By Regina Mburu, communications liaison for Unbound in Africa
In a small village in rural Uganda, we visit John at his small shop. He cheerfully, pulls up chairs for me and the Ugandan staff member accompanying me on my visit. John’s daughter Christine is sponsored through Unbound.
I glance around the shop and see that the shelves are filled with neatly arranged goods.
A customer walks in and John excuses himself. John serves the customer in a polite manner. I can tell that he enjoys his work as a shopkeeper by the way he carries himself.
However, life was not always this happy for 60-year-old John. As the father of eight children, John had a lot of responsibility to shoulder. He sometimes felt overwhelmed by his role as the main breadwinner for the large family.
“I used to do farming,” John said. “I would trade my coffee for food and upkeep for my family. I was very stressed. It was not easy seeing my family suffer and lack basic needs. What hurt me the most was seeing my children being sent away from school because of the lack of tuition.”
Another customer walks into the shop and our interview comes to a pause.
I watch John weighing sugar for the customer. His movements are careful because he wants to make sure that he gives the customer exactly what he requested. His commitment to his job shines through.
“Where was I?” John asks, chuckling as he returns to us.
John quickly resumes his narrative, reflecting on the time before his family joined the Unbound community.
“At some points, I was so down I lost hope that things would get better,” he said.
Unbound had already been working with families in John’s community for some time. John had heard about the organization, but wasn’t sure how to go about asking for assistance from the program.
Luckily, some members from his church had noticed his family’s situation and helped introduce him to Unbound. Program social workers had the chance to evaluate the family’s needs, and his then 10-year-old daughter, Christine, was enrolled in the sponsorship program. Now 23, Christine is pursuing a college education.
“When my daughter got sponsored, I felt a light flicker in my heart,” John said. “I had seen how families who have children in the program had improved. I knew that my tide and that of my family would turn, too.”
John is a member of Butalale Agali Agwamu mothers group, which means “Together we stand.” As part of the sponsorship program, at least one parent is expected to participate in a parent group. According to John, his wife is shy and not comfortable in group settings, so he took on the responsibility of being part of the local mothers group. He has been an active member ever since.
Mothers groups were started in Africa as a way to support mothers and help them empower each other. The groups have been a success, and in recent years men have embraced the idea and are becoming part of the groups. However, the rule in Uganda is that men are not allowed to take any leadership roles; those are reserved for the women.
Many mothers groups also create a joint savings from which members can take loans as approved by their fellow members. John has taken three loans from the mothers group, which he used to set up his shop.
“I chose to start up a shop because I am now an old man and moving around is getting difficult by the day,” John said. “I thought that a shop would be easier to run and less tedious. I really enjoy being a shopkeeper.”
With his livelihood greatly improved, John can now provide for the needs of his family. And, like every parent, John has big dreams for his children.
“I want my daughter Christine to do well in her studies,” John said. “She is taking up a diploma in mass communication and journalism. I am proud of her. I also want my other children, who are out of school, to excel in their lives.”
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