabilities and capacity of local communities in the developing world. They know best how to respond to the needs and challenges they face; how to lift themselves out of the poverty that surrounds them. Their challenges and obstacles are manifold; the structural nature of poverty; did you know that the developed/rich world takes more in taxes from the developing world than it gives to it in aid?. Other major challenges include climate change, lack of resources, education, jobs, land, gender inequality. Because local people and their communities are best placed to plan and implement development projects, WOWNI operates the ‘partnership approach’, meaning it identifies locally based Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) and work through them. They become the delivery mechanism for development projects. They invariably know what’s needed by way of planning, budgeting, training, raw materials, tracking, monitoring and much more. They get results. WOWNI is simply the conduit between its Northern Irish donors and its governmental donors, who generously give to the organization, and the farmers groups who, when they receive that assistance, work innovatively, imaginatively, diligently and with unbelievable resourcefulness and resoluteness.
Testimony of Akwi Joyce Mary
“My dream has been to become a prosperous entrepreneur” She said. Akwi Joyce Mary is a 45 year old married woman with six (6) children. She also takes care of 4 grandchildren. Joyce Mary has 6 acres of land and with the support of group oxen they received from WoWNI, she is now able to cultivate all. Joyce Mary relies purely on farming as a source of livelihood.
“Before the Project support, I used to work like a donkey, hiring out my labour in order to get food and little income to support the family. My husband was a well known drunkard in the community; my family could only afford one meal a day during hunger month and we had no hope of educating our children” she narrated.
She further explained that, despite the fact that family had land, they were not utilizing it effective because they had no oxen but however, her life is now much more better, she feels empowered as a woman because her children are going to school, have their own oxen that she bought, have 250 local chickens; she is also an active member in her savings group, has100 plastic chairs that she hires out and her family eats 3 meals a day during hunger months. Her husband now respects and loves her.
Joyce Mary said that, the most significant change she is proud off in the project is the knowledge received through the trainings especially farm planning and farming as a business. This enabled her not only diversify her food production but also enabled her divides gardens to ensure that family grows crops for income and food separately. In 2016 she planted 2 acres of groundnuts, one acre for food and the other for income; she was able to earn £349 but also have food at home. The money helps her pay school fees for her children, meet family medical bills as well as household necessities. “Every year now make sure that I have at least 3 acres specifically grown for food and 2 for income” she said with confidence.
Joyce also with her business dream, started rearing 5 local chicken that she bought using the money she borrowed (£24) from her village saving group, chickens have multiplied and she now has 250. She sold 15 chicken was able to buy an ox and two sheep. The chicken not only provides her with daily income but also balance diet inform of eggs, the meat. Besides the chicken, Joyce grows vegetables at her backyard and she able to eat fresh vegetables to supplement her diet.