Guest Blog

Uganda Women’s Advocacy and Development Services



We arrived in Mbale on July 25th after a day of travel. Mbale is in eastern Uganda, near the Kenyan border and at the base of Mount Elgon. Moreen and Moses from the Uganda Women’s Advocacy and Development Services (UWADS) met us at our hotel that evening to brief us on the day ahead. Both were full of energy, and the short meeting left us excited about the day ahead. Their project has strong similarities to RUGLI in Kasese in structure and sustainability which filled us with optimism.

Moreen and Moses arrived shortly after 10AM the next morning to take us to the UWADS office to see where they work and also offer computer skills training courses. After a quick tour, we headed out to the site of the community baking project. UWADS runs a number of different projects in 15-20 villages around Mbale. Though not something we had thought about during our homestay with Mama Ali, baked goods are not common in Uganda. Most families cook meals outside over an open flame, and an oven or even knowledge of baking is the exception rather than the rule. During our drive to the site, we learned how intentional Moreen and Moses had been both in choosing the project and the specific community in which to begin their baking initiative. The baking program, which Rockflower supported by funding the construction of a wood-fired brick oven, is located in a nearby village with many young mothers. The average age at which women have their first child here is 14 years old. These women may or may not have husbands and, in most cases, they have little to no financial independence or support.

A critical component of success we identified in the projects we visited is a path to self-sustainability. The initiatives that begin with group saving schemes have found a solid financial footing from which to grow their programs, and the UWADS baking program is no exception. The baking program started by encouraging women in the village to save whatever they could each week. As they built their group savings, they established leadership roles (treasurer, secretary, and chairperson) and began lending money to members when they needed a loan. The loans could be used to buy food or pay school fees for their children. For the baking project to succeed, the group of women needed to have marketable skills, skills that UWADS focused on developing before helping the women start a business. Along with computer literacy, UWADS offers a program in financial literacy to help empower women to be financially independent.

With the savings program in place, this group of 20 women already had a community, buy-in, and ownership. The next step was finding a way to generate revenue. UWADS, namely Moreen and Moses, provided baking classes and an oven. Because most people cook over a wood or charcoal fire, they have no experience with baking. Additionally wheat is not a significant crop here, so most Ugandans are more accustomed to working with corn or millet flour than wheat flour. Consequently, baking is a marketable skill. Through the baking class, UWADS has trained 20 women in how to bake bread and rolls, donuts and mandazi, cakes (more like muffins) and chapati. The women and girls meet twice a week to bake and then take turns selling their products at the market. Profits come back to the group to help buy more supplies or go into the group savings to provide loans to members. On the days not devoted to group baking, members can bake on their own and then sell the products and keep the revenue. They have access to the community oven and can take out loans to help pay for baking supplies. Women in the group are using these skills and the income to pay for their children’s school fees, buy food and make food for their families. Just as importantly, they’ve built a proud, empowered community. They are also sharing their knowledge of baking with other women and expanding the community.

Watching the group work, we were struck by how lucky they seemed. They have an incredible space where they work and have built their wood-fired oven. In the community, there is a generous man who owns a large building along with a covered pavilion that he allows the women to use to prep their products. The oven is located behind the building, so it is a perfect communal space. Of course, this was not chance, but the result of Moreen and Moses careful planning. More than luck, though, what we noticed was the spirit these women possessed. They were enthusiastic, they were empowered, and they had a strong group identity. They loved the work they were doing and they loved working with each other.

Throughout the morning, we watched women and girls roll out doughs, cut out donuts and fill muffin pans. We had the chance to talk with a number of them and were inspired by the energy and optimism of the group. A few of the women had the opportunity to introduce themselves more formally and speak to what the baking project means to them. Seeing the confidence they had developed to stand up in front of a group and share, in English, what learning these skills means for their independence was inspiring.

After sharing a little bit about our work with Rockflower and the opportunity to visit with many of our partners in Uganda we were treated to a performance by the local brass band. The brass band, much like the baking project, is not typical. The community supports young boys and girls learning to play instruments. The band performs throughout the year, and income generated by those performances help pay the children’s school fees. Before leaving, we were able to enjoy a meal with all of these different community members and sample the baked goods. We left Mbale feeling optimistic about this project, both because of the lives it has already so clearly impacted as well as for the clear path to sustainability and expansion.

Rainbow House of Hope


After a joyful and engaging morning with Hope for the Future, we said goodbye to Gertrude, Tonny and their members and headed back to Mill Hill Missionaries Home to begin our second visit. We had arranged to spend the afternoon and evening with Robertson Haggai from Rainbow House of Hope at the top of Nsambya Hill.

Kampala, once called the City of Seven Hills, now sprawls over more than twenty-one hills. Traditionally the hills identified different regions of the city and Nsambya Hill has long been home to Catholic missionaries. Rainbow House of Hope (Rainbow House) is located near the top of the Hill with views of the Makindye Division slums to the south. Founded in 1998, Rainbow House introduced music and sports programs as a means of getting children from the slums off the streets. The whole operation consists of one building and a series of retrofitted shipping containers that serve as workshops for their different programs, which includes a brass band for children and young adults, skills training in hairdressing, wood and metal working, tailoring, knitting, painting, sign-making and computer literacy. This all falls under the direction of program coordinator and Rainbow House founder, Michael Mwase.

Recently, and with support from Rockflower, Robertson has begun a Slum Maternal Health and Skill Development program. Robertson and a small team of community mobilizers work to get women from the slums of Kampala to Rainbow House’s maternal health programs. Along with conveying important information to these women, the programs help to create community among a largely disenfranchised population in the city. Along with their outreach programs, Rainbow House has installed a clinic that operates periodically (once every month or so), during which women, girls and children can be seen by volunteer medical personnel. The two doctors and one nurse who support the clinic take days off from their local, private hospital positions and donate their time to make the Rainbow House clinic possible. They offer maternal health classes and workshops, as well as examinations and evaluations. While the clinic is extremely limited in terms of equipment, medications and facilities, it was very impressive to see these doctors and nurse, younger than we are, working passionately with this population and determined to do their best to support this community and program.

The clinic operates out of a second Rainbow House building located a few minutes walk from the top of the hill. When not hosting the monthly clinics, it is home to a preschool and can also provide accommodations to Rainbow House volunteers. Our visit coincided with a clinic day, so after a quick introduction to the program, we walked with Robertson down the hill to the clinic to meet the volunteer doctors and clinic attendees. The clinic was packed and patients of all ages, who had to wait hours to be seen. While patients waited, Rainbow House volunteers served a simple lunch (beans and posho or rice) that was probably more food than many of the people typically ate in a day.

We particularly enjoyed the chance to get to know and speak with Dr. Fredrick, who together with Robertson, has worked to develop the maternal health program. Having come from very little himself, he is grateful to many people who helped him become a doctor and the successful person he is today. Because of his experience, he believes fundamentally in the need to give back and help those in his country who experience extreme poverty.

Following lunch, the clinic attendees gathered and Robertson introduced us and explained how Rockflower support has enabled this program to become a reality. It was eye-opening for us to see the wide range of women there: some were there with several small children in tow, some very sick, others very pregnant. All of them were grateful for the opportunity to be seen by doctors. For many, there is no alternative to this clinic. Going to a private hospital is prohibitively expensive, and the public hospitals often do not have space or sufficient staff to attend to those in need. The work of this clinic fills a critical need in the community.

Following our visit to the clinic, Robertson and Teddy took us on a walking tour of the neighboring slums. The alleyways we walked along were filthy; filled with sewage and waste. We followed Teddy and Robertson down narrow passageways between decrepit buildings, sometimes jumping from rock to rock to avoid the puddles. This experience was easily the most challenging part of our time in Uganda. We did our best to lean into the discomfort we felt, as we sought to understand the reality of life in the slums while simultaneously acknowledging to ourselves the stark contrast to the privilege we experience and to which we are accustomed.

Along our walk, we visited three different women connected to Rainbow House. Each of them opened up to us and gave us a glimpse into their lives and the circumstances under which they live. Two of the women we visited at their homes - very small, one-room flats. In both cases, and consistent with the generous spirit of Uganda, they welcomed us into their tiny homes. One woman bought a pineapple being sold by a man in the alley and insisted we eat it with her. We were not her guests until she gave us something to eat, she said. The strength of the human spirit is amazing, as this woman with so little insisted on sharing what little she had with us.

The third woman we visited was a widow and mother of three. In her late 20s or early 30s, we visited her on an alley corner where she operates a small shop (a few racks of vegetables and a few other staples). This shop is her sole source of income and it is illegal; she does not have the required permit to operate. As such, if the authorities come they will confiscate the produce and other products she sells. That happened to her last year, forcing her to find a new corner, which she must rent from the owner of the corner building, and start over again. She cannot afford school fees for her children, but she uses what she makes to feed them. She also can not afford to leave her shop to attend Rainbow House programs, though she says she would if she could.

Despite the determination and spirit of Ugandans, the circumstances of life here are devastating. There is a critical need for community-based organizations like Rainbow House, which provide so many programs to empower Ugandans with skills so that they might lift themselves from extreme poverty. Even so, it is not possible for Rainbow House to reach and support all those in need in the Makindye Division slums. Rainbow House programs are often at capacity and, even if they were not, many women like this widow would still not be able to take advantage of them. As we left the slums to walk back up the hill to Rainbow House, we felt keenly the uphill battle Michael, Robertson, Dr. Fredrick, Teddy and others here face in bettering this community. Despite working tirelessly, there is still infinitely more work to be done. In our conversation with Michael, Rainbow House founder, he shared a bit about his life growing up in the 1970s while Idi Amin was in power, a particularly dark period in Uganda’s history. Being around kids, and knowing what it is like to have nothing motivates him to continue improving the lives of others in his community.

Having spent the day in the city, we were also able to reflect upon the differences between poverty in the cities and in the villages we have visited. In villages, families survive on what they can grow and often live in a small mud house. That can come to look fairly comfortable in contrast to the small one-room homes with sewage-filled alleys that flood during the rainy season. In the slums, there is nothing remotely close to clean water and nowhere to grow a single plant. People often leave the villages hoping for better lives in the city, but it seems the reality of village life, with the community and perhaps larger family support found there, would be preferable to the slums of the cities.

The need for the Slum Maternal Health and Skill Development program Rainbow House is developing is great, and like so many organizations they face funding challenges as well as societal and cultural barriers to accessing the communities and women in need. Yet it is the unrelenting optimism and faith in these communities and people that Robertson, Dr. Fredrick and others bring to their work that makes these programs possible. Their dedication, resourcefulness and persistence allow them to defy the odds and make programs like these a reality.

Hope for Rural Women


On Saturday, July 21, 2018, we woke up in Kasese. Kasese is located in the southwest corner of Uganda, nestled between the Rwenzori Mountains and Queen Elizabeth National Park. The day before, we had left Bujagali Falls at 5AM with our driver, Michael, and Mama Ali’s youngest daughter, Muyombi Zahara. We had invited Zahara to join us after getting to know her during our stay with Mama Ali. She is 19 years old and a nursing student, with some free time before beginning her next semester. Due to her excitement about the projects and work that Rockflower invests in, we took the opportunity to expose her to more of the inspiring people and work happening in her country. We felt this was the least we could do, in return for all that Mama Ali’s family had done for us. We would soon learn, that our driver, Michael, would be much more than that for us. He taught us about the history and customs all throughout Uganda. He was there to help us navigate different situations, to act as a translator when needed, and he brought a keen eye for detail, noticing many things that Emily and I would have missed. Our trip was enriched beyond belief because of the relationship we were able to develop with Michael.

After a breakfast of eggs, toast, and fruit we were eager to begin our day. After all, this was why we were in Uganda: to meet with Rockflower partners and see the amazing and impactful work in which we are investing. The day was going to be a whirlwind with visits to three different partners. The first visit was with Hope for Rural Women (HORUWO), a community based, non-political, non-sectarian, non-profit-making organization. HORUWO is committed to the promotion of women’s and children’s rights, peace and justice, and ending domestic violence in rural communities, through education and health services.


We met Biira Juliet, the chair of HORUWO, and a member of her staff, Jolly, at 9:30AM. Both women were dressed in Gomesi, the traditional women’s dress of the Buganda and Busoga tribes. Gomesi are bright-colored dresses made from a silk or satin-like material with big cheerful patterns. They have a big sash and distinctive shoulders.

Juliet and Jolly guided us to a building that serves as HORUWO headquarters. There was a tall gate in front of the building which offered little suggestion of what was to greet us on the other side. As we stepped out of the van we were greeted by loud, joyous voices singing out over the enclosure. Suddenly the gate opened and dozens of members of HORUWO emerged from behind the gate, singing and dancing to welcome us to their home.

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After making our way inside the gate we sat at a table in front of the group and they began the program that they had prepared for us. We were welcomed with more singing and then a report of the work they are doing. Similar to S.O.U.L., HORUWO takes a holistic approach and supports women on a number of fronts - health, economic empowerment, and education, to name a few. The presentation demonstrated how important this community has become for its members. One of their youngest members - Diana - had recently been accepted into a nursing and midwifery program. The pride emanating from the group was what you would expect of parents for their child. We were learning on this trip that family extends well beyond blood lines and that there is a reason the Ugandan people are known for their generosity.

Diana sang a touching song to the group, primarily women, about the strength and importance of mothers. In the midst of this song the group showered Diana with gifts of all types - notebooks, soap, corn flour to make posho, beans, a suitcase, and other necessities - so that she could begin school with all of the supplies she would need and more. Diana appeared a little overwhelmed by the generosity of this group, which was nothing compared to what we were soon to feel. Soon after Diana’s moment, the members of HORUWO processed up to the table and showered us with gifts. It was an incredible and overwhelming experience, knowing that they did not have much but were so eager to give something up to welcome us, complete strangers, to their home. Everything they gave us was beautifully wrapped in banana leaves, tied with banana fibers and decorated with pink bougainvillea. They were so pretty that it was a shame when they started opening them for us. We learned from Zahara that it is tradition to give visitors gifts, often from their garden.

We had traveled to Kasese in the midst of a drought. We learned this when we arrived at the hotel where we were staying, to find that there was no running water. Because of the drought, the water table had dropped to the extent that water was particularly scarce, even for the dry season, and could not be pumped into the hotel. Knowing this and then being given food from these women’s gardens was an incredibly powerful and humbling moment.

After more formalities, that included a few welcoming words from the  elected official of the village, and some words from us about the work Rockflower does and why we were in Uganda, we were given a tour to  see and really experience a small snapshot of the work that HORUWO is involved in. In their “office space,” where we met the group, they grow mushrooms and had planted a number of micro gardens. This space is more of a classroom than an office,  as one of their projects is teaching women to grow food in less than ideal spaces. They have developed techniques using whatever is available - pots, empty tires and even plastic bags - to create spaces to grow vegetables. While this may have seemed very small scale, the impact of even such a small amount of independence is huge and empowering. One of the challenges that HORUWO faces iss working through circumstances that they cannot control. The current drought posed one such challenge, and the micro gardens mostly succumbed to it. After this introduction, we piled into the van with Michael and a number of members of HORUWO and set off to tour their other sites around Kasese.


At the first site we visited HORUWO grows vanilla. Vanilla is a very lucrative commodity,  so they rent a house with a cement wall to protect the compound and their crop. A vanilla seedling costs under a dollar, while a mature vanilla vine  can produce 1-2 kg of vanilla beans, which sell for approximately $90/kg. The vines themselves can also be sold for a similar amount. Much of the farming in Uganda is of the subsistence variety, in which families grow food to live on and any extra is taken to market to earn some money to purchase other necessities. HORUWO’s vanilla project is a bold step to go further. Many of the projects HORUWO undertakes require some level of capital to sustain them. HORUWO is thinking about how to make their work sustainable in a way that could eliminate the need for outside funding. With the profits from this project, HORUWO hopes to buy the house they are currently renting,  so they continue to expand this project to support the other work they are doing. We were impressed with how forward thinking the group is. We were beginning to realize that the entrepreneurial spirit in Uganda is incredible. Just as they are working to empower their membership and teach independence, HORUWO is aware that it is necessary for their organization to become self-sustaining.


After the vanilla site, we headed a short way away to see their mushroom production. HORUWO uses a few rooms in the home of one of their members to grow mushrooms. The mushrooms are in bags hanging from the ceiling. Similar to the vanilla project, mushrooms offer an exciting opportunity as there can be a significant return on investment. Because of the drought and the hot dry conditions the mushrooms were dormant, but there was hope that as the season changes from dry to wet (usually in August) the project would take off. For us, this project highlighted how important it is for these groups to diversify the work that they do. It also shows just how powerful a collective group can be. As individuals, none of these women could afford to invest in multiple cash crops like this; not only do they not have the time, but they don’t have the space or resources. However, when they are able to pool their resources and share the workload, the opportunities are amplified.

Our last stop was a third property that is owned by one of the HORUWO members. When we stepped out of the van, we saw rows upon rows of coffee seedlings. While Ugandans don’t drink much coffee, they are well aware of its popularity elsewhere and the potential revenue that can come from growing it. HORUWO probably has 20,000 coffee seedlings growing in little plastic bags which they will tend until they are more mature before selling them at a significant profit. It was exciting for us to see how resourceful these women are and the different projects they had.


After a very busy morning with HORUWO, we were still feeling overwhelmed by all we had seen and experienced with them. We thanked Juliet, Jolly and the HORUWO members for their generosity, effort and time in hosting us and sharing their work with us. A longtime Rockflower partner, we would see the HORUWO leadership again at our meeting with 50+ community-based organizations and potential Rockflower partners in the Kasese region the next day. Seeing the work HORUWO is doing, and the potential for it to expand and become self-sustaining, added to our understanding of what is necessary for community organizations like these to empower women and communities through economic opportunities.