“My goat produces double, I will sell one to pay school fees for my grandchild”
Due to a variety of circumstances, grandmothers become the sole carers for their grandchildren. This happens across the globe and often goes unrecognised by governments despite the critical roles these women play in children’s lives.
A blog by Carmel Gallagher and Jostas Mwebembezi.
The Ugandan Grandmothers programme (UGP) has been running since 2019. It was established by Rwenzori Center for Research and Advocacy (RCRA) based in Kasese in Western Uganda. It was a joint initiative by the Director of RCRA, Jostas Mwebembezi and Carmel Gallagher who was volunteering with RCRA during the summer 2018. Up to now, the project has been supported by individual donors in Ireland.
The UGP targets grandmothers who, due to the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS and poverty, are the sole carers for grandchildren. Grandmothers receive little support in this role and remain largely invisible to the government and NGOs in the country. The programme has developed integrated support for these grandmothers including: Goats; Kitchen gardens; Scholastic materials; Small enterprise support; Village Savings schemes and Advice on health, nutrition and parenting.
The objective is to empower and sustain grandmother-led households and give them confidence in their nurturing and educational role. To date, the UGP has helped over 400 grandmothers. RCRA say that it is a valuable and successful model of how to support vulnerable families without incurring dependency.
Grandmothers are seen as change agents and the programme seeks to empower them to improve their lives and the lives of their grandchildren. The kernel of the programme is grandmothers meeting in groups at the village level activated by para-social workers who are locally based and trained. At the meetings, the grandmothers get advice on how they can maintain good health and access health interventions. They also receive material support and training as well as parenting advice.
An initiative to support intergenerational learning (IGL) was introduced to the programme in 2022. Early/teen pregnancy is a major social issue in the region and it is hoped that grandmothers can teach pupils the norms of good and safe behaviour and encourage children to remain in education.
The IGL initiative is being successfully implemented in three primary schools. The grandmothers speak to the older children in the schools about how their lives can be so much better if they finish their education and avoid bearing children too young – as Jostas put it ‘children carrying children’.
The grandmothers and grandchildren share knowledge about vegetable growing in a sustainable way and care for the environment. The children teach the grandmothers some basic English and the grandmothers enjoy learning from the children how to write their names in English and some simple greetings.
Here are some quotes from grandmothers who are beneficiaries of the programme:
“My grandchild is at school, now has books, pens, and pads, and was not sent back home last term for school fees.”
”I can now write my name.”
“The programme supported us establishing kitchen gardens, jointly managed with our children, we no longer buy vegetables from the market, we now grow the vegetables at home.”
“I now feel healthier and fit, I do exercises by walking over our small hills.”
The teachers are happy with the IGL activities as they believe there is an insufficient connection between the school and the community and are confident the initiative will help with school retention. RCRA propose to continue the IGL initiative in 2023.
Irish donors are continuing to support the UGP through the GoFundMe page and an annual sponsored walk. All donations are welcome.