The proper name for Christmas in Uganda is 'Ssekukkulu', and the season is a big deal –a time to honour the birth of Jesus Christ. Many Ugandans travel to their rural homes to see their extended family. On Christmas Day, most people attend church dressed in their fanciest clothes purchased by saving up money for months. Throughout the season, family gatherings are at the centre of the holidays.
Interestingly, the children of Uganda don’t believe in Santa Claus, which is why they never expect gifts. And that is what makes the 2020 Christmas special in the memory of eight-year-old Daphine and her family from Busitema sub-county, Busia district, eastern Uganda.
The Christmas holiday is usually a time for Ugandans to loosen their belts for feasts and celebrations. During the break, the whole country shuts down as factories and offices close for weeks.
But the year 2020 was different following the COVID-19 outbreak. Whereas this pandemic affected every one of us, its impact on our lives is far from equal. For vulnerable families like Samuel’s, their entire livelihood was threatened if not wiped out altogether.
“It was a few days to Christmas but I didn’t have a single coin in the pocket”, says Daphine’s father, Samuel.
“Things turned out really bad”, says the 43-year-old father of six. “Even with Christmas fast approaching, I had surrendered everything to fate. In so many years of my life, we were not going to celebrate Christmas. It was just going to be a normal day.”
It’s at that point of need – coming out of the lockdown and struggling to provide for his family – that Samuel received the good news from a World Vision volunteer. His daughter Daphine had just received some money from her friend and sponsor.
“You can imagine the excitement”, says Samuel his face brightening with a broad smile. “I felt like my family had received Jesus. It was a miracle –I felt like I had seen and received Jesus!”
In an instant, the awful gloom lifted. And with no more money worries, the Christmas party was on—at least they were going to buy rice, meat, bread, soda, plus clothes and a mattress for Daphine and her five siblings. Of course, Daphine was going to receive one extra thing: a pair of shoes.
“The gift was a life-changing opportunity”, says Samuel. “When the good news had sunk in, we sat down as a family and came up with a budget.”
Daphne's mother, Winnie, agrees. “I told my husband to forget about buying lots of beef for Christmas but instead invest in something tangible.”
So, the family purchased two goats and a sheep. “When our goats mature into a cow, our lives will get better because people with cows have a good life. They drink milk and sell milk to get money!”, says Daphine, dressed in her pink dress from Christmas.
Although Daphine's family still has struggles, her father is optimistic about the future. “It’s bright”, he says. “This is a journey to great positive changes in our lives.”
Daphine's mother, a World Vision-trained champion on positive parenting, shares the same optimism. “We never had a single goat or sheep before”, she says. “Our children were sleeping on the hard floor, but now they sleep on a mattress like princesses and princes.”
For Daphine and her siblings, the days of waking up with sore bodies are over. “When I used to sleep on the papyrus mat on the floor, my ribs would hurt. I would feel pain everywhere. Now, I sleep on a mattress. I don’t feel pain anymore. I thank my friend for buying me a mattress, dress, shoes and goats. My dress is very beautiful. I like wearing it when visiting my grandmother. May God bless you”, says Daphine, who aspires to become a teacher one day.
Sandra is Daphine’s elder sister. She says her sister’s friend is special. "If I met Daphine’s friend I would run to him and give him a big hug. I would tell him that he is different. He is nice. He loves children”, says Sandra with a smile.
Promoting savings groups
The northern and eastern parts of Uganda have the highest rates of poverty, according to the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics. Premised on this, World Vision’s Household Engagement and Accountability Approach mobilises and trains households in saving, business skills and entrepreneurship. The approach empowers households to identify their own priorities, resources, and solutions to address issues they face. Household members are encouraged to save regularly, borrow from their group’s revolving fund, and repay loans at an affordable interest rate.
Excited at the opportunity to finally address the root causes of their financial woes, Daphine’s parents swiftly mobilised their household cluster members to form a savings group as one component of World Vision’s Resilience and Livelihood programme.
The programme uses the Building Secure Livelihoods project model that involves improving access to finance through Savings for Transformation, changing behaviour through Empowered Worldview, and improving production and entrepreneurship through local value chain development and business skills training interventions.
“I spent money anyhow before I received training. I am now changed. Nowadays, I sit down with my family and together we plan for every money”, says Samuel.
At the end of each saving cycle, which runs for 12 months, the money is shared according to respective individual savings, plus interest earned from internal borrowing and penalties. The group strategically schedules the distribution of profits during critical times, such as the onset of the rainy or the start of the new school term when money most needed.
Also, each group member is required to pay a welfare amount that can be borrowed without interest. “We do that for members who may have an emergency at home –sickness, for example”, says Samuel. “It’s like supporting each other. At the end when we share out, this money is given to each member”, says Winnie, adding that they want to take a loan and purchase more goats.
Meanwhile, World Vision is working with the Busia district’s local government to ensure birth registration for all children. Elizabeth Alum, Programmes Manager for the Busitema Area Programme, says a birth certificate is more than a piece of paper. “Birth registration is a foundation for the protection and well-being of children”, she says.
Daphine is among 39 sponsored children in her community. With four more children benefiting for every child sponsored, you can be assured that your generosity and support will impact the lives of many vulnerable children by tackling the root causes of poverty and injustice.
By Damalie Mukama Nankunda - Sponsorship Correspondence Assistant, World Vision in Uganda