Community is like a ship, everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm. – Henrik Ibsen
My journey into Kimwanga was an unexpected one. A nursing professor was intimately familiar with this are and the people: he lived in Mbale for six years with an organization called Mission Moving Mountains, one focused on community health and development. They commonly empower people to improve their own health, create employment opportunities, and connect professionals within communities. It was amazing to learn what happens when a normally oppressed group is given the means to lift themselves up and create change.
In Uganda, when a woman is widowed, she is alone. She normally has no property rights, no investments, and many times with elderly widows, no other family. Since her former job was bringing water and making sure the family was fed, she has no source of income. Many widows are shunned as burdens to communities and to their families. In Kimwanga, like other small Ugandan villages, there were dozens of widows – all struggling to live and provide for their families. Their banana-leaf roofs and mud-cake walls were not sufficient shelter, and with no money for school or health care, their families often deteriorated. To many, women have little value, so they are provided with little care. But one summer in Kimwanga, something changed.
The wife of my nursing professor also frequently returns to Uganda to aid students in cultural and language acquisition. One of her students saw the poor living and social conditions the widows and children were subject to, and she decided to do something about it. Nichole Serrano, a student at North Central University in Minneapolis, pooled her community and financial resources to create the Kimwanga Village Widows project. KVW allocated their funds to Mission Moving Mountains (MMM), who in turn allowed the widows to determine the change that needed to occur in their own community. With a little outside help, the widows were empowered to create change – to begin to liberate themselves.
Though they still lived in great poverty, the widows were so joyful when we heard their story. By creating a leadership council consisting of a president, treasurer, secretary, and organizer, they were able to spread their collective knowledge and skills at bi-monthly meetings. The funds were used to dam polluted streams, construct latrines and handwashing systems, for healthcare costs, roof replacements and education trusts for their children. With the next installment of support, there was even talk of investments toward small business development.
It is amazing what communities are capable of when they are empowered to help themselves. The widows of Kimwanga inspired me with their joy and hard work – despite some failures amidst their great success. More photos to follow.