As some of you probably know, I’m based in Kampala for the summer. If you’re around, or have tips about things I might want to go poke my nose into, please get in touch via the blog email address.
And speaking of poking my nose into things: Last weekend I went with Siena Anstis and TMS (Teddy) Ruge of Project Diaspora to visit the Women of Kireka, a jewelery-making business owned by a group of women living in the Acholi Quarters outside of Kampala (background here).
The situation in the Acholi Quarters is rough -tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the north inhabit slums on the side of a hill in Kireka. They support themselves by working in the local quarry (pictured at right), carving out rocks and crushing them into gravel. This is a grueling and dangerous line of work.
The quarry has been the subject of a number of press reports (see, e.g., Glenna Gordon’s excellent reporting on Stephen Batte, the “Ugandan orphan with a web presence“). However, the attention has not yielded an improvement in the lot of the people living there. Their plight exemplifies a broader problem of urban IDPs being left out of official resettlement and humanitarian aid efforts. As this 2008 bulletin by the Refugee Law Project makes clear, while rural IDPs (those living in camps) are the target of significant assistance, urban IDPs’ low visibility often means they “slip through the cracks.”
Founded by Siena, and advised by Project Diaspora, the Women of Kireka project is an effort to provide a sustainable means for the women to support themselves and their children outside of the quarry. The women make beaded jewelry out of found paper, the partners help them with marketing and sales, and they use the proceeds to reinvest in the business and pay for their children’s school fees. Below are some of their completed products. (Note: One of the women showed me how they make the beads – not an easy process!)
You might be thinking to yourself: “What a great idea! Why aren’t there more projects like this?” There are a number of them, but, as Teddy explained, handouts are still the default because it’s far more difficult to secure funding for an entrepreneurial enterprise than a charity. In other words, if you want to pay school fees for IDP children, great, register yourself an NGO and you shouldn’t have too much trouble convincing donors to fund you. But if you want to help the mothers of those IDP children form a business that will enable them to pay their children’s school fees themselves, well, good luck.
Unsurprisingly, this incentive structure produces way more local NGOs than local businesses, a scenario that is ultimately not self-sustaining. To quote the mission statement
of Teddy’s organization: “Africa’s development can not continue to depend on international NGO programs and developmental aid, powered by global sympathy.” Indeed.