Uganda and Universal Basic Income
Uganda is a southeastern African country neighboring Lake Victoria, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania. Its population sits below 50 million people and although it has been one of the poorest countries in the world as of 2012, the U.N. determined that it made enormous leaps in eradicating poverty thanks to ambitious ideas and thoughtful programs. For example, Eight, a Belgian pilot project, highlighted the effectiveness of universal basic income (UBI) in places where extreme poverty is a problem. The Borgen Project spoke with Eight, which enacted its first program in 2017 and showed the rest of the world just what Uganda and universal basic income might mean to the fight against global poverty.

How Eight Began

Maarten Goethals and Steven Janssens founded Eight in 2015 after finding poverty in their travels hard to swallow. “We see a lot of inequality and that is so unfair. A lot of people think poverty is a character problem, but it’s a money problem.” That unfairness inspired them to develop actionable solutions and experiments. In this case, they launched a basic income pilot program in Busibi, a remote village, in 2017. The idea was simple; give every inhabitant (about 150 people) 16 euros per month and children 8 euros per month. with no strings attached. The money would transfer to mobile bank accounts that the people of Busibi could access by telephone.

While some might believe this to be a futile attempt at utopia, the academic literature supports this kind of unburdened cash transfer system as a means of raising communities out of poverty. The Borgen Project has profiled universal basic income programs in the U.K., India, Iran, Kashmir and other places. All this research leads to one conclusion: when people receive money and freedom of choice, they make remarkably astute decisions. As co-founder Steven Janssens said in his interview with The Borgen Project, “people deserve to be trusted.” Likely because of the freedom and dignity it allows, UBI yields remarkable results in lifting people out of poverty. Without mandates, universal basic income restores agency and allows people the opportunity to insist on what is right for themselves.

What it Became

Eight’s pilot program took place over the course of two years from 2017 to 2019 and immediately showed the work ethic of the villagers. Inhabitants built businesses and sent kids who would otherwise be working to school. Maarten Goethals noted that “Shops started up in the village and a new dynamism arose.” Free money worked, as Rutger Bregman said in his 2014 book “Utopia for Realists.” It turns out that eradicating global poverty is much easier than many think tanks make it out to be.

Ortrud Lebmann, chair of labor relations at Helmut Schmidt University, conducted landmark research about those who live in poverty and their “restricted opportunity to choose among different ways of life.” His research, in essence, confirms what Eight intended to study. The Eight pilot project proved just how necessary and effective freedom of options are for those with inadequate resources. Janssens noted how bizarre of a concept UBI was to many in Uganda and elsewhere. “The people of Busibi reacted with a kind of disbelief… That they would receive money without conditions. Aid is always project-oriented.” By lifting the onus of conditions, the environment improved.

The Results

After two years, the data appears irrefutable. Most people in the group spent around 50% of their money on food, investments, clothes, health and education. Self-reported happiness improved by 80%. Only 50% of children in the village went to school before the unconditional cash transfers began compared with 94.7% after. Twenty businesses populated the town compared to the two that stood before the program. All markers of poverty declined with the advent of cash and choice.

Eight now plans to bring its ambitious idea that began with Uganda and universal basic income to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “EIGHT wants to find out if the people from the villages close to a mine can be given more choices.” The question is not only if it will work (the evidence suggests it will) but how it might work in a place where children work in mines and risk their wellbeing for a dangerous but lucrative practice. Will unconditional cash transfers facilitate less child labor in these mines? Previous experiments tend to predict just such an outcome.

For now, there is a film about Goethals and Jansens’s project entitled “Crazy Money,” set to debut later in 2021. What Eight did with Uganda and universal basic income was nothing short of revelatory. Although UBI is not new, this is further proof it represents an actionable solution against global poverty. Maarten Goethals and Steven Janssens provided more evidence for choice, dignity and compassion for those who live in poverty.

Spencer Daniels
Photo: Flickr

University of CalgaryThe University of Calgary (UCalgary), one of the premier research universities in Canada, has been establishing meaningful global partnerships which have produced tangible results. While the university has multiple international campuses and partnerships, the successes of a few have particularly stood out. UCalgary’s global health partnerships with the Mbarara University of Science and Technology and other global health organizations are working to improve health in Uganda and Tanzania.

Healthy Child Uganda

UCalgary’s global health partnerships work with the Cumming School of Medicine. This allows medical students to gain experience and provide much-needed help in health outcomes and projects in Uganda and Tanzania.

One of UCalgary’s most important partnerships is Healthy Child Uganda. Healthy Child Uganda is a partnership between Mbarara University, UCalgary and the Canadian Paediatric Society, with some funding from other universities and associations. It “works with national and district health planners, leaders and communities themselves to develop, implement and evaluate initiatives that strengthen health systems and improve health for mothers, babies and children.” It is based adjacent to Mbarara University’s campus in Mbarara town, Uganda. The Healthy Child Uganda partnership operates in the districts of Mbarara, Bushenyi, Buhweju, Ntungamo and Rubirizi in Uganda as well as two districts of the Mwanza Region in Tanzania.

Healthy Child Uganda was established in 2002. Its multitude of efforts aims to improve health services in Uganda, especially in maternal and pediatric care.

The Impact of Healthy Child Uganda

Since its establishment, Healthy Child Uganda has partnered with local health authorities to train more than 5,000 community health workers for service in almost 1,000 villages in Uganda. Community health workers promote health in their villages, take part in development activities, spread awareness and monitor sick children and pregnant women to see if they need treatment. Healthy Child Uganda shares its training curriculum for community health workers online, providing valuable information to other medical providers. It is also a leader in maternal and child health research, having developed many different practice approaches that have provided models for many other organizations.

Healthy Child Uganda has also worked to combat COVID-19 in Uganda, with funding largely provided by the UCalgary. In the early stages of the pandemic, it was able to provide cleaning products, PPE, handwashing stations, fuel, hand sanitizer and hygiene soap. This was crucial in providing protection in Uganda before provisions came in from Uganda’s Ministry of Health. Healthy Child Uganda also worked to train frontline health workers in fighting COVID-19.

Mama Na Mtoto

The University of Calgary is also a valuable partner in Mama na Mtoto, a partnership that seeks to improve women and child health in rural Tanzania. Mama na Mtoto does its work in the Mwanza Region of Tanzania.

Mama na Mtoto performs many of the same functions as Healthy Child Uganda, just in a different location. It works with the government and existing health facilities to “support communities to adapt and lead activities and innovations that address their own health challenges.”

Mama na Mtoto plans activities that emphasize information and teachings about women and child care, from adolescence to pregnancy. This, therefore, helps to take the burden off of government health services and equip mothers with the best tools to succeed in places where there is little access to health information.

UCalgary’s Successes

UCalgary’s work in Uganda has had tangible results. In 2020, Bushenyi District was recognized as the best performing district for healthcare in Uganda. UCalgary helped this district under Healthy Child Uganda. UCalgary is also working with Mbarara University on another initiative known as HAY! (Healthy Adolescents and Young People in Uganda), which will educate youth on family planning, sexual health, menstrual hygiene and gender-based violence. The University of Calgary is showing how universities can be proactive and provide support that improves health in vulnerable areas.

Clay Hallee
Photo: Flickr

Norway's Foreign Aid
Many countries in Europe regularly distribute foreign aid to developing economies in an effort to contribute to global welfare. Norway’s foreign aid makes up a significant portion of the aid that wealthy nations distribute. It has a long history of emphasizing the importance of foreign aid and continues in this legacy today.

The History

According to a Developmental Assistance Committee review by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Norway’s foreign assistance history dates back to more than 50 years ago. It has been donors to different nations around the world, and its government has most regularly distributed economic aid to countries in Africa and Asia. Norway’s non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play a large role in distributing its foreign aid. As of 2008, 30% of Norway’s development assistance went through NGOs. One of the earliest years of recorded foreign aid in Norway is 1965. In 1965, Norway distributed 8.1 million NOK (~$980,760) in aid to Africa. The top five countries that received aid were Tanzania, Uganda, Madagascar, Kenya and Ethiopia. Also in 1965, Norway earmarked 14.1 million NOK (~$1.7 million) in aid for countries in Asia. The vast majority of that aid went to India and Korea.

Norwegian Foreign Aid today

Norway’s total foreign aid budget for 2021 is $4.1 billion, which amounts to a little more than 1% of its gross national income. Norway distributes its foreign aid in an effort to help with humanitarian, education and economic relief efforts. It has also expressed a willingness to help promote peace around the world. Like many other nations that distribute foreign aid, Norway has emphasized environmental improvements. The government supports expanding clean and renewable energy, as well as forest conservation and agricultural productivity.

Foreign Aid Goals

Norway’s foreign aid focus is on emergency assistance, developmental and economic aid, climate programs, education, food and governance. Although some are easier to meet than others within a certain timeframe, the Norwegian government works to meet each one of these goals. Over the years, Norway has distributed billions of dollars in foreign aid while keeping the focus on the goals listed above. By meeting these goals, the Norwegian government can try to help other nations rebuild economies, improve education and governance.

According to Ine Eriksen Søreide, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Norway will continue its humanitarian and economic aid efforts in 2021. This will be especially pertinent as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic play out. Since 2013, Norway has increased its humanitarian budget by about 67%. In 2020, it was the sixth-largest donor worldwide. Its special focus on green humanitarian aid is also very important during today’s climate crisis.

In conclusion, Norway is a top distributor of foreign aid every year and an important player in the world’s response to humanitarian crises. It focuses on issues such as economic development, food distribution and education for young people. And especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Norwegian government recognizes the increased need for assistance in developing nations around the world.

– Amina Aden
Photo: Flickr

Water Crisis in Uganda
Water is a necessity for all living beings, and access to safe water is a basic human right. Despite the world experiencing exponential growth in all areas with advances in science and technology, 40% of people experience water scarcity. The country of Uganda is no exception; 8 million Ugandans lack access to safe water. This lack of clean water affects the health of the Ugandan people, their productivity and their economy. Here is what to know about the water crisis in Uganda.

The Current State

One in nine people worldwide has no safe alternative to contaminated water sources. The stress of economic growth over the last two decades in Uganda has put an enormous strain on the land and its resources. Approximately 19% of Ugandans only have access to streams, ponds and unprotected hand-dug wells as sources of drinking water.

Human waste, soil sediments, fertilizers and mud all run into drinking water sources due to the widespread absence of proper toilets and showers. Additionally, the lack of adequate filtration systems and the loss of vegetation, which acts as a natural filtration system, lead to various health problems. According to BioMed Central, 22% of deaths of Ugandan children under the age of 5 are a result of diarrhea.

The water crisis in Uganda also results in 32% of Ugandans having to travel more than 30 minutes to access safe drinking water. The excess time that people spend on water provision hinders their ability to work, maintain the household and take care of children.

Initiatives for a Better Future

Many initiatives are underway to address the water crisis in Uganda and the problems it has created. For example, in 2013, Water.org launched its WaterCredit solution, which has led to increased water and sanitation loans. This initiative has reached more than 276,000 people and the organization and its partners have disbursed approximately $13 million in loans, helping to create long-term solutions to the water crisis in Uganda.

Another program addressing the water crisis is the Uganda Women’s Water Initiative, which transforms contaminated water into clean and drinkable water for school children. More than 300 women in Gomba, Uganda, received training to build rainwater harvesting tanks and Biosand filters. The simple filter consists of layers of rock, sand and gravel that remove 99% of bacteria from water. Funded by Aveda and GreenGrants, this initiative conducts programs about hygiene and sanitation that support these women. Thanks to this program, school children are safer from typhoid and diarrhea which would keep them sick and out of school. Remarkably, Gomba saw a reduction of school absences by approximately two-thirds thanks to filters and harvesting tanks.

An additional project tackling the water crisis in Uganda is the result of a partnership between Generosity.org and the International Lifeline Fund (ILF). The project has three initiatives that include clean water projects, education on sanitation and hygiene practices and strengthening local health services in Northern Uganda. The goal is to improve conditions for approximately 10,000 people.

Looking Forward

Better water and sanitation systems are critical for a healthy society and a stronger economy. In many countries, organizations such as UNICEF have made efforts to combat water issues. This is especially true in the fellow country of Liberia, where the organization strived to developed water, sanitation, and hygiene systems (WASH), with 65% of such machinations functionally today. The Ugandan government now aims to have clean water and improved sanitation for everyone by 2030. Uganda plans to reach this goal by investing in quality water infrastructures, which involves restoring and maintaining clean water sources as well as promoting hygiene and investing in sanitation facilities. Organizations like Water.org and ILF are helping realize this ambitious goal.

Tara Hudson
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Uganda
Uganda is a country in East Africa that resides primarily on a central plateau that the rainforest mainly covers. Uganda is home to approximately 43 million people and a very young population, with an average age of 15.9 years old. Because of Uganda’s prominent position in Africa, it is an important destination for international tourism and trade. With large economic inequality and limited access to employment opportunities, Uganda’s population has grown economically vulnerable. This economic insecurity has lead to high rates of human trafficking in Uganda, as black market traffickers exploit vulnerable populations.

The Situation

Human trafficking is the crime of using “force, fraud or coercion” on people with the aim of exploiting them for profit. The exploitation typically comes in the form of physical labor, acts of service or sexual favors. Traffickers use varied tactics to lure their victims, including violent force, manipulation, romance and promises of well-paying jobs.

Human trafficking has become a major problem in Uganda. According to the Trafficking in Persons Report from 2020, estimates determined that traffickers are currently exploiting 7,000 to 12,000 children through sex trafficking in Uganda. The report also outlines how human trafficking in Uganda primarily takes the form of forced physical labor and sexual exploitation.

Uganda lacks employment opportunities, quality education and social welfare systems to aid the nation’s young population. The lack of opportunities and access to resources has left young Ugandans who live in rural and underserved areas vulnerable to exploitation. Most young Ugandans emigrants go to the Gulf States to work as laborers, security officers, construction workers and other forms of untrained labor, putting them at risk of human trafficking syndicates. The criminal justice system in Uganda is not adequately prepared to handle international crimes of this scope and nature. Special expertise and the cooperation of the international community are necessary to apprehend and bring to justice human traffickers and their accomplices.

The Fight Against Trafficking

Currently, Uganda has not met the minimum requirements to eliminate human trafficking but has made significant efforts to do so. Necessary measures for Uganda to eliminate human trafficking are varied. They include greater scale and intensity of federal investigations into human trafficking and a focus on prosecuting traffickers on the judicial side. Outside of criminal justice, assisting survivors of human trafficking and allocating resources to NGOs that provide protective services to populations vulnerable to trafficking are both crucial to ameliorate the damage that human trafficking has done. To successfully combat the menace of human trafficking, the Ugandan government must prioritize both survivor resources and relentless prosecution of human traffickers.

Despite its difficulties, the Ugandan government has taken the initiative to combat human trafficking. The Human Trafficking Institute, which emerged in 2015, has dedicated itself to combating modern slavery by empowering law enforcement to stop traffickers. The Institute has met with Ugandan leaders and planned the creation of specially-trained anti-trafficking units dedicated exclusively to combating human traffickers and the criminal infrastructure that enables them. The Institute is currently working with the Ugandan government to conduct trafficking investigations and prosecutions of traffickers. In 2017, the Institute led the training of 175 judges, police and prosecutors in Kampala, Uganda. Working with the Institute, the Ugandan government approved a specialized Human Trafficking Department in the Ugandan police force. The Human Trafficking Department now has approximately 250 staff members across Uganda.

Progress & Future Efforts

In 2009, the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act became law in Uganda. Under the law, which prohibits sex trafficking of any kind and protects the rights of sex trafficking survivors, prosecution and conviction of traffickers have escalated considerably. In 2009, only a single human trafficker received a conviction in Uganda out of three prosecutions. In contrast, 2017 saw 50 prosecutions and 24 convictions of human traffickers and their accomplices in Uganda.

Nonprofits and advocacy groups have also played a role in the fight against human trafficking. Willow International is a nonprofit organization that Kelly Morgan founded in 2015, dedicated to fighting human trafficking in Uganda. After she visited the country and witnessed human trafficking firsthand, Morgan made it her mission to end slavery in Uganda. Willow International combats human trafficking in Uganda through advocacy, aftercare, partnerships, prevention and rescue. Hundreds of trafficking victims and survivors have benefited from Willow’s work, with an estimated 55,000 lives positively impacted through rescue, education and prevention efforts in Uganda.

These efforts by the Ugandan government and advocates from the world are promising and important initiatives. Legal reform and resources for vulnerable communities have helped Uganda’s underdeveloped rural population stand up to traffickers. Simultaneously, the Ugandan government has reaffirmed its dedication to fighting trafficking and cooperated with international organizations to implement its new initiatives. But Uganda continues to be an area with prevalent human trafficking, and as long as modern slavery continues in the country, the fight against exploited labor will and must continue.

Jose Ahumada
Photo: Flickr

Brightlife Brings Financial Inclusion
BrightLife is a program from FINCA, the microfinance organization. The program is a Uganda-based, social enterprise that pairs access to finance with access to energy. This allows for connections to financial inclusion for the “unbanked.” BrightLife brings financial inclusion to Ugandans and clean energy products to poor and impoverished areas through multiple initiatives and products. BrightLife ensures financial inclusion and wellbeing for those areas. People pay for their BrightLife products with a system called PAYGO. This allows people to pay for only the electricity they use as they go. This then allows BrightLife to build credit profiles for “unbanked” people and connect them with FINCA.

The Situation in Uganda

There are currently 1 billion people in the world living without electricity and 73% of the Ugandan population does not have access to electricity. People living without electricity must often use insufficient fuels to heat, light and energize their homes. This can then lead to indoor air pollution causing premature death. These energy uses are also dangerous in homes since they can cause fires.

Lack of energy in any area can cause a cycle of poverty since so many people cannot access the most basic necessities. This is why BrightLife brings financial inclusion to Ugandans. As FINCA states, the program “provides last-mile distribution and end-user financing for products that create healthier and safer homes, increase productivity, reduce household expenses and provide additional income-generating opportunities.”

BrightLife’s Impact

To date, BrightLife has impacted over 202,000 lives with clean energy. By providing education, distribution, financing and after-sale support, BrightLife is able to bring clean energy products like home appliances to people who cannot acquire them. However, access to energy is just the first step in FINCA’s BrightLife enterprise.

BrightLife announced a new product called “Prosper” in March 2019 to further its impact on the Ugandan people. Prosper is an initiative that helps Ugandans access the clean energy that BrightLife provides. Then, Prosper helps people transition from unbanked to FINCA Uganda where they can access savings and credit opportunities, increasing their financial inclusion.

A Better Tomorrow with BrightLife

Now, BrightLife is working to better understand the solar energy needs of their clients and is positioning itself to serve communities more efficiently. Through COVID-19, it has been able to grant access to solar lanterns and give students the ability to still get the education they need from home. Since BrightLife brings financial inclusion to Ugandans, it also won the Smart Communities Coalition Innovation Fund grant. As USAID reported, this grant will allow for the development of “a solar-powered hatchery” and small-scale solar systems used for poultry farming in Kiryandongo, Uganda.

– Grace Aprahamian
Photo: Flickr

Solar Energy in UgandaAs of 2016, it was estimated by the World Bank that only 26% of Uganda’s population has access to electricity. In urban areas, the percentage is higher, at about 60%. However, in rural areas, the amount of people with electrical access is limited to only 18%. The use of solar energy in Uganda hopes to bring increased access to electricity, specifically in rural areas, as well as make electricity more affordable for the population.

What is Solar Energy?

Solar energy is energy from the sun that can be used electrically or thermally. It is a renewable energy source that provides a sustainable and clean alternative. Through photovoltaics (solar thermal collectors) solar power is collected and then converted into an energy source that can be used as a heating system or for electricity.

Solar Energy Fighting Poverty

Solar energy in Uganda can bring poverty reduction. It is an affordable and reliable source of energy that rural areas can depend on. It can also produce jobs within the community. Since solar energy makes household chores easier, women and girls have more time available to search for jobs or pursue education and development opportunities. Overall, renewable energy is a valuable component to provide electricity access, financial empowerment and sustainable economic and social development.

European Investment Bank (EIB)

With solar energy, more of the country will have access to electricity. The European Investment Bank (EIB) is using its finances to help people without electricity in Uganda. As it is the rural communities that are more affected by a lack of electricity, programs are more focused on maintaining reliable resources for those areas.

Through EIB’s efforts, more than one million people in Uganda will have access to electricity for the first time, making for easier cooking and the ease of many other household activities. Families will also be able to save money since the household will not be using as much kerosene, candles or charcoal. Indoor pollution will decrease from less kerosene usage and fire hazards will be reduced.

Reliable electricity has many benefits, with access to health opportunities being one of them. With access to phones, radios and televisions, farmers will be open to markets that can increase their income. EIB has given a loan of $12.5 million to build 240,000 solar home systems throughout Uganda, increasing economic and social opportunities.

Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL)

Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) created an agenda that was adopted by Uganda’s government to help provide an increase in accessibility. The goal is to provide more than 99% of the population with access to electricity by 2030 and improve the energy efficiency of power users by at least 20% by 2030. SEforALL plans on accomplishing this ambitious goal by building energy savers throughout the country in households, industries, commercial enterprises and more.

It is clear that Uganda is in need of more access to electricity throughout the nation. Solar energy is one of the sources that hopes to increase those numbers. There is still a lot to be done to raise access to electricity from 26% to 100%, but with efforts from Sustainable Energy for All and the European Investment Bank, the situation looks exceptionally hopeful.

– Sarah Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Iceland’s Foreign AidIceland, located in the North Atlantic Ocean, has a population of fewer than 400,000 people. The small Nordic island is home to some of the most sought after natural landmarks and tourist attractions such as the northern lights. Although small, the country has provided big backing to countries triple its size through its foreign aid programs. In 2008, Iceland experienced what economists considered to be the most severe economic downturn in its history. After years of hard work, Iceland was able to rebuild its economy and rebounded successfully. Aside from the financial crisis in 2008, the country has been able to maintain relatively low poverty rates with rates remaining at 0.10% from 2013 to 2015. Iceland has paid its good fortune forward by offering assistance to countries experiencing economic fragility. The Icelandic government is committed to fighting poverty by providing support to nations in need. The main objective of Iceland’s foreign aid pursuits is to reduce poverty and hunger while advocating for human rights, gender equality and sustainable development. Three countries, in particular, have been supported by Iceland’s foreign aid.

Syria

Syria has a long history of political turbulence with numerous uprisings dating back to the 20th century. One event, in particular, was especially tumultuous. In 2015, Syria had experienced a major political uproar in one of the largest and oldest cities in the country, Aleppo. “The Battle of Aleppo” began in 2011 in the city of Deraa. Citizens who opposed the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad decided to rebel. This led to a civil war between the Syrian government and protesters who the Syrian government referred to as rebels. The civil war that lasted six years had a detrimental impact on the citizens. There were massive food and gas shortages. Multiple buildings were victim to mass bombings, including schools and hospitals. Civilians were caught in the crossfire and suffered greatly as a result. Iceland stepped in to offer assistance and allocated $600,000 to support civilians impacted by the war in 2015. The country continued in its efforts by supporting Syria with $4 million worth of humanitarian aid in 2016.

Malawi

Malawi holds one of the highest rates of poverty in the world, at 51.5.% in 2016. Malnutrition and infant mortality impact Malawi’s 18.6 million population. The country has experienced notable economic growth in the past three years, with a 4.4% increase in economy in 2019. Unfortunately, these economic gains have been stalled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In early November 2020, the Icelandic government donated $195,000 to the World Food Programme to assist with the COVID-19 response in Malawi.

Uganda

Uganda and Iceland established their relationship in the year 2000. The Icelandic government is committed to enhancing the livelihood of Ugandan fishing communities located in the Kalanga and Buikwe districts. Uganda is one of the largest recipients of Icelandic foreign aid with an annual distribution of $6 million. Iceland’s contributions have seen monumental success with safe water coverage now standing at 77%, up from 58% in 2015. The primary school completion rate in Buikwe is up from 40% in 2011 to a staggering 75.5%.

Iceland: A Foreign Aid Leader

While Iceland may be small in comparison to its peers, Iceland has been tremendously influential in its foreign relations. The three countries above are just a few of the nations that Iceland has assisted. Humanitarian efforts continue to provide support to countries in need through Iceland’s foreign aid.

– Imani Smikle
Photo: Flickr

Little Light UgandaLittle Light Uganda is a nonprofit organization located in Namuwongo Slum, which is in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. Since its establishment in 2007, Little Light’s mission has been to provide aid to those in the community who are living in poverty.

Little Light Helps Uganda

Uganda’s economy has had a reduction in growth because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a locust invasion and heavy rains that led to flooding. With subsequent job loss along with the economic decline, programs like Little Light Uganda are essential for giving help to those in need. Little Light’s services include “giving access to proper education, economic empowerment and psycho-social support.”

Little Light Uganda has two groups in the organization, its youth group and its women’s group. The youth group, officially known as Spoon Youth, aims to provide the young people in Namuwongo a safe and reliable environment. The group also educates children on how to navigate life living in poverty, including matters of crime and violence. Children and youth make up more than 70% of Namuwongo’s population, half of them without parents, which is why Little Light works to provide them sanctuary and resources.

Women’s Empowerment Group

The mothers of children in the youth group are invited into Little Light’s women’s empowerment group, called “Umoja,” which is Swahili for “Unity.” The group’s mission is to give women living in the Namuwongo slum tools to better their economic and social situation. Members of the women’s group meet every afternoon at the organization to make authentic African jewelry from recycled newspapers and hand-rolled beads. The jewelry is marketed in Uganda and abroad to provide an income and livelihood for women.

Mama Pendo Jewelry

The name the group has coined for the jewelry brand is Mama Pendo, which translated from Kiswahili means “The Mother of Love.” The initiative aims to improve the quality of life for refugees and single mothers trying to provide their children with an education.

Little Light Uganda volunteers have worked with the women to support their hard work and create a website for their jewelry to be sold. The proceeds from sold jewelry go toward projects the women feel passionate about, all of which intend to benefit the conditions for struggling women and other vulnerable individuals.

Combating Malaria and COVID-19

One of the group’s projects is dedicated to fighting malaria in Uganda, which is one of the main causes of death in the country. According to the American Journal of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, between 70,000 to 100,000 children in Uganda die from the disease every year. The group uses money earned from sold bracelets to buy an organic mosquito-repellent soap, which is given to disadvantaged families that live in places that are more vulnerable to malaria.

The women have also created an initiative to combat COVID-19. Since hygiene is an essential tool for preventing the spread of the virus, the group has pledged one bar of soap for a family in Namuwango living in poverty for every website purchase.

Women’s Empowerment for Poverty Reduction in Uganda

Little Light Uganda does a lot for its community with initiatives like the Mama Pendo project. Not only is the organization helping those in need but it is also empowering women living in poverty. Women with more resources and liberation are more likely to pursue their own education and prioritize the health, nutritional and educational needs of their children.

– Celia Brocker
Photo: Flickr

Fall ArmywormMachine learning, a variation of artificial intelligence that includes the development of algorithms that independently learn new information, has innumerable applications. An example of this can be found in Africa, where the fall armyworm pest in Uganda has ravaged crop yields. Amid the destruction, a new machine learning-based app created by a Ugandan developer has the potential to stop the spread of the crop-destroying pest.

Agriculture in Uganda and the Fall Armyworm

Approximately 22% of Uganda’s GDP comes from agriculture, with most Ugandans working in the agricultural sector, often engaging in subsistence farming. With the nation’s economic performance relying on successful agricultural harvests and the population’s everyday food source coming from their own crop yields, any invasion of pests in Uganda can have serious consequences.

In 2016, Uganda experienced its first invasion of the fall armyworm pest, the larva of the armyworm moth. A native of the tropical regions of the western hemisphere, the fall armyworm pest eats through crops for nourishment before its transformation into a moth. By mid-2017, the fall armyworm had been detected throughout Uganda and was estimated to have caused $192 million USD in maize crop losses alone. In some regions, up to 75% of crop yields were lost.

Despite the severe threat posed by the fall armyworm pest in Uganda, local developers have created a machine learning-based tool to assist Ugandan farmers with detecting the presence of the fall armyworm in their crops and preventing its spread.

Machine Learning to Protect Crops

In the aftermath of the arrival of the fall armyworm pest, Nazirini Siraji, a Ugandan woman from the city of Mbale, began work on a modern solution to the age-old problem of pest invasions. After attending one of Google’s Codelabs events, Siraji used Google’s TensorFlow platform to develop her Farmers Companion App. TensorFlow is an open-source machine learning tool that enables developers like Siraji to create digital solutions powered by artificial intelligence.

The Farmers Companion App enables farmers to use mobile technology to identify this specific pest on their crops and their lifecycle stage. Using this information, the app notifies the user about the threat level faced by their crops and the extent to which the fall armyworm has the potential to spread. The app also recommends specific pesticide treatments that can be used based on the situation of the farmer’s crops.

According to Google, the app has already been deployed in the agricultural lands surrounding Mbale, where Siraji partners with local farmers in utilizing her Farmers Companion App.

Big Tech Meets Local Developer

The global expansion of the internet has been accompanied by a rise in local innovation aimed at solving local issues. In Africa, pest invasions have been responsible for countless crop shortages and famines, which exacerbates problems of instability and poverty. While invasions from pests like the fall armyworm will inevitably occur in the future, they will not happen again without opposition from new technology.

John Andrikos
Photo: Flickr