Talks on Community development, being young and Founding ASHWA Uganda!
Eric Omondi is the founder for Alliance for Sustainable Health and Wealth in Africa (ASHWA), a Community Based Organisation (CBO) focused on as their slogan goes, ‘working together to support the most vulnerable communities.’ This consists of teaching women in various regions in Uganda to make re-usable sanitary towels; especially in Buyengo Busia Uganda, working with Citizen Voice and Action CVA (Busia) together with World Vision so as to implement community development strategies, partnering with BRAC Uganda with Eric as a MasterCard scholars Facilitator in leadership congresses, among so many other roles and activities as we’ll explore other up-coming blogs on this website. [Read the article on Ashwa here].
I met Eric at the ‘Participatory Action Research and PhotoVoice Symposium’ organised by BRAC – Uganda at the Silver Springs Hotel Bugoolobi Kampala this year [click here to read article], and it was then that he approached and was officially introduced to me as the founder of Ashwa Uganda by Honda and Wilfred, founders of The Purple Ray and the Alive Again Foundation (AAF) respectively. We then briefly got into a discussion about his work and mine, coming to a conclusion that we should work together. As mentioned in the previous article, I have been staying in Busia for more than a week now, working with ASHWA (See Intro article here) and thus happened to have this interview with Eric. Read below!
- How did you come up with the idea of Ashwa Uganda?
After an opportunity of travelling to Denmark and having a capacity building training in International Project planning and Management by Uganda Red Cross Society, I returned to Uganda to Arua and my role was to support the Arua Red Cross Projects, Ideas, helping young people carb teenage pregnancy issues, learn to speak up, among others but unfortunately Red Cross got into a ‘misuse of resources’ scandal at the time. So since my project had been affected, I left Arua and returned to Busia where I stayed for about six months without any serious productivity going on. It was then that I noticed that mom, being the women representative in my village, was having women come over to report their problems among which were abuse in marriages and menstrual hygiene issues.
It was after that that I started pressing my mom to reveal to me the nitty-gritty of what was going on but of course me being a male, and the issues being particularly feminine, she ignored me and gave me a no-go-ahead. However, by virtue of her being my mom, she eventually mentioned to me what was going on and I was excited, revealing to her that something could be done about it. So I researched on Google, downloaded a lot of manuals, self-taught on menstrual hygiene, attended courses, and that is how I learned about re-usable sanitary pads. After that, I trained my mother. Then we started running Reproductive Health Sessions for the women. We then started making pads, teaching women, taking pictures, sharing them and that is how Ashwa Started but on Buyengo village level. Later in 2015, after volunteering with another NGO in Busia, I was able to now launch the initiative in Busia town and we have been running ever since.
- What are you hoping to accomplish in the long run?
I want to build a very sustainable model and have the organisation expand so we can enrich even more people.
- How have you managed to take on various roles successfully?
Of course, as the founder of Ashwa and now Executive Director, I have had to commit all my time, energy and resources to see that the organisation grows. It has not been an easy journey given the fact that we are mostly operating on meagre resources but I am happy that I have been able to build this CBO from scratch to where we are now.
- How are you working to develop the organisation?
Over time, I am building a very rich network of like-minded persons, very energetic young people, passionate, and committed. Through this network, I am able to share responsibilities and also my energies with them to be able to enhance their capacities in reaching out to those in need. I am sharing experiences through training, weekly meetings with volunteers through which they are able to relate with their daily lives, on how we operate at Ashwa, and this is helping the organization grow.
- What is the process like for selecting volunteers and the team/ employers you work with?
First of all, we don’t call out for volunteers. Most of our volunteers are ‘walk-in’ people and these are mostly people we have interacted with through our community engagements.
Also during our outreaches, many young people come in and are able to see what we do and this inspires them a lot. In the end, they want to join this big great team in order to be able to support even more people. Also, you might be able to see, we have a pretty strong presence on social media especially Facebook so many young people are following us up there. Then when they come through, first we check; are they really passionate about community development, about reaching out to someone and saving their life or supporting them in any way, and then we get to ask for their academic credentials. Yes, most of the volunteers are university graduates, who’d say ‘hey, I am done with school, I can’t find work to do yet I would like to put my skills to use, gain some more and build my CV.’ So after that process, we now enrol them as our volunteers and give them Agreements that mention what they will do, how they will do it, etcetera. Then we keep checking on their commitment, and that’s how we choose who to keep as a volunteer officer for a project and who not to.
- What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in running ASHWA Uganda?
Many people would go by finances but I think that is very obvious that of course when you’re running an organisation it’s true that a lot of resources are required and most times that resource is not very available especially financial resources and human resources that are key to running an organisation like ASHWA. So the biggest challenge up to now is that I have had to spend a lot of financial resources that are spent in providing for the volunteers, human resource, paying the rent, clearing most of these bills and utilities that we have as an organisation. Of course, I have had some time to mobilise some of those resources from the community and even outside the community, but it’s not easy to get have it all come through.
The challenge I have with human resources is that I am quite young for this achievement. That’s what many people think but I think age is just a number. It doesn’t matter when you can always achieve it for as long as you are passionate about it and you have your focus clear, it will always come through.
- What have you learned as a founder that you’d find most empowering?
Be the change that you want to see in the world. I derive that from Mahatma Gandhi. I have learned that for me, for the world or for anyone to achieve sustainable Health, it has to start with me. I have to be healthy, so that I help them get into healthy lifestyles and I believe that if we achieve sustainable health in all its forms; people are able to access quality health care, they are able to eat well, they can do everything that they have within their means to keep safe, that would mean that then we are wealthy, and we can achieve sustainable community development and at the end of the day like Gandhi says, be the change that you want to see in the world.
So it starts with me, to you, and in the end to the rest of the world. So if each one of us takes in that, that ‘I will protect you just as I protect myself, I will provide for you just as I can provide for myself, I will teach you to fish, not to give you fish’, then at the end of the day we’ll at least have some form of equality that will last for many & many years to come.
- What is your vision for ASHWA Uganda?
Well, I envision sustainable growth in terms of one; we would have a lot more resources in the next five to ten years to be able to reach out to many other Ugandans in about two or three regions in this country. Then, I also see us fully built in terms of staff, logistics, and enough to keep us running. In terms of community development, I see us empowering people especially those at the grassroots level and at the end, of course, seeing a healthy and prosperous community, with us reaching out to a few thousands of people, and not just hundreds of them.
- What word of encouragement/advice would you share with the readers and the youths out there, in striving for community development?
We always have to believe in ourselves. The time to start is now, the place to start is here and we got everything with our means to start now and here to change someone’s life. Change is a gradual process, it comes one at a time, it takes us block by block to be able to achieve sustainable development, to impact lives, to promote whatever ideologies that we have, and to achieve equality at the end of it all. So in everything we do, empowerment, capacity building, is all step by step, block by block, and it starts with us before we can roll it up there. So we have to believe in ourselves and know that we start now and here. And just like Martin Luther King said, no matter what, you have to keep going. It doesn’t matter how, whether you walk, you crawl, jump, or fly. All you have to do is keep going.
- Me: Any Questions you have for me?
Me: Any questions you have for someone out there?
Eric: What are they waiting for to start?