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It Takes a Village

Just off a dirt road that snakes through the banana and coffee fields of Kitenga, a village in southern Uganda, lies the home of 65-year-old Namayanja Paulina. Behind it rest the graves of her six sons, all of whom died from AIDS. Paulina is now the sole provider for her 16 grandchildren. But thanks to the Ugandan Women’s Effort to Save Orphans (UWESO)—a program that provides small loans to rural people who are taking care of the country’s 1.7 million AIDS orphans—things are looking up. Business is bustling at the tabletop market Paulina runs from her home. With the profits from her stand, financed by loans from UWESO, Paulina is able to feed her grandchildren and send them to school. Ditto for Rose Nabuuma, a 40-year-old widow supporting five orphans. Since 1996, UWESO has helped more than six thousand families, mostly headed by women, care for close to forty thousand AIDS orphans. Their loan repayment rate is 90 percent. Through a partnership with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a U.N. agency, UWESO does more than dole out money. It teams up with social workers to ease the psychological impact of AIDS. And with the help of a network of 15,000 volunteers across Uganda, UWESO cares for orphans when their guardians are away at work or become ill. Volunteers also organize workshops on AIDS prevention, general health, and nutrition. They lobby for legal protections for orphans and teach loan recipients financial and business management skills as well. UWESO was established in 1986 by Janet Kataha Museveni, the wife of Uganda President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, to care for war orphans. In 1990, the group switched its focus to children orphaned by AIDS. Today, the organization is headed primarily by Ugandan women, and a culture of feminism is slowly taking root. “Now,” says UWESO client Nancy Ebila, “I can afford a radio that tells me about women’s empowerment and social awareness.”

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