How microloans in Uganda are giving orphans a brighter future

By: 
Josephine Broughton
Rosemary, from Uganda, is putting her own hardships aside to help others

I meet some inspiring people through my job. While in Uganda visiting CARE’s Banking on Change partnership,  I met Rosemary. Life has dealt her an unimaginably tough hand. Childhood polio left her disfigured and barely able to walk. She has lived on her own since her mother died, and she scrapes a living by making clothes on a pedal-powered sewing machine which she struggles to operate. She lives in a tiny concrete house and even by Ugandan standards she is desperately poor.

Rosemary told me she is lonely. She is unmarried, has no children and in all likelihood she will spend the rest of her days alone. Rosemary's story is not unusual, but Rosemary herself is.

Two years ago Rosemary joined a village savings and loans group set up by CARE, and together with 30 others she saves a few pence per week. She used her savings to buy more sewing materials and she took out a small loan through the group to buy some piglets which she breeds.

Nursery

She also rented a room in her village and set up a nursery school - she pays local teachers to look after and educate infants from the village for a tiny fee. It covers its own costs, with little or no profit. She's just doing it to improve her community.

Rosemary has taken in four orphans from her village, all girls, who came to her for help when their parents died. She spends what little she earns feeding them and sending them to school. She is clearly very fond of them- they have had a roof over their head for the past two years thanks to her. They help her by fetching water and firewood, and at weekends she teaches them to sew. I asked Rosemary why she took them in and she said: "Because when they come to me for help it makes my heart hurt."

Helped to help others

The international aid industry talks a lot about helping people and indeed 'helping people to help themselves'. CARE has helped Rosemary to not only help herself, but to help others. It seemed to me that this has enriched her life more than any microloan ever could have done. She also served to remind me that the developed world does not have the monopoly on charity. It's not always about the global north giving aid to the south; the fortunate sparing their excesses for the less fortunate. Compassion is a universal human trait. Rosemary, in proportional terms, is more generous than the wealthiest philanthropists of this world. She has next to nothing yet she gives almost everything.

I asked Rosemary about her plans for the coming years. She told me that she wants to expand her sewing business and give her orphans "a bright future". Her hopes are simple, her aspirations as tiny as her fragile frame. Her dream, she told me, is to own an electric sewing machine. Something to increase her productivity and ease the physical burden of her work. ‘With Gods mercy’, she said, ‘perhaps one day’.

She smiled all afternoon, she thanked us for visiting her and she thanked God for her village savings and loans group which has provided her with financial assistance but also, she says, they are now her friends.

Our media often paints a bleak picture of Africa - helpless and hopeless, where people sit in wide-eyed poverty, hands outstretched, awaiting the next shipment of aid to be thrown at them from the back of a taxpayer-funded truck. Everything I saw in Uganda told me how wrong this is.

Josephine Broughton's picture

Josephine Broughton is a Senior Press Officer for CARE International UK.