Group grants changing lives of women in Karamoja

“Life got better when UN Women came into our lives. Each one of us can testify to this,”

Date: Friday, June 22, 2018

Members of UMOJA group at their store in Moroto town. Photo by UN Women Uganda/ Aidah Nanyonjo

Members of UMOJA group at their store in Moroto town. Photo by UN Women Uganda/ Aidah Nanyonjo

“Life got better when UN Women came into our lives. Each one of us can testify to this,” said Catherine Lupuka, the Chairperson of Umoja group, a peer support group of women living with HIV/ Aids in Moroto. The group has more than 30 members but those benefiting directly from the UN Women project are 12. The group’s objective is to overcome stigma, discrimination and poverty related to living with HIV/Aids.

With funding from IRISH Aid, UN Women and its implementing partner, Action Africa Humanitarian Uganda (AAHU) introduced the group to sustainable mechanisms that boosts their economic potential.  This was done under the Karamoja Economic Empowerment project (KEEP), implemented under the joint Karamoja United Nations HIV/AIDS Programme.

Lupuka recalls how the group was trained in book keeping and other business skills. It was not so long before the group received a grant worth Sh5m from UN Women to start cereal banking.

The group business managed to generate profits which members partly shared to set a side individual business. They are involved in businesses like making local brew (Kwete), Sumbusa, and selling of fish. Lupuka said it was done to enable members who did not have businesses to start them and those who were involved in commercial sex to start alternative sources of income. This has enabled members to meet their basic needs such as buying food for their families, pay rent, school fees and medical bills.

“We are grateful to UN Women. This funding means a lot to us.  Before the KEEP funding, some members found it hard to get what to eat yet they were on HIV treatment. Some were sex workers who could only wait for soldiers to get salaries and exchange sex for money. All this is History now,”Kupuka said

The group meets every Sunday to share experiences and encourage each other on how to cope with HIV/Aids. Through sharing stories, members have gained self-confidence and learnt to live positively.

Lupuka said, “We are treatment supporters for each other. We remind each other of treatment days, swallowing medicine and eating food. Look at our bodies, we look healthy and normal, “she boasted.

Members’ lives have generally improved. Lupuka said stigma in their homes and the communities had prevented many from opening up and accessing medication freely.

“We were to shy. Some feared to receive ARVs from the hospital. Through counselling, we no longer fear to talk about our HIV status,” she said. 

Out of the profits from cereal banking, the group ventured into making of crafts targeting tourists who visit Karamoja region. Plans are underway to venture into value addition. Instead of selling cereals, the group will buy a machine that grinds them into flour. They will pack and sell flour in Kilograms. The group plans to buy plots of land and construct a house for each member. Lopuka said, “we want each one of us to have something to remember about UN Women. If we are to die, we shall leave the houses for our children.”

According to Lupuka, the group is challenged by members who don’t turn up for meetings while others don’t report at the stall when it is their turn to sell cereals. For each day, two people are supposed to sell the group’s cereals.

“Sometimes our store remains closed. People don’t turn up on their days for sale. This impacts negatively on our sales,” she noted

Unfortunately, thugs broke into their store and stole 23 bags of cereals. However, group members collected savings from their side  businesses and restocked the business. The current stock stands at 20 bags. The group was referred to Moroto District for support and was selected for funding from a government programme, the Uganda women entrepreneurship Programme.