Oxfam supported farmer, Lilian Aguaru in her shop. Credit: Dorah Ntunga/Oxfam

From employee to employer: Community savings initiative lifts Ugandan mother out of poverty

About 6 years ago, Lillian Aguaru had given up hope of living a life free from poverty. Today, the 28 -year-old entrepreneur and mother of one is successful not only as a business owner and a farmer  – she also has created employment for three people who work in her shop and gardens. Our Information, media and communications officer in Uganda, Dorah Ntunga caught up with her and filed this story.

“I did not have confidence and it was made worse by being poor. I was always alone, what would I have to talk about?  I had nothing! Decisions at home were made by my husband, there was hardly enough food, though my husband had a piece of land where we could farm. The yields were always poor and the little money that I earned (about 700UGX per day) digging people’s farms would be taken forcefully by my husband spending it all on alcohol,” Lillian said.

In 2006 she decided to join Ovisoni Go Down savings and credit group after she shared with a friend the challenges she was facing, even though her husband thought it was a waste of time. She was determined to learn how to save the little money she earned with the hope of changing her life.

“A friend I once shared my problems with advised me to join a savings group that they had started with the help of CREAM Uganda, she convinced me this would help me out of poverty and I thought why not give it a try,” she said.

Armed with the determination, Lillian learned how to save and plan for savings and in no time, she was able to take a loan that was equal to the worth her savings. Lillian also learnt how to make organic compost manure and pesticides from chillies from Send a Cow Uganda, an Oxfam partner working with Community Organisation for rural Enterprise Activities Management (CREAM), also an Oxfam partner, in Vura Sub County, Arua district. As a result, she was able to increase her yields and generate income to save and invest further. Seven years later, the benefits of being a member of a savings and credit are evident.

Lillian is now a successful horticulture farmer who grows watermelon, mangoes, tomatoes, chillies,onions, avocado, potatoes, sorghum, beans and cassava. In addition, she used her first savings to buy pigs. When the pigs reproduced, Lillian was able to sell them at a profit, using the proceeds to start another business selling tea and general merchandise where she earns between 50,000UGX (U$19) – 100,000UGX (U$38) a day.

She has now increased her savings from 5,000UGX (U$2) to 30,000UGX (U$12) a week, from proceeds from her farm and the shop.  Her loan size has also increased from 300,000UGX (U$115) to 1,000,000UGX (U$385) an indication that she is now saving more.

When Lillian’s husband saw her tremendous progress, he was eager to also join the savings group and currently is a member. Lillian is quick to add that her husband has transformed so much, and is now more supportive and loving.

“Together with my husband, we have built a permanent house a step away from the hut we used to live in. I contributed 1 million  Uganda shilllings from my share out/end of year savings towards the construction. Additionally we’ve bought 50 iron sheets, 20 iron bars and 1500 bricks to finish building our commercial house, and recently we opened up an account for our child’s school fees.”

“All the households in my neighbourhood are involved in the savings and credit. I’m happy that even the old women and men including my mother in –law who is old and weak, grows her vegetables and saves her money.”

As a result of participating in savings and credit group and the acquired knowledge in business management, Lillian’s self-esteem has grown. She expresses herself more with confidence and is now full of smiles just like the meaning of her name –Aguaru.

Oxfam in Uganda under its Economic rights programme is working with several partners implementing projects to increase household incomes and end poverty like in the case of Lillian.