Update on my research: community transformation in Mbale area, Uganda

For my research for Discipling for Development (D4D), I studied how the communities surrounding Mbale District (Bulambuli, Mbale, and Manafwa) have been impacted by D4D work over the past decades. Through formal/informal individual interviews and group discussions over the period of one month, I was able to get a vivid picture of how the communities have been transformed and impacted holistically by the D4D work over many years: the people in the communities were living out the D4D principles in their lives.

The Navigators defines the Discipling for Development as:

A ministry of helping people in community to become all that God intends for them to be. It is a relational process, empowered by God, in which experienced disciplers assist the people of a community to grow in their ability to solve their own problems, to take control of their lives, and to reproduce this process in others. Through this process the thinking and behavior of the people/community become transformed in ways that result in the growth of the whole person (physical, psychological, spiritual) and improvement of the various aspects of their community (health, agriculture, water, relationships, etc.) for the glory of God.

What distinguishes the communities that D4D brought changes to from the neighboring villages is the level of empowerment they achieved. When I interviewed Kibukwa and Betty, a couple in the neighboring Bumaliro village that haven’t been discipled by D4D, I clearly saw the extent of their suffering and dependence on outside help. First of all, they neither had people or organizations to come around to provide them with sustainable knowledge and skills, nor were engaged in any savings groups to get support from. Diseases like malaria, TB, and diarrhea kept on affecting them. And particularly during this time of hunger season, without having any knowledge or skills of modern farming, they often had to sleep all day without eating food. During the interview, when I asked them about their future plans, they said they are looking to me for help and money, which showed me how much dependent they are. In contrast to them, the communities impacted by D4D showed a great level of independence and self-empowerment in obtaining ownership of the skills and knowledge they have received. D4D didn’t give them money or material resources, but passed onto them knowledge and skills that seemed not immediately useful but would improve their lives in a long term. And now they reached a point where the neighboring communities are modeling their ways of life.

Among many people in the communities that I interviewed, women’s empowerment stood out to me the most. Here are the two women’s groups that I interviewed.

<Twowatsowana (=development) Women’s Group (Makhonje village)>

Before working with D4D, the women in this group did not realize the importance of working as a community and there was no person or group around to teach them on how to improve their lives. When D4D came around and began discipling the members in the community with knowledge and skills that can be utilized in a sustainable manner, they started forming groups. This women’s group began in 2008 and has existed for 9 years. At the beginning of this group, each member agreed to save 1,000 Ugandan shillings a week to the group’s savings box and it increased to 5,000 Ugandan shillings over time. Jessica, the current secretary of the group, was the first one to be impacted by D4D and began teaching women around her on income generating skills. However, after feeling the heavy burden of having to study and teach IGAs (Income Generating Activities) all on her own, she called others and had a meeting, which resulted in forming a group of 30 members. This group set a great example for the neighbors, who started modeling the group’s behavior and beliefs. As a result, the number of groups in her community increased to 15. As a group, they went through a tangible improvement in their incomes. In the beginning, the group started with each member bringing one domesticated bird. After reinvesting the profits into goats and to cows, they currently have 2 cows and 14 goats in the group, and plan on buying a plot of land in the near future. Given the Ugandan context where women toil all day on land that they have very negligible control over, this women’s group’s plan to buy land is a sign of remarkable achievement and true development. Together as a group, they will soon be able to control and profit from land by owning it.

<Simu women’s Saving Group (Simu village)>

This women’s group began in 2016 as a group of 20 women. Florence, the chairperson of the group took on a leadership role in this group, discipling many other women. The members in this group appreciate the knowledge on savings and skills brought on by D4D. As a women’s saving group, they make loans to individual members. Many of the members in this group use their loans to take children to school and to buy household items and fertilizer. They are also confident to say that there are many other things that they can do with dividends earned on savings, some of which include buying cattle and land with the dividends. And one thing that all members are proud of in this group is unity at home and in the group. Before D4D came in to teach them, there was no unity at home. Their husbands would look down on their wives and not allow them to own produce from farming, and even would not let their wives go to the group meetings. But now, after having been provided with useful knowledge and lessons on how to promote unity, they respect each other and discuss matters together on an equal footing. Also as a group, when issues arise, all the members sit together and discuss with one another to solve them, not leaving anyone behind in the process. Jalia, one of the oldest women in the group, says that the group does not isolate the elderly members, thereby promoting unity between the youth and the elderly.     

The empowerment of these two women’s groups is worth noting, particularly when compared to other communities that D4D has not impacted. For instance, when I first tried to reach out to a woman working on her compound in a village where D4D is not working, she refused to talk. The reason was the social norm that women are not allowed to speak in public. In contrast to them, the women that D4D is discipling are confident enough to speak in public, and that confidence comes from their own lives changed by the discipleship they received over the long years.

Of course, there are still challenges in their lives, particularly in areas of business skills, food security, educating children. However, as good stewards of life, they are confident and hopeful that they can improve their lives by themselves with the gifts, resources, and knowledge they received and identified.   

&lt;With Simu Women's Saving Group&gt;      

<With Simu Women's Saving Group>