New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Byaruhanga Has Created 225 Saccos in 31 Districts

Surrounded by a heap of files, Connie Byaruhanga scrutinises each file. The files are collected from the Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisations (SACCOs) she formed in various districts.

She wants to analyse how the groups are faring. She also wants to find out how they are using the money given to them by the Microfinance Support Centre.

Byaruhanga's day begins as early as 5:00am and ends at 11:00pm. "Some businesses fail due to lack of commitment. I wake up early and go to bed late because I have many clients countrywide. If I waste time, the country will hold me accountable," Byaruhanga argues.

Who is Byaruhanga?

Born in 1959 in Kibirango Buraru parish, Kyabigambire sub-county in Hoima district, Byaruhanga, an accountant by profession, worked with Uganda Commercial Bank (now Stanbic Bank) from 1984 to 1992.

Her journey to help the community started in 1985 at the peak of the National Resistance Army (NRA) bush war.

"The war left many people in Hoima orphaned and widowed. Many people, especially women, thronged my home, as they had been told their husbands were there. I had planted many crops, so I distributed the food to the widows and their children," Byaruhanga says.

However, on discovering that their husbands were not at Byaruhanga's place, most of the women and their children failed to return to their homes due to lack of transport.

"Byaruhanga offered me a place to stay. She helped me start a business. I now have land, where I will build a house for my children," Faith Kabahuma, one of the benefi ciaries, says.

Byaruhanga brought in people from Kampala to train the women on how to make handicrafts. "There was no market for the products in the village, so I started taking them to Kampala. I gave the women the money from the sales," Byaruhanga says.

Her goal was to help the women get income to take care of their children.

Project gets a boost

In 1996, President Yoweri Museveni appointed Byaruhanga to lead a team to monitor the parliamentary elections countrywide. After the elections, the President asked what the team wanted him to do for them in appreciation of their good work.

"I wanted him to construct a vocational training centre that would equip the women with skills to generate income and look after their children," Byaruhanga says.

But before she could share her idea, the President introduced her to a hatchery belonging to Kiggo Prisons. "I got free chicks and distributed them to the people of Hoima," Byaruhanga says.

She started a training centre in Hoima and brought in experts from Kiggo to train the women.

Spreading out

Byaruhanga started a poultry project called United National Development Association Network (UNADAN) in Arua district. The headquarters are in Rusaka, Hoima, with liaison offi ces in Nansana East 1 in Wakiso district.

Simon Angudubo, a benefi ciary in Arua, says: "I got 10 chicks free-ofcharge. When they matured, I sold them. I bought 100 more chicks. I now have over 2,000 birds. I have built a house and set up a goat farm.

Byaruhanga opened my eyes to modern poultry farming techniques." According to John Onzima, the Arua coordinator of UNADAN, the benefi ciaries are taught how to rear chicken in a small space.

"Byaruhanga gave me a few chicks free-of-charge. Thereafter, I started buying chicks. I now have a big poultry farm. I have saved some money and plan to start a business so that I can pay for my children's education and build a house," Onzima says.

Byaruhanga also went to the Police barracks and taught the police offi cers how to rear chicken. She gave each offi cer 10 chicks. Many now engage in poultry farming to supplement their salaries.

"I discovered that some people were eating the chicken instead of letting them multiply," Byaruhanga says. She started registering the benefi ciaries to monitor their projects, as well as demand accountability for the chicks they were given.

Byaruhanga also organised the benefi cairies into nine groups of 12 members each. Each group had a leader. Byaruhanga took the leaders to Kiggo for training on condition that they would return and train their group members.

"I decided to organise the groups into SACCOs so that they could collect money and buy chicks jointly," she says.

Starting SACCOs

As the beneficiaries embraced poultry farming, the Government, in 2001, introduced the Microfinance Support Centre (MSC) to provide financial services to groups, SACCOs and individuals countrywide.

As a banker, Byaruhanga knew the benefits of borrowing, so she gathered the group leaders and the local council and educated them on how to borrow money and use it.

She also started moving to the parish SACCOs sensitising people about loans. Since the MSC gives loans to registered SACCOs, Byaruhanga asked all her SACCOs across the country to register.

Since each SACCO had nine groups, each with 12 members, all the SACCOs qualifi ed to borrow the MSC money. Byaruhanga has now created over 225 SACCOs in 31 districts.

"I wrote a constitution for the members to sign and abide by. This was the only way I would stop the misuse of money and defaulting on payment."

According to the constitution, the members must use the money to start income-generating projects; each member must save part of the profi ts and reinvest the rest and members must get business and entrepreneur training.

Other conditions were that members plant trees, acquire water harvesting skills, engage in modern agricultural technology, help the group acquire assets, help the people engage in government programmes and join SACCOs.

Plans

"I want to introduce goat rearing, piggery and use of manure from poultry and animals for crop production," Byaruhanga says.

She also wants to start processing and packaging locally-produced crops. "I also want to teach people how to make brooders using locallyavailable materials, mix animal feeds and identify signs and symptoms of diseases in birds and animals.

This will help save the money they spend on buying these products," Byaruhanga adds.

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