By Sarita Vengal: From July 5th to July 7th 2011, Martin Onyach-Olaa, Senior Urban Specialist at the World Bank, visited the Uganda Slum Dwellers Federation (henceforth referred to as the Federation) in Jinja and Mbale The purpose of his visit was two-fold: Firstly, Mr. Onyach-Olaa wished to monitor progress on implementation of the Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda (TSUPU) Program – a government program being supported by Cities Alliance and the World Bank. As the preparatory phase of the program has just concluded, Mr. Onyach-Olaa deemed it only proper to visit the communities TSUPU is designed to support. Secondly, he wished to inform community members that the World Bank would be launching a new program to bolster municipal infrastructure entitled, Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure Program (USMIP).” On his trip, Martin had the opportunity to discuss how the program is progressing with Federation members.
On his first day, Mr. Onyach-Olaa addressed the Jinja Municipal Council, Federation leaders and ACTogether staff. In his speech, he noted that the urban sector is often forgotten and marginalized in national development agendas, but that municipal governments need to play a key role in changing this trend. He briefly explained the purpose of the TSUPU program and ACTogether’s involvement in its execution. He commended ACTogether for its work thus far stating, “we have completed the preparatory phase and communities are mobilized thanks to the work of ACTogether and the Federation.”
Mr. Onyach-Olaa also said that he is “confident that this project in Jinja has started on a strong foundation.” He hopes that the implementation phase of the TSUPU program will kick off in earnest this month, as the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development has been sent the TSUPU Manual and the CUF guidelines. The time is thus ripe for communities to internalize these provisions and learn how to best access these funds and begin the process of improving life in their communities.
After this meeting, Mr. Onyach-Olaa visited the Federation’s low-cost housing project where he met the Federation’s Kawama savings group, which is responsible for managing and implementing the project in its entirety. ACTogether’s civil engineer, Waiswa Kakaire walked Mr. Onyach-Olaa through the building plans for the new housing units and explained the Federation’s vision for the settlement. Faith Mambozo, a Federation leader, showed him the community’s savings log and explained how savings have been central to their ability to build their own housing and repay their loans. The community explained that six houses have already been constructed on the site and that construction of a block of 30 more units is underway.
Mr. Onyach-Olaa was highly impressed by the visibility of women leaders in the savings groups and Kawama project management committees. He recognized the empowerment components of such activities and made it clear that when more women are involved in development initiatives there is a much greater likelihood of success. He urged ACTogether and Federation members to actively record the impressive impact their projects are having on the lives of community members, as it will be vital to attracting additional support partnerships. Rather than solely describing activities, monitoring the tangible improvements in the lives of Federation members is very important. He also urged the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development – which had sent a representative on the trip – to report on these types of projects in their newsletters and publications.
Mr. Onyach-Olaa also attended a Jinja Network meeting, where Federation members presented reports on their savings and activities. Following the meeting he concluded that the Federation, in his opinion, has achieved four major achievements: 1) it has effectively mobilized savings in low income communities, 2) it has initiated and supported innovative income generating activities, 3) it has made concrete housing improvements for members, and 4) it has acquired new technologies and skills.
He remarked, “I think you have a very powerful movement that needs to be sustained.” He promised that each municipality will be receiving around 650 million shillings through TSUPU and that members of the Federation must benefit from these funds. When the Federation members asked who they should contact if these funds were not accessible or appropriately managed, he responded by pulling out his business card and giving it to a Federation leader. He assured community members that he would personally champion the cause of slum dwellers and would be available to address any concerns.
After the meeting in Jinja, Mr. Onyach-Olaa traveled to Mbale to attend a large Federation Savers Convention. The meeting was launched by song and dance from local women to express unity and welcome their guests. During the convention, savings groups from the Mbale region presented their reports, relayed new updates, and heard from local leaders including the Mayor and Town Clerk.
Federation members shared their testimonies about how the Federation has positively impacted their lives. Women members displayed a new income generating activity to their peers. The women described how they are growing Amaranth and selling the flour and small cakes to their neighbors. The activity has been quite lucrative for the group, which seeks to expand and strengthen their initiative.
Mr. Onyach-Olaa addressed the convention to share his concluding remarks from the Jinja and Mbale visits. He summarized:
· Slum dwellers have demonstrated a keen ability to save: Throughout his trip, he learned of the large sums of money being saved by slum dwellers in the Federation and he expressed that he is tremendously impressed by this achievement.
· The loans the groups have been able to issue to their members are an achievement no formal financial institution has been able to achieve
· The Federation has successfully identified and encouraged income generating activities and has created innovative and productive businesses.
· Housing conditions have been improved through the Federation and will continue to do so with the progression of the movement.
· The Federation has made remarkable progress navigating the complexities of land tenure in Uganda. Their work is thus wholly consistent with the TSUPU mission.
· Through exchanges and learning trips, slum dwellers are continuously learning new skills and using appropriate, low-cost technologies
· The Federation has created a viable structure to provide for the community.
· Women are in the lead. He described his interactions with strong women in the field and said that the Federation is being carried by empowered women
· The Federation is a strong social movement. Members of the Federation must guard and protect this asset and continue to work for its betterment.
Martin concluded by expressing his desire to hear more testimonies about the Federation’s work and successes in future and said that he greatly appreciates their achievements thus far to transform the lives of slum dwellers. He expressed his desire to continue visiting the Federation to monitor its progress in the months and years to come.