More than 2 million children in Uganda-one out of every five under the age of 18-have lost their parents to either HIV/AIDS or the civil war that ravaged their country in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, one in four families looks after at least one orphaned child, and many care for ten or more. In most cases, it is the women, including surviving widows, grandmothers, aunts and other relatives, who head foster families.
In 1986, a group of women formed a volunteer organization called the Uganda Women's Efforts to Save Orphans (UWESO) to assist foster families and orphans. Its first activities were distributing food and medicines in war-torn areas and sponsoring orphans by paying their primary school fees. But as the HIV/AIDS pandemic grew, UWESO expanded its work, providing family members with better access to health care and training to care for people living with the disease. Then in 1995, the group received support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Belgian Survival Fund to finance the UWESO Development Programme, and a number of new initiatives were born.
For instance, the Savings and Credit Scheme (USCS) allows families to save their earnings or take out small loans to start income-generating activities. Access to credit means they can set up small-scale retail businesses, selling vegetables, baked goods, fish or charcoal, or raising poultry or other small stock. Some run restaurants or sell street food at weekly markets. Besides improving incomes for foster parents, USCS funds have kept 10,000 children in school and provided the seed money to help businesses prosper. Loans are also available to older orphans so they can purchase a bicycle to start a taxi service.
Today, USCS reaches 5,000 households and approximately 35,000 orphans. A main pillar of the UWESO Development Programme is a ten-week training course that builds the capacities of communities, groups and individuals, teaching them the skills they need to generate income. Participants learn about bookkeeping...