I believe that if you change one woman’s life it will have a ripple effect, more powerful than anything you can imagine. CAFWA is working to make a difference within the communities of Uganda one woman at a time.” - Oprah Winfrey
In the spring of 2012, all World Dance class fees were dedicated to a group of 30 women in the Acholi village of Teyapa Adhola in the Gulu district of Northern Uganda. Our goal is to help these women learn the skills they need to rebuild their homes, community, and culture lost during two decades of civil conflict. We have donated $5,000 to pay for training and micro-loans.
The project came to us through Starr Siegele, a World Dancer who has been deeply involved in bringing help to Uganda for many years. She linked us to Community Action Fund for Women in Africa (CAFWA), a non-profit founded by Linda & Tom Cole, residents of Santa Barbara, who are working to build social, political and economic equality for women and girls in Uganda.
The rich agrarian, cattle-raising culture of Northern Uganda’s Acholi people was devastated over 25 years of civil conflict. Homes and villages were destroyed, tens of thousands of people were maimed or killed, children were abducted and forced to become child soldiers and sex slaves. Two million people were herded into government displacement camps, forced to live in appalling conditions, the women raped by HIV infected soldiers, the children deprived of education.
In the past five years the Acholi have begun to return to their homesteads. But the breakdown of their culture and economy and the lack of access to credit, resources, and government support has made it very difficult for them to reestablish their way of life. New generations born in the camps never learned to farm or tend the cattle herds that had been stolen during the conflict. Victims of rape and returning child soldiers, who had been forced by rebel forces to kill their own people, were stigmatized and rejected by their own society, which had collapsed in futility and despair.
Women returning from the camps lack access to cash needed to repair their homes, buy livestock, plant crops, or start small businesses to generate funds needed for school fees and healthcare. CAFWA offers women the chance to save money as a group and invest in each other through self-management of small loans within the group. The organization provides two workshops in basic accounting and business skills, a seed grant of $250, with weekly or bi-weekly support and guidance from a local community mobilizer trained by CAFWA. As loans are repaid with interest (close to 100% payback rate among 22 groups of 900 women at the end of 2011), the funds are recycled within each individual group to grow the amount of money available for future loans.
Reflections on the gathering…
Jennifer Schwarz: What an amazing afternoon learning more about Linda’s work in Uganda and the Acholi women we have the privilege to help support. Thanks to Starr and Larry for graciously opening their beautiful home and garden to us for this event and providing a ‘Taste of Acholi’….and Janet, for putting fun in fund raising through dance, with an incredible group of women.
DENISE COHEN: I was humbled by the stories…it personalizes what we do by seeing faces and the homes of the women there…thank you so much for your part in this….I’ve grown in this experience…it makes me want to do more.
CINDY LYON: The event was wonderful and informative! I’m so honored to be part of this mission. I think it is really important to connect us visually with the ladies we are helping. I was truly impressed and humbled by the work Linda is doing in Uganda. Thanks to Starr in particular, for hosting and providing delicious food in a fabulous setting. (P.S. I was supposed to leave early but just had to stay to dance…I felt it was my special connection to the ladies of Northern Uganda, and the ladies of World Dance!)
ALEX PALLEY: This event was terrific on every level. I learned so much about CAFWA and Northern Uganda that I knew basically nothing about before (and I’m a news junky!). The feast laid out by Starr and Larry was so generous and delicious, I would happily have paid to attend! I felt so proud to be a part of our special group that donated a nice fat check for Linda.
LAURIE RICHARDSON: The Ugandan Event was a paradox…Heartbreakingly troubling and shocking…yet, what Hope, Passion, Inspiration in all the work being done. It was a Celebration of Life, at the same time. A reminder of how we can bring Hope, Help, and Light, from our own tiny corner of this Amazing Planet! A humbled thank you offered.