How we got started
Be The Change’s Founder Suzie Ford was volunteering alongside Rugarama Primary School in the west of Uganda and attended meetings that the school Headmaster Johnson facilitated, which were creating a community of support and ensuring that any vulnerable children were highlighted. We were invited to attend and engaged in the discussions as to what was needed to allow them to solve some of the issues that kept repeating, and were there for so many of them. The resounding answer was that they couldn’t find jobs or fund their personal training for a new livelihood, and thus couldn’t pay school fees. The other issue was that mortality is relatively high and there were a great deal of children with no parents or only one parent, which made the situation even harder. Other families had taken these vulnerable children in, but then struggled to provide for them on top of their own family. This means that the majority of these children stay at home and act as babysitters to younger children, or go out to work.
From this, we decided to pilot a programme where we organised workshops from skilled persons in the local community to come and train 25 of the care-givers (widows, aunties, grandparents, friends). They learnt how to weave and also jewellery making; 2 popular forms of crafts here and a way to also reach out through fundraising by making traditional wears that can be sold as gifts.
Sponsorship as an alternative solution…
The trainings means that the care-givers or guardians of the children are able to support the children themselves, which is obviously the idea result, but we also were seeing a different scenario; what happens when a single-mum is trying to provide for many children, or an elderly relative has taken on their guardian role, but can’t work? Well this is where sponsorship comes in. The school has identified those children who are vulnerable and will not be able to benefit from the vocational-training programme, and who urgently need to be back in school. Although sponsorship is both unsustainable and a last resort (due to the best scenario being support for the child from their own community), it can also be essential sometimes, and we endeavour to only be linking children with sponsors, for whom there is no other option for them to be able to attend school. In this light we also ask that it isn’t taken lightly and the intention will be to support the child you sponsor throughout their remaining school years, or until their situation improves and a local avenue for them to attend school is created or identified; both of which we continue to also encourage and work on. We understand that circumstances change and each sponsorship is yearly, with an option to cancel at any time, but by paying upfront or commiting for at least that school year, you help with consistency and routine and also for a child to benefit from the feeling of being supported and secure, which may not be a feeling that a lot of vulnerable children or orphans are familiar with.
PROVIDING EQUIPMENT AND MATERIALS
We offering trainings that may otherwise be unaffordable, and equipment or materials, which gives a start and opportunity to an individual, and also opens up the whole community to be able to better support each other.
We have put on craft-making workshops, where women and men learn how to make African traditional crafts, such as table mats, baskets, paper-bead necklaces and cushion covers. We provide the materials such as rafia, varnish for the beads, dye for the reeds/rafia, kitenge material, paper, and also the trainer and assistants for the workshops. We continue to provide materials for their work going forward, until they have sold some and can then begin to support themselves. We also provide training support for one teacher at each school to access counselling training.
Going forward, we plan to open a vocational training centre in Gulu.
The sponsorship programme is currently running in three schools, one primary school in the west of Uganda that has a high number of vulnerable children and orphans. The other two schools are a primary and secondary school in the north of Uganda, which has a high proportion of former child-soldiers or children that were born in the bush.
In the North of Uganda, war raged for 3 decades and over 25,000 children were kidnapped and forced to be child-soldiers, so many adults who were children then, have missed out on their education. This has resulted in a high number of unemployed and untrained people. In the West of Uganda, there is a high number of orphans, mainly caused by HIV and other illness related deaths, again resulting a high unemployment rate.
If you would like to hear more about the hstory of Northern Uganda, check out Blondesuzie’s blog post here.
We would love to be able to offer scholarships to some of the adults in the communities we support to be able to attend other workshops or training courses, that currently we can’t offer such as bricklaying and motor mechanics. We also have a more long term goal to partner with the school in northern Uganda, and another NGO, to use some existing buildings that are out of use at the school, to create a vocational center. This would enable us to offer the workshops out to the general community, as well as provide permanent employment to the trainers, and to generally have a more sustainable long-term approach. It would provide a space for people to train and be trained in various skills such as bricklaying, plastering, car and bike mechanics, tailoring and IT.