GUEST BLOG BY TAYLOR WASHBURN AND EMILY CHANDLER, GLOBAL AMBASSADORS FOR ROCKFLOWER
Saturday’s whirlwind continued in the late afternoon with a visit to the Rwenzori Women's Initiative for Community Development (RWICOD). Rockflower funded RWICOD to build a grain mill for the local community. We had learned the significance of work like this during our time at S.O.U.L. Imagine for a moment having two 50 kg sacks full of corn. This corn is going to sustain your family for the months between the growing season, but not in its current form. The corn needs to be milled into cornmeal which can then be stored and consumed. Now, what if the nearest mill is 5 miles away? 10 miles away? With no mode of transportation, this becomes a significant investment in a family’s time and resources to figure out a way to get the corn to the mill and back. Often children have to take time off from school to help haul the grain and the physical toll on mothers is tremendous.
RWICOD was started in October 2002 by a group of women who saw a need for women to join hands to fight the injustices of poverty, disease, and violence. Because of its location, Kasese has been especially hard hit by these hardships. Women make up about of 55-58% of the total population in this region, and many women are widows as a result of the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) war of 1996-2001 or the AIDS scourge, of which the Kasese district has one of the highest prevalence rates in Uganda. A great number of them are single mothers who having been rejected by their families, are living very hard lonely lives of exclusion, trying to take care of their children for whom they are the sole breadwinners.
We met Flavia Masika, chairperson of RWICOD, and other members of RWICOD and learned about a number of the projects they have been involved in including projects focused on maternal health and food security. They were most excited about the construction of the grain milling facility, which has been a long time coming. When we visited the facility was not operational because they needed a replacement part, but they were hoping to have it fixed soon so that it would be available to mill corn and grain for the community before the rainy season arrived in August. Despite not being operational, many members of the community were there to greet us. We were surprised to see so many people late on a Saturday afternoon, a testament to how important this facility will be for them
Through the construction and operation of a grain mill, RWICOD provides employment for women. The proceeds from the milling project can be used to start a revolving loan fund to enable women to diversify their income. Encouraging the women to work as agents in collecting grains, such as corn, will in turn allow them to earn a small commission or profit, through which they can improve their in living conditions. Buying their own grains, such as maize corn, dried cassava and millet, which can in turn be milled for them, will provide further opportunity for income generation. The 20 women involved have more than 50 children, who are also the direct beneficiaries of this work. Ultimately, the project is designed to serve the needs of over 200 Ugandan women, the majority of whom are within Kasese Municipality and are in real need of training and opportunity.
Because of our experience living with Mama Ali, this project and the impact it will have on the community in Kasese really hit home for us. Part of what has made this trip such an amazing experience is the chance to put people and faces to these circumstances and see just how this work will impact them. The added depth and color we gained from personal connections has served to strengthen our desire to continue this work and bring more people into it.