Promising Anti-Poverty Project Initiated in Abayudaya Village of Namutumba

Construction underway. (Photo by community member)
Construction underway. (Photo by community member)

Of the seven villages in eastern Uganda where members of the Abayudaya Jewish community live, Namutumba may be the poorest. Home to about 200 Jews scattered around the modest synagogue, Namutumba is several hours from Nabugoya Hill, the center of Jewish life in the region, and five miles from the nearest paved road. Running water and electric light are rare luxuries in the village where the main occupation is farming of robusta coffee, corn, cassava, millet, and sorghum. Malnutrition is not uncommon.

Through the years, Laura Wetzler, Kulanu´s coordinator for the Abayudaya, had become acutely aware of the unmet needs of people in this outlying village. During the annual Abayudaya women´s gathering in January 2010, Laura and Kulanu president Harriet Bograd continued discussions with women from the village about ideas for improving the quality of life in Namutumba.

˜One idea had particular resonance. Would it be possible to build a grain mill near the village?˜

One of these ideas had particular resonance. Would it be possible to build a grain mill near the village? Farmers had to bring their grain four to six kilometers away on dirt paths that became muddy with the rains. And the flour was often contaminated by poorly-maintained diesel engines at the mills. A neighborhood grain mill would allow farmers to get higher prices when they sold the milled grain in town, and households would benefit from more available corn, cassava, millet and sorghum flour for cooking.

When they returned home, Harriet, with input from Laura working with a committee of women from the village and a local agronomist, drafted a proposal to South Peninsula Jewish Community Teen Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation near San Francisco. Part of a network of foundations managed by teenagers in California, these organizations seek proposals to improve the lives of Jews and non-Jews around the world, typically providing grants of $10,000 or less.

It was thrilling to find out in May, 2010, that Kulanu’s $10,000 proposal for the grain mill would be funded. From May to January, community members and Laura had studied, researched, and consulted with engineers and agronomists. When they returned to Uganda in January, 2011, Laura and Harriet sat for hours with a small delegation of community members who made the trip to Mbale to plan the nitty-gritty details of the mill. In an amazingly brief but intensely focused period of time, the group finalized a detailed business plan along with a training program in accounting and business management. Responsible women in the community were designated to oversee the project. Even though we had not raised as much as was originally budgeted, the community chose to go forward with a pared-down budget.

Since then, the community members have worked together in a beautiful way, participating in eight full days of training in accounting and business, held right in Namutumba. After purchasing land near a small trading center on the road to town, they have constructed the grain mill building and installed most of the equipment, sending photographs documenting each step of the building process. They have tracked and promptly submitted detailed reports on every shilling they have spent. This is particularly impressive in an isolated location that lacks electricity and accessible computers.

image: Planning details of the mill (Photo by Barbara Vinick)
Planning details of the mill: (top row, from left) Laura Wetzler, Yosefe Mayende, Ruth Nabaigwa, and (bottom row, from left) Harriet Bograd, Yoash Mayende. (Photo by Barbara Vinick)


Many poor communities have found it difficult to write business plans and financial reports for us. In this case, the credit goes to Yoash Mayende, a young Namutumba business student, who is earning his college degree through the Abayudaya higher education program. Though he will earn nothing from the project, he reports that it has been an extraordinary learning experience.

Here is an excerpt from Yoash´s report:

˜Compare this with an ant hill. In the same way, Namutumba community members – children, women and men were all working together to make sure it comes as a success for them and it really happens. I see so much collaboration and consultation. Nothing was done without consultation with one another.˜

image: Yoash Mayende (Photo by Harriet Bograd)
Yoash Mayende. (Photo by Harriet Bograd)


Compare this to an anthill… Children, women, and men were all working together.


image: Pitching the roof (Photo by community member)
Pitching the roof. (Photo by community member)


˜[The mill project has] built more cooperation and unity among community members. They are working together, monitoring their own programs and administering the operations of everything. They have much trust that they are going to overcome some problems that have been affecting them as they have been sitting at home without work, without hope.˜

˜The Mamas in our community had been working in the kitchen, in the garden, watching the children [with no hope of overcoming poverty]. As a result of this project, they are now participating in development projects.˜

In early May, 2011, Kulanu received $7800 in memory of Ruth Horak to complete the grain mill project a nd provide six months of initial operating capital. This will put the project on a much firmer footing. A portion of this grant will become a revolving investment fund for the community.

As we go to press, we are excited to report that the grain mill project is up and running several weeks ahead of schedule. Needless to say, we wish all the best to everyone involved and look forward to updating Kulanu supporters in future issues of the newsletter and in email updates.