KIHEFO promotes local initiated solutions to fight disease, ignorance and poverty in southwestern Uganda
More than 60 years of aid that has been flowing to Africa cannot easily be seen in the rural villages especially at household level. A lot of debate has been raging on in the last 30 years trying to give different reasons why all the aid in billions of dollars has not made any significant change in trying to eradicate poverty. This introduction is not about to go into opening another debate it is just a narrative of a unique experience I have seen with my nearly one month stay at Kigezi Healthcare Foundation ,popularly known as KIHEFO in the southwestern region of Uganda about 450 km from the capital Kampala.
This organization was founded about 15 years ago by its founder and the Executive Director Dr. Geoffrey Anguyo on the premise that aid has failed to change the poverty at household level deep in the rural villages. At this point, he started thinking
of other innovative approaches to address this issue. The first approach was to work very closely with the communities in the rural villages. Despite noticing that the rural villages are chronically affected by disease, poverty and ignorance one thing that caught his attention was the fact that despite all this poverty the rural communities have saving schemes that have been going on for many generations. The savings were to help when a member falls sick and also to assist in burial when a member dies. KIHEFO started an initiative to change the mindset and make them believe that the savings can also be used as a credit facility.
They would borrow money to improve on the economic activity especially agriculture and animal husbandry. KIHEFO then came in to support them with revolving funds in form of improved seeds and agricultural implements. Families would plant the crops and after the harvest they deposit the initial costs of the items advanced to them back to the group members account, and this is then passed on to another family in the following planting season and the process continues without the money coming back to KIHEFO.
This is KIHEFO’s initiative of revolving fund and the first Microcredit funding to support this was provided by Change for Children Association, a Canadian based nonprofit organization that has since then supported many of KIHEFO’S projects. After about two to three years, people were giving testimonies on how their lives have improved as those growing crops would diversify into buying animals so that in case of a bad weather that affects the crops, they would sell an animal and get back to growing crops
About six years ago the staff at KIHEFO sat down and evaluated the success of the village savings and credit and immediately started one for the staff so that they live by example. They elected their leaders and agreed on membership fees and started saving monthly from their income. Within a few months, the staff were growing mushrooms, buying cows and goats for rearing and allowing them to mature and eventually sell at a higher price. They would buy agricultural produce during harvest and sell them when the prices go up after a few months thus making profits.
The biggest opportunity came to KIHEFO when a retired professor of Canadian origin, visited the organization in August 2010. He stayed with the staff and helped at the nutrition center, visited the different communities KIHEFO works with and really so it all for himself. He just said “I have learnt more than anybody could have explained to me”, and that deeper understanding of the mission and the vision of KIHEFO was the turning point for the organization. When Dr. Anguyo Visited this Canadian friend the following year, they sat down and discussed the future of the organization. Dr,Anguyo put it clear to him that “We need capital and development assistance if we are to do anything about this poverty. The organization must sustain itself and the households must sustain themselves, that is the bottom line without that we shall all collapse.”
KIHEFO needs capital to invest in the upgrading of the General Clinic which is the main income generating wing of the
organization, the Kigezi Tours wing that is another income generating project and then the savings and credit section for the staff. Dr. Anguyo has always made it clear that KIHEFO needs to borrow money from people who can afford to lend so that it is paid back with interest that is mutually agreed between the two parties. The lending partner will get their money back with interest and the KIHEFO projects would have expanded. That is a win situation. It is not about begging for money but it is about creating and sustaining a mutual benefit.
Interest rates in Uganda range from 25% from banks and it can be as high as 100% if you go to unscrupulous greedy private money lenders. Many people have lost their properties and many others have gone to prison because it is just impossible for one to make that kind of profit. According to Dr. Anguyo, after analyzing this for about two days this gentleman told him, “I am going to give you 25,000 dollars and see what you will do with it. You will pay interest of 10% per year and pay the principle at the end of five years”. Dr. Anguyo said, “I almost collapsed with shock because it is unbelievable I have never seen this happen anywhere”. But here it was an open opportunity in front of him, thank you for the trust you put in Dr. Anguyo and KIHEFO as an organisation because what I see today is a living testimony for a young volunteer like me whose passion and concern has always been to help out with the poor people who have been ignored by many governments across Africa because of greed, embezzlement misallocation of funds by officials.
That money really turned KIHEFO around; the guest apartments were all furnished and became ready for occupation, and the
X-ray machine that had broken down at the clinic was repaired and now working. The Ultrasound machine was upgraded to the latest technology and the staff saving and credit scheme had some basic capital allocated to it. The general clinic is now attracting more patients thus more income with the tour section increasingly getting more guests.
KIHEFO has started a rabbit breeding center that is meant to generate more income for the households. Rabbits produce rapidly so that will improve on the revolving fund project in the community integrating crops with rabbits. The staff retention has improved and everybody is happy at KIHEFO. When I talked to one of the longest serving board members Mr. Caleb, he emphasised that “That is exactly what we want and we know what to do. People always think we do not know what we want and that is wrong. That is the very reason all these projects planned by World Bank, IMF and even Uganda Government hardly have any visible impact on the ground because they think wrongly for people who know what they want. Just give us a few more years and these projects mature the whole world will descend on us and would like to know how we did it.”
If we had ten to twenty people like this Canadian Professor, then KIHEFO would be a world class organization; A typical example of solving local problems using local solutions. I thank you for giving me this chance to talk to you I hope people will be able to read what I write. May God bless you.” Many people who change the lives of others are hardly known. Dr Anguyo is very well known in the local communities and even more known internationally for what he is doing but rarely known nationally. If I had the power I strongly believe this is a man who deserves to be a hero and recognized at the national level.
He is born from Arua and has settled in Kigezi where he is doing all this amazing work, and has established his local village in Ntungamo, given the fact that he married from Bunyoro. When I asked him to comment about this motivation, he just simply
said “that is scientific patriotism because I am a scientist. Forget about the daily patriotism you hear about.” Dr. Anguyo is a calm hardworking man and he likes talking a lot about new ideas. He is a good mentor and though he gets invitations to travel abroad to give talks to different Universities and groups, he turns most of them down because he says it interferes with his work. Every year he takes three months off travelling mostly from September to November.
During this annual travel, he focuses on his PhD work and also honors many invitations from different universities to talk about his popular topic of “How to fight disease Poverty And Ignorance in Sub-Saharan Africa using local innovations.” When I talked to Sylvia his wife, she said that the problem with her husband is he works too much and rarely sleeps. “Every time I wake up after 3.00am in morning, I find him gone to his office in the house but the good thing is his love and care is overwhelming. He has that incredible humor and if he can give you only ten minutes off his busy schedule, you can laugh until you collapse. Patients love him because he makes them forget about pain and death. I personally feel it is a very big opportunity to work with Dr. Anguyo and I wish I would have that chance to work with him for life. He is so good and is always teaching people as he has a bit of knowledge on almost everything. You can never fail to learn anything whenever you are with him.
As told by Namulinda Asha, volunteering at kigezi health care foundation