For five years, 33-year-old Faith Irambabariye, a resident of Rurembwe village, around Mgahinga Gorilla National Park was named a school fees defaulter. Every school term, her children would be sent away for school fees, or their report cards withheld by the school for failure of completing their fees. Nonetheless her biggest dream of giving her children a great education never waned. She struggled through poverty and with her not very productive agriculture work. Faith’s husband on the other hand was jobless and not so helpful.
Faith’s story however changed magically after she acquired loan of UGX 900,000 ($ 254.10) in 2021 from Gitenderi Protect Environment Group, a Village Saving and Loans Association (VSLA) that she belongs to. With the money Faith invested in two sewing machines that she uses to make school uniforms and earns about UGX 600,000($169.71) monthly for the past one year.
To her surprise, St. John’s Rurembwe Primary School, the very school her children go to was Faith’s very first client! She was asked to make and supply 700 school sweaters at a cost of UGX 1.5 million ($ 424.28). After a job well-done, it was Faith’s time to shine, word spread about her good works and more orders kept coming in up to today! “All the schools around know me and often contact me to make them school uniforms and sweaters,” Faith notes.
Faith was also able to save up some money and buy her husband a maize milling machine worth UGX 2.8 million ($ 791.98) from which he makes a monthly profit of about UGX 300,000 ($84.86). Together they have also been able to buy two goats and pay for their 3 children’s school fees.
Faith’s financial transformation was made possible by IGCP’s SIDA funded project – “Leading the Change” which donated UGX 10 million ($2,823.36) to Gitenderi Protect Environment Group in 2017 to boost their savings and loan basket, with the aim of enabling members access affordable loans for livelihood improvement. Empowering Park edge communities economically allows them to be financially independent and reduces their dependence on the park for survival. The Leading the Change Project aims at improving natural resource management and increasing community participation and decision making in natural resource management in park-edge communities.
According to Henry Mutabaazi, IGCP – Uganda Country Coordinator, “Boosting the lending capacity of park-edge community Village Savings and Loans Associations is not only a way towards sustainable livelihoods, but also a golden opportunity to make them realize their lifelong dreams that seemed impossible.”
“Such actions also get park edge communities to appreciate the role/contribution of conservation,” Henry adds.
“My biggest dream was educating my children, for the future belongs to the educated. I can happily say that I am on the right path to achieving this,” an excited Faith says. Faith reveals that her children’s diet and health have also improved since she can afford nutritious foods like milk and eggs.
Faith’s neighbors also testify to her transformation as a dream come true! “Not so long-ago Faith was a poor farmer who often tilled other people’s gardens for a living and struggled to raise school fees and other basic needs for her family,” says Emmanuel Ndikumwami, Faith’s neighbor.
According to the Village Savings and Loan Association’s Chairman, Mr. David Sebutozi, much more development is expected from all the 60 members of the group since most took up loans to invest in agriculture and other small-medium businesses.
As for Faith, not even the sky is the limit, she is currently planning to construct a better residential house!