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Escaping extreme poverty

How some Ugandan women are forging a new path

Rose’s husband died when her children were young. Left a widow in a rural village in Uganda, Rose struggled to rear four children on her own, with little education and no job. She has children to feed, school fees to pay, and malaria medicine to purchase. How is she going to do it all?

Nancy Peed is a TMS Global cross-cultural worker who serves in Uganda. Nancy was teaching Bible stories to children and noticed how downcast the mothers seemed. “I asked the pastor if we could have a Bible study group for the mothers, in addition to the children,” said Nancy. “The women looked hopeless and weary. They kept their eyes on the ground and never smiled.”

Nancy started meeting with a group of women each week. Most of the women in the group have four-to-six children and are raising other children who have been orphaned. Many of the children are suffering from epilepsy, sickle cell anemia, asthma, and other health issues. “The women’s primary concern is being able to pay for the children’s school fees and medical treatment.”

Nancy felt led to tell the women the stories of Jesus, particularly focusing on the stories in which Jesus noticed, talked to, loved, and healed someone who was unseen or unimportant in their society. After a year of meeting together, Nancy could see that a change had taken place within the group. The women held their heads higher, laughed, and had formed a community. They no longer felt alone, yet their circumstances were still overwhelming.

“I began to pray for these women, asking God to find a way to help them and to ease their burdens,” said Nancy. While in the US for homeland assignment, Nancy mentioned the women she was working with to a church she was visiting. The pastor, moved by the stories of these women, asked the congregation for an offering. The church raised $2,400 that day, and gave it to Nancy to help the Ugandan mothers.

“At that time, I had no idea what God was going to do, but He revealed the way,” Nancy said. Nancy began to research microfinance options, in which small, low-interest loans are given to people to help them establish their own sustainable business. “I read everything I could find about microfinance, and I knew God was moving me in that direction. I could use the money donated by the church in the US as the seed money for these loans.”

Nancy understood that training the women in business skills would be a key component of their success. One day, Nancy was in the internet café researching information when a man approached her and said, “I just felt like I was supposed to talk to you.” He was Sunday Asau, the executive director of Vision for Humanity, a local NGO that works to empower women through sustainable small businesses and community development. As Nancy and Sunday talked, she discovered that he was experienced in training women in small business management. Nancy and Sunday formed a partnership to train and educate the women she was working with.

“God did all of it!” Nancy said. “In a short period of time, God brought together enough money for microloans, resources from a nonprofit, and someone to train the women in business skills.”

A group of 27 women came together and formed a government-registered, community-based organization under the name “Arua Women United to Eradicate Poverty (AWUFPE).” The group recently completed a 10-day training program for small business management. They were taught how to assess market needs, survey competition, how to market their business, budget and save, and other aspects of owning a small business.

“This is a transformed group of women!” Nancy exclaimed. “They laugh more freely, respect themselves, and have found community in our group. They have such natural leadership skills and are so strong. They just needed a little guidance and the confidence to do something they have never done before.”

The women have started businesses including selling cassava flour, tailoring, raising goats to sell, selling silverfish, opening a salon, selling honey, and opening a small store. In addition to being able to care for their own families, the women created a social fund to help each other in times of crisis, and to lift up and improve their communities.

After graduating from the business training program, Rose said to Nancy, “I never thought God cared for me, and then He sent you here. Now, I can take care of my family, and I believe God sees me.”

Next steps:

  • Pray for the Ugandan women to know the depth of God’s love for them.
  • Pray for the women’s businesses to be successful so they can support their families.
  • Pray for Nancy as she invests in these women and shares with them Jesus’ love.