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A day of firsts

In 2011 Eloise and I came to Uganda on a trip to help plan the vision for Cents for Seeds. […]

In 2011 Eloise and I came to Uganda on a trip to help plan the vision for Cents for Seeds. Eloise went on a training run (as she does, while I sleep…) and met a woman called Margaret from a village called Abako. They chatted for 10km or so as she rode her bike faster than usual to keep up with Eloise. Eloise told her all about Cents for Seeds, our micro loan agriculture program for women in northern Uganda. Margaret said that she thought Abako would love a program like that and today, 7 years later, we visited Abako to begin Cents for Seeds there with 250 women. It is one of two new areas that we are moving in to in 2018, bringing the total number of women in the program for 2018 to 13,800. That’s 13,800 women who are now earning an income and providing for their families. 

Despite never having been to Abako before we were given a warm greeting like we were long lost friends returning home. Their village was beautiful. It seemed greener than other areas given it is the end of the dry season, and we could hear the sounds of livestock in the distance and children playing by the bore hole. The women had organised themselves into groups and were eager to commence Cents for Seeds for the very first time.

I love Cents for Seeds and I know that it works. But for a few years now, I have been wanting to get deeper into the lives of these communities and understand how and why it is working. I hadn’t had the tools to do that properly… until today. We sat under the mango tree in Abako with 300 women and we asked in depth questions about their lives. Like really in depth questions. Questions that you’d likely only share with those closest to you like your bestie or your family. Questions that these women may never have even considered before. Certainly not questions they’d imagine being asked by a skinny white woman.

We asked these questions through a written survey developed by our colleagues and friends Nick and Georgie at Huber Social. When I first met these guys in 2017 I knew instantly that they’d be the key to solving my burning desire to collect data! Huber is a social impact measurement organisation  – basically, they measure the impact that programs have on people by measuring their levels of wellbeing. Georgie and Nick are data nerds which is why I love them… and gee whizz did we collect data today!

 All of the questions in the survey are asked on a sliding scale  of 5 from No to Yes. The questions covered key areas that influence human wellbeing, from their ability to provide for their family, to their feelings of safety and security, whether they hold hope for the future, how proud they are of their lives, and if there is peace in their homes. 

We handed out 300 surveys each with 30 questions, then sat with our trusted and incredible Cents for Seeds staff while they translated the questions for the women, as many of them are illiterate. Some of the women struggle to write their own name. The other part of the day that I just loved was the fact that we trained 3 volunteers from Barr village, our pilot village in Cents for Seeds, to come with us and help facilitate the session. It was amazing to see them help translate the questions and explain to their new friends the importance of their honesty and their considered answers.

Watching them complete the survey was so moving. The women who couldn’t read or write were considering their answers so carefully. I believe that the very act of asking these questions is an empowering act… these women who do not necessarily have much agency are being asked for their opinion, their feelings, their thoughts on their own lives. Their lives count, and with their voice we can measure the impact that every $30 donation is having in Uganda.  “But how?” I hear you ask…

Now we have a base of information that shows us exactly what life is like for these women today before receiving their seed loans. We know how hard their lives are without any input from an outside organisation. It is my hope that when we return next year to survey these same women, their answers will slowly improve as Cents for Seeds has a positive shift in their life and increases their wellbeing. 

For example, a woman who today marked “2/5” for the question “ I can provide for my family” I hope would mark 3/5 in 2019, and 4/5 in 2020 etc. And if she doesn’t, then we can investigate what other factors might be at play and how Love Mercy can best empower her to be able to feel confident to provide for her children.
This means that we can show exactly what Cents for Seeds is achieving, and also can identify any other areas that we may be missing in order to find ways to improve the lives of these communities in a holistic sense.  If it seems that particular areas are struggling to repay their debts on time, we can increase our education and training around savings and loans. If one village is walking an extremely long distance to collect water, we can send our partners to the village to either drill a new bore hole or fix existing bores that may not be functioning.  If one area has a high percentage of domestic violence, we know to address this topic through education and community consultation.

The data that we collected today will give us a clear picture of the needs and the possible responses Love Mercy can have.  It will also ensure that your donation is being put to the best possible use with the highest possible impact on the ground in a village just like Abako. To partner with us and enable a woman to receive a life changing Cents for Seeds loan, you can donate $30 here. 

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