Kisoro District, home of Child care foundation Uganda, has the highest concentrations of poverty stricken families in Uganda. Families in the area must grow their own food to survive. AIDS/HIV infected families outnumber the families not affected by the disease. Sanitation issues lead to regular cases of typhoid and malaria. Some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world mask the struggle for survival that happens here on a daily basis.
Daily life gets increasingly more difficult as inhabitants live greater distances from Kisoro town. The outlying villages suffer some of the highest concentrations of poverty in the world. Often, families must survive by digging in the fields of others for little pay. But with no education or trade skills, few other options are available to those who do not have enough land to farm for themselves.
While the soil in the area is infertile, the rural areas around Kisoro have one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world. Families often live entirely on diets of potatoes and motoke (a paste made by smashing green bananas.)
Because of these factors, most families live by bare necessity, with luxuries such as education and medical care being simply unattainable.
Spirituality in the area is scattered. Catholic and Anglican churches are many, while Baptist and Pentecostal churches represent the major protestant presence. There are four Islamic mosques, in the district. Pagan spiritualism, witch doctors, and religions that promote polygamy, also have a presence in the area.
A major source of economy for the area is tourism, capitalizing on the proximity to the protected gorilla reserves in the area, as well as a reasonably close location to Queen Elizabeth National Park. Many of the businesses and shops in Kisoro town rely on outside money from visitors generated by the tourists coming into the area to experience the game hikes, game drives, and mountain climbing to be done in Kisoro and the surrounding areas.
Schools in the area vary widely, with some schools providing an excellent opportunity for motivated students to pass national exams, thereby being offered the opportunity to continue attending higher levels of education. Others, however, are simply too poor to afford books for teachers or an education syllabus, leaving the teachers with no reasonable way to prepare their students for the national exams. While the top scorers in each district are offered governmental supplements to help them to pay for higher levels of education, the majority of children in Kisoro will never attend higher than primary level education.
Being positioned in a corner of Uganda, next to Rwanda and The Democratic Republic of Congo, Kisoro is also affected by any civil unrest in the neighboring areas, although Rwanda has been fairly stable since the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.
With a backdrop of stunning scenery, Kisoro’s beauty masks a harsh reality of poverty, malnutrition, and young mortality rate.
In Uganda, many families struggle to provide the most basic of needs for their families. Homes are often built with mud and sticks, which wash away over time as the rains fall. The only food available is often the food that a family may grow in their garden. Many children and young adults have never tasted meat of any kind. A single medical emergency can financially cripple a family.
In this community, things that are taken for granted in other parts of the world, such as books, shoes, clothes that fit, soap, toothpaste, immunizations, and clean water are counted as luxuries. Because of this, education of children is ranked very far down the list of priorities. For a family struggling to provide a single meal a day for their children, the idea of sending their children for education is simply impossible.
For instance, a poverty stricken family may be a single mother raising 4-5 children, with the number of children sometimes climbing to 10-12. The mother may have been widowed because of an accident or disease, or simply abandoned along with her children.
The only work she is able to find is digging in other people’s gardens. If she is lucky, she will be paid around 3000 Ugandan Schillings (approximately 1 US Dollar) for a day of digging. With two growing seasons, consisting of around 3 months, she will be very fortunate to find work every day. But if she does, she can earn as much as 360,000 UG schillings (around $124 US) in the year.
However, the price to send a child to primary level school can range from 120,000-200,000 UG schillings per term. Taking the lowest of these possibilities, the price of sending one of her children to low level primary school (1st grade, in America) will be around 360,000 UG schillings per year (120k/term x 3 terms). That is to say that if she spends every coin that she earns, assuming she has a very successful year of digging, on education, she will be able to afford to send a single child to low level primary for the year.
Having spent all of the money on a single child’s education, however, she has completely neglected feeding any of her children for the year, clothing her children, purchasing any pens, paper, or books to ensure the child’s success, medical care for herself or any of her children. She also has only managed to provide a very basic level education, maybe teaching the child some letters and numbers, but not yet teaching the child to read or do basic math.
In order to provide a level equivalent to a 5th grade education (basic literacy, basic mathematics, basic history, etc) she will have to repeat this process five or six more times. And then the price of education goes up to a level that she cannot possibly attain.So the problem is simple mathematics: she simply cannot send her children to school. And so they grow up, have children of their own, and dig in someone else’s field, struggling to feed their own children.
This circle of poverty is the problem that has plagued Uganda for generations. This problem is the one we intend to change.