In this post I would like to tell you about an initiative that I am involved in and one I am most excited about.
The initiative is to equip girls with skills to take to the market and is located in Ruhanga, a rural parish within the Ntungamo district in Southwest Uganda. It comprises eleven small villages of approximately 90 households in each village and that amounts to 4,000 people of whom 2052 are women and girls.
A large majority of the inhabitants here are subsistence farmers with very little disposable income, thereby restricting access to education and basic health services. There are no factories here, rural to urban migration is high and often men in the village leave for cities and towns in search of work. Cultural and social norms mean that this option is not often available to women and girls.
In some instances women do make it into the cities and the situation there with respect to accessing jobs isn’t any better for them. This is due to a confluence of reasons, but especially due to lack of formal education. These women often do not have the level of education that would enable them to access formal employment. Without a job or home to go to, the girls become exposed to dangers such as being trafficked or sold into prostitution rings. The more fortunate ones might get a job as housemaids and this guarantees them shelter and food but not necessarily fair wages nor fair treatment.
In order to address some of the problems highlighted above I explored ways in which adolescent girls in Ruhanga could acquire skills that would enable them to generate their own income without the need to move to the city and a search for ideas lead me to a bicycle repair initiative for adolescent girls.
The idea looked good on paper, but I was unsure as to how it would be received by the community in Ruhanga. I sent an email to George Karamira, a Head Teacher at the local secondary school in which I asked about social norms and how those might impact such an initiative. To my surprise and delight, George was very enthusiastic about the idea and even offered to personally supervise the girls’ training.
And when we introduced the initiative to a group of girls and their mothers, there was a lot of excitement and surprise as this is the sort of activity that is reserved for boys and men.
Like elsewhere in Uganda the incidence of unemployment amongst the youth in Ruhanga is high which has implications for poverty levels and as such the bicycle repair initiative seeks to mitigate both poverty and unemployment amongst adolescent girls in particular.
So far, the initiative has provided training for fifteen girls aged 14-17 years. The girls learned how to repair and ride bicycles and some have started charging for their services and here is some of their feedback
Eleanor age 15: Having had the training in bicycle repairs, I now have an income which I use to buy books but most importantly I buy proper sanitary towels. I was finding it very difficult to ask my parents for money to buy sanitary pads and used to do without or improvise which affected my schooling
Agnes age 14: I used to walk 4 kilometres to and from school. I now ride to and from school which has made my life easier.
Marion age 16: I have learned how remove a tube from a bicycle Tyre and repair a puncture a skill I didn’t have before. I can ride a bicycle to wherever I wish to go! I am so grateful for all the help we are getting which has enabled to earn my own money as a girl and made a difference in my life. The skills I have learned will improve my social and economic circumstances. You have really touched the rest of my life and words cannot adequately describe how thankful I am.
Hope age 17: I am sincerely grateful for all you’ve done enabling us to access this training. Your generosity is helping me personally as a student. I am now able to earn money on my own and supplement my parents’ income by paying towards my school fees. I am in my last year at school and I am now equipped with a skill I can use when I leave Team College School
The Head Teacher’s feedback: some of amongst the girls used to walk long distances to school and were very tired by the time they arrived at school. This long journey to school, exposed girls to dangers such as rape and I constantly worried about their safety
The next steps are to formalise their activities by building a permanent workstation.