In the small trading centre of Namayumba (about 43km from Kampala) in Wakiso district, one name has become a household song. I alighted from the taxi and in a minute, I had gotten directions to Jemba's home.
"Are you looking for Jemba, that woman who brought a bank to Namayumba?" one boda boda cyclist asked. Many people in this village refer to her as a change-maker. As we ride along the dusty village path that leads to Jemba's home, the cyclist cannot hide his excitement to volunteer information about Jemba.
"Which new project have you brought for her now?" he asks. "Jemba has made this community proud because of the many projects she has brought that have transformed women.
My wife is a testimony as she is a member of her group and as I tell you now, she is catering for about 70% of our home needs," he says. "She brought a cow which I could never have afforded.
Besides, she is paying school fees for our children. Jemba deserves acknowledgement. She is an extraordinary woman and I really admire her husband because he has a treasure in the house," the cyclist, Jackson Kiwendo, narrates.
At Jemba's home, a group of people is listening as she takes them through the whys of owning a granary in the homestead. The women listen attentively before asking questions which she answers.
Born in Lugazi, Mukono district in 1960, Lydia Jemba trained as a functional adult trainer, a profession she has used to transform many lives in Namayumba and Kakiri counties in Wakiso.
She was a member of Wakiso Women Food Farmers' Initiative where she acquired the skills of team work. This kind of training was later to become the genesis to the women group she named Namayumba Epicentre SACCO Limited (NECSL), a group that has transformed many from poverty to wealth.
"One day during training, our trainer told us that the only way she would feel appreciated was seeing her trainees put the information she gave them into practice," Jemba says. "I shared the information with other women and when my trainer visited them, she was very pleased."
In 1999, Jemba started training 14 women on how to grow food and how to store it. They would meet once a week but as the numbers increased, she started meeting them three times a day.
"When I went to the LC to ask for permission to launch the project, he told me the women of Namayumba were difficult to convince as they were too dependent on their husbands.
I asked him to let me give it a try and today things are moving well. I was even elected as the women's representative of Namayumba council," Jemba said.
When the number grew further, Jemba used part of her land to teach the women how to grow vegetables and maize. They used Jemba's two acres and when they harvested, they sold it and shared the proceeds, but each one had to save 10%.
"When she told me to leave some money for saving, I first became suspicious thinking she could disappear with it. But as time went on, I realised the importance," says Edith Bombo, one of the beneficiaries.
"Jemba bought a metallic box where she kept our savings and gave us the money when we wanted it. She kept the keys with the LC chairman, something that made me believe she was an honest woman," Bombo says.
"When Jemba came to my home asking me to join her group, I was reluctant. But one day my daughter told me about the training she gets from Jemba's home and asked me to go with her. Since that time, I have never looked back," says Lovisa Sewanyana, another beneficiary.
"At 74, I do not depend on my children. Instead they come to me asking for milk and food. Who am I to speak English at this age when I never went to school? Jemba is a blessing," Sewanyana adds. Sewanyana is now a proud owner of two dairy cows, a big banana plantation and vegetable gardens.
She sells some of the vegetables and opened up a bank account for savings. But not all the projects have been an easy sell.
In 2004 a group from Send A Cow visited Wakiso to educate people on how to keep heifers but women were not enthusiastic because they thought cows were expensive to look after.
"I borrowed sh100,000 from my husband moved from house to house convincing women to embrace the heifer project. I promised to get people to train them on how to look after the cows.
I approached the director and asked him to send some trainers to Namayumba to teach the people. When they came, they were shocked at the number of people who had gathered. They agreed to come and work with us," Jemba said.
Send A Cow gave cows to 30 members and promised to teach them how to look after them. The group that started with 30 members now has 14,772 women and 57 men. And over 75% of the members have heifers in their homes.
Jemba says with the introduction of cows, people started getting milk but had nowhere to sell it. She went to the Jesa Farm proprietor, James Mulwana (RIP) and pleaded with him to buy their milk. Mulwana agreed on condition that the milk was of good quality.
Jemba hired a car to always take the milk to the farm and later returned with the money for the milk owners. Jemba would come back and pay us without deducting any money. It is now five years and we have never paid her anything for selling the milk," says Sarah Bijja, a beneficiary.
Setting up the bank
As the members' income grew, Jemba conceived an idea of starting a village bank. Jemba says she came across a big chunk of church land in Namayumba that was unutilised. She went to Namirembe Cathedral and asked the Bishop to allow them to set up a small village bank.
"The bishop asked me to take a letter from the LC. The following Sunday I organised some members and transported them to Namirembe," Jemba said.
After listening to the members' testimonies, the bishop promised to visit Jemba to see what we were doing. He offered us the land. Jemba did not have money to set up a structure. But during one of the women's meetings in Wakiso, another NGO, the Hunger Project, introduced a new project to teach women how to eradicated food shortage in homes.
"After the training, I approached the trainers and asked them to visit my group in Namayumba. We asked them to get for us people to construct a structure where we could start a small savings bank since we had the land.
They agreed to work with Namayumba community and set up the structure. That is how the bank in the area came into existence. People can now save their money. They also have a permanent meeting venue.
Jemba advised the members to start buying shares in the bank which many did by paying sh10,000 each, from which sh10m was realised. This is the money they used as start-up capital.
Jemba has also started a new project where she teaches people how to make soap, mats, huts, tie-and-dye clothes, baskets, wooden trays and many other items, which she sells and gives the proceeds to the members.
About 30% is saved into the members' accounts. She also set up a tree fruit seedling bed where women plant fruit seedlings which they sell. Jemba also introduced vegetable growing and now all members have gardens in their homes.
"As a husband, I do not know how she won my trust, I was always away from home doing petty jobs with Kampala City Council (KCC) and I could only see her over the weekend.
People used to call me complaining that my wife had started bringing wrong people in my home and that she was also spoiling peoples wives by taking them to groups.
When I asked her, she explained how she was going to help the community and since she was a councillor, I let her have her way. Today she is a hero in Namayumba," Jemba Kajumba, the husband said.
Kajumba adds that since his job with KCC was not paying well, he quit and joined his wife. He helps her with the work and manages all the home projects when she is on duty.
Jemba plans to set up a trade centre where she will exhibit the products the people are making. She also wants to set up a factory.
"My dream is to see all women in Wakiso own something. Now that the men have joined in, things will be easy since they will not make it hard for their wives," Jemba notes.