Joseph and Maria taking care of their pigs

Meet Apio Maria, the Karamajong Business advisor

38 year old Apio Maria was born and raised in Karamoja and married off at just a tender age of 16. Just like many Karamajong women, she cannot believe she now owns so much in her life and has people who look up to her.

She says; “My husband, Lotte Joseph cared for his cattle more than anything else but when he lost them in a raid, even the little love he had waned. He found solace in drinking heavily and regularly beating me and our children.”

Maria owned almost nothing. She didn’t have much say nor decide in the home however, when her children were sent away from school because they couldn’t pay school fees, she had to think quick because she valued education as opportunity to change her situation and that of her children.

“I started looking for what to do to earn money. The only option In could find at the time was to hand dig on other peoples gardens for a small pay.” It’s here that marked a turning point. “I met a group of women who were digging and selling their produce together. I joined the group because I was looking for possible solutions.”

Luckily for Sabina, it was around the same time that Oxfam and local partner DADO were mobilising groups on a livelihood training using the Gender Action Learning System methodology – a community led methodology that uses visual diagrams to empower women and men imagine the futures they want.

The training came in timely for the group because it helped them see ahead, what they wanted to achieve as a group and as individuals.

“We drew our vision and started to cultivate and sell the produce together and then save up the money from where we could take loans at small interests. At this point my husband took interest in the idea after seeing that I had paid the children’s school fees and bought some things at home. He reluctantly joined. Together we drew our family vision were we see our children at the highest level of education and also construct a commercial building for rent.

We took out a loan in the group and hired a piece of land together. We grew sorghum which we sold to pay back the loan. As we continued to save in the group and share, he bought a cow while I bought a few pigs to start a piggery project which has since expanded. We have agreed to concentrate on the piggery project together because it has fetched us some good money. As I speak we already bought a piece of land where we shall expand the project.

“Life feels good now. I however wish all people especially women in Karamoja were getting this empowered so that incidents where people die of hunger becoming a thing of the past.

According to Maria, the man who was once so cruel is now one of the best people in her life. “ From working and planning together, we have become close. He even stopped going to the bar too often. My husband cannot make some decisions without consulting me. When people talk about how we have progressed, he tells them that it’s because of me, his good business advisor! Now people ask me for advice especially on business in relation to piggery.

Oxfam continues working in Karamoja region together with partners such as Dodoth Agripastoral Organisation (DADO) using approaches such as GALS which give power to women and men to visualize where they want to be, how to get there and what obstacles and challenges they encounter and what they can do to overcome them. Oxfam believes that the empowerment of women is key if they are to meaningfully participate in decisions that affect their lives right from household level.