Chris Boddy works voluntary as the UK Director of Hope for Life Katanga, managing the day to day UK operations, working closely with Francis (Uganda Director), to ensure we are supporting families as efficiently as possible. Chris also has a passion for and has worked extensively throughout the food industry, currently applying knowledge and experience within a charcuterie.
By Chris Boddy
At the start of this school year in Kampala, Hope for Life was able to provide formal schooling for 42 children and young adults from Katanga. This was the most we have ever sent and this is amazing! It is also, currently, almost completely useless. That’s right, I said, and meant, useless. I chose that word carefully though because I certainly do not mean to say pointless.
What use is there in knowing the 2 times table if you don’t even get two meals a day and so suffer from malnourishment?
What use is there in knowing that Sn is the chemical symbol for tin if your parents have to pull you out of school so you can earn money scavenging for empty ones?
What use is there in learning that you must boil water before drinking it if you cannot afford the charcoal to do this?
Of course education isn’t pointless, it is essential to ending the cycle of poverty in Katanga and we are so grateful to the sponsors we have that make this possible. Despite this, these children won’t see the benefit from their education until they graduate a decade from now. That is not good enough, we want to see them climbing out of poverty now, not in ten years time.
The biggest challenge we face as a charity is working out the best ways in which to support the families of the children we send to school so that these children can learn, grow and mature in a safe and stable environment. This is actually really difficult to do well and we have learnt as much from our failures as we have from our successes in this area.
Micro loans were one of the first ways in which we tried to boost the income of the families we work with. We gave out small loans to people who had drawn up feasible business plans. We charged no interest and allowed the money to be paid back over many months. The sums involved were relatively small, from a UK perspective at least, and so the risk was low. We expected some defaults and some late payments and factored these into our planning. We didn’t expect to hear that a woman had her hand broken by thieves who broke into her house to steal the chickens she had bought with her loan. In hindsight we should have anticipated this but we didn’t and I still feel terrible when I look back on it. Our well intentioned project had actually resulted in our beneficiaries being put in danger. Although this example was the most extreme, this wasn’t the only time items bought with Hope for Life loans were stolen.
There were other issues too. Katanga is its own micro economy and a very delicate one too. Most of the businesses we supported through the loans project were based in Katanga, some were vegetable stalls, some were street food stalls, some were small shops but none of these stalls had the potential to increase the overall wealth of Katanga. They provided the same services as existing stalls to the same customers who had the same, finite amount of money to spend. The best we could hope for in this scenario would be for our beneficiaries to take market share from their competitors. Competitors who don’t have the backing of a UK based loans project. Competitors who are currently trying to stand, unassisted, on their own two feet. Is that fair? Is it desirable that we should compete with these people?
As we started to appreciate the shortcomings in the micro loans project we decided to place more and more emphasis on the classes we run in our livelihoods building in Katanga. In these classes we teach hairdressing and tailoring both of which are trades that are in constant demand in Kampala. It has been so encouraging to see the progress that our students have made but many of them are now coming to the end of their training with us and will be ready to use their new skills to earn an income from. Together with the soon-to-be graduates, we have been discussing their next steps, taking into consideration the multiple complications and concerns involved.
For example, what is needed in Katanga is more money in total, not just different ways of moving around what little money is already there. As a charity looking to have a substantial impact on this community we need to work out how to get capital either flowing into the slum or stop it flowing out. Most importantly of all we need to work out how to do this whilst keeping our beneficiaries as safe as possible. So what can be done? What could be made in Katanga that our beneficiaries could sell outside of it? What could be provided in Katanga that currently people have to leave the area to buy? What type and what level of support would encourage healthy growth in the whole community, not just for our beneficiaries? These are some of the questions that we are constantly working through, in our effort to best support the families that we work with (and the wider community), out of poverty and towards living a self-sufficient life.
Right now our livelihoods building is being renovated using some of the money raised from the 5 year birthday party we threw in Bristol in October. When completed we will have two rooms rather than just one. This means that we can run our hairdressing and tailoring classes concurrently rather than on alternate days. We are however still in the process of working out how to maximise the benefit of these rooms when they are ready and we need to think hard about the effects and consequences our decisions will have. We would like to open the hairdressing room up as a salon for paying clients for a part of the week but we also need to make sure we don’t negatively affect other local hairdressing businesses. We would like to get the women in the tailoring class making items that could be sold outside of Katanga, maybe even over here in the UK but that raises even more issues: what would be a fair purchase price for any crafts we bought from them? Some items can take days to make, could we pay a realistic hourly rate that reflects this? Would it create an unhealthy dependency on the UK side of Hope for Life if we were their only paying customers? Or is this just an example of modern trade and globalisation?
As you can see, running a good livelihoods project is challenging and it is a lot more complicated than it seems at first. All the questions in this article are both rhetorical (asked to make a statement about the complexity of development) and genuine questions. If you would like to contribute to the discussion then you can do so by adding a comment below.