Woman of Purpose (WOP), an NGO based in Pallisa in Eastern Uganda, has gone a notch higher in transforming and empowering women and communities reports Kityo James.
Woman of Purpose (WOP), an NGO based in Pallisa in Eastern Uganda, has gone a notch higher in transforming and empowering women and communities.
WOP was established in July 2004 as an effort to help communities living in rural areas, who usually have no ready access to resources and opportunities due to poverty. It empowers communities to develop their potential by equipping households, especially female headed households, with practical, vocational and life skills in order to alleviate poverty. As a result households become socially, economically and emotionally self-sustaining and independent.
WOP is committed to undertaking grassroots-based interventions that serve women and their families, often in hard-to-reach rural areas.
Jane Opolot, the executive director of WOP, said: “Our purpose is to be flexible, pragmatic, relatively quick and effective in the implementation of our desired goals and projects. Our major activities are centred on training people in life skills, human rights and vocational training [as well as] poverty alleviation projects, community mobilization and counseling as a way of emotionally liberating people from constant social and economic hardships.”
WOP began as a working group of Ugandan women from Pallisa who are passionate about women’s rights and community development. The group initially worked with volunteers in reaching out to communities on various issues regarding women’s rights.
In 2005, Widows’ Rights International (WRI) funded WOP to establish and operationalise its Secretariat and increase the capacity of communities to understand widows’ rights. This was done through a widows’ rights education programme, the aim of which was to contribute to policy-making on widows’ rights issues, create public awareness and undertake strategic public interest litigation.
In June 2005, WOP set up a Secretariat and recruited full-time staff and volunteers.
WOP aims at promoting observance and entrenchment of women’s civic, social and economic rights through mainstreaming awareness and observance of human rights. It also aims at building the capacity of women and communities to generate income, and provides technical and policy expertise to communities, civic leaders and policy makers on human rights and community development. WOP also increases public awareness of human rights and Uganda’s obligations under international law, and participates in forums to exchange ideas on promoting the observance of human rights and community development.
Since its formation, WOP has contributed to increasing public awareness of women’s rights as well as community development aimed at releasing vulnerable groups like women and children from the grip of poverty.
According to Jane Opolot, the executive director: “WOP operates in a contextual background in which poverty continues to dehumanize communities, especially in areas where poverty takes on gender attributes arising from the vulnerability of certain specific gender groups such as widows and children due to years of persistent human rights abuse meted out against them.
“Nevertheless many Ugandans, including policy makers and civic leaders, are not fully knowledgeable about the gender effects of poverty. WOP has made efforts to increase public awareness, understanding, and entrenchment of the role of human rights in eradicating poverty and spurring community development.”
The achievements of WOP have been in providing legal and policy advice to communities, providing policy makers and civic leaders on human rights issues, enhancing awareness of human rights among communities, creating public awareness on human rights and their relevance to Uganda and enhancing strategic networks with partners nationally and internationally.
Jane adds: “Even as we aspire to grow better each year, the organisation is still faced with a number of challenges. Key among these is the high expectations from the communities. Secondly, we still suffer from scarcity of skilled workers, which in turn has an adverse impact on the quality of the work of the organization. Although we have tried to address this problem by using volunteers most of our members and volunteers are illiterate, which makes the work a bit challenging.
“The literate and educated people are very reluctant to give up the comfort of living in towns to come and work in rural communities. Due to the high incidence of poverty in the rural areas where we operate many people expect a lot from the organization in terms of assistance and yet the organization is also constrained by resources, which are very limited compared to the need.
“The countrywide draught and famine led to increased malnutrition, poverty and disease among the communities. It was a challenging time for WOP as our members kept making request after request for assistance.”
WOP’s current projects include the Heifer Chain Program (commonly known as ‘the cow scheme’), which has been operational since 2005. The cow scheme is a livestock sharing program aimed at improving the livelihood of poor rural families. Under this program, a heifer is given to a family who tend it under the supervision of the Community Resource Assistant. When the heifer calves, the first female calf, after being weaned, is passed on to another beneficiary. Under the program, WOP assists in marketing the milk as well as ensuring that families utilize some of the milk produced to enhance their own nutrition.
Another program saw 38 goats purchased and given to women. This benefited a number of families badly affected by the floods and bitter famine, which hit most parts of Uganda. At the time of writing this report, five of the goats were gestating. The animals will go a long way in improving the income of the beneficiaries.
The Widows Housing Program is aimed at alleviating poverty housing among poor widows. By facilitating these widows to build new houses or renovate dilapidated houses, the program plays a large role in improving the living conditions of poor widows and their families, most of who live in dilapidated mud-walled, grass-thatched houses. Through this program, the houses are converted into low cost brick and iron roofed houses.
WOP also mobilises men and women in community development and trains them in life skills, women’s rights awareness and sustainable livelihoods. This is done through workshops and conferences where women share experiences and receive education in various disciplines and life-skills, ranging from financial literacy to hygiene and primary health.
WOP also visit women in their homes, asses their living conditions and give them the opportunity to share their experiences on a one-to-one basis. The NGO will use music, dance and drama to convey messages to local leaders and the community to respect the rights of women, widows, orphans and other children.
In addition, Community Resource Assistants carry out widows’ rights education within widows’ respective home villages. This involves visiting a bereaved widow then during the funeral, asking for the opportunity to have a word with other mourners then requesting the immediate family, the clan and the community at large to support the widow and the orphans in any way possible to enable them to continue living decent lives. Whenever possible, people will give financial support to the bereaved family at such times. In some cases, they have been able to offer counselling to those who need it. In other cases they offer food items.