HIV-positive Ugandan women are benefiting from a new crop of 'self-help' projects that are enabling them to support themselves and gain a foothold in the country's formal economy through a combination of affordable loans and small business ventures.
The members of one such project, Bead for Life create jewellery out of papier-mâché beads, which is sold both locally and in the United States. Previously, many of them had struggled to buy food and pay hospital bills.
Over 75 percent of the proceeds of sales go directly to supporting members, their communities, and other impoverished areas in Uganda. Many of the women who qualify for the project are HIV-positive mothers recruited through Nsambya Hospital in the capital, Kampala.
Torkin Wakefield, who founded Bead for Life in 2004, told IRIN/PlusNews the goal is to allow the women to make enough capital to start a business or enrol in vocational training. More than 95 percent of members have individual savings accounts and are saving a substantial portion of their earnings.
"I am the one taking care of myself now," said Robinah Sanyu, who has managed to save 300,000 Uganda shillings (US $173) after 18 months with Bead for Life. She can now afford to rent her own house and has also qualified for a loan from a microfinance bank to start a poultry farming enterprise.
The project also teaches life skills such as small business planning, how to create and monitor a household budget, and how to write a will and designate a guardian for children.
"It is not sufficient to only support HIV-positive people with ARVs [antiretroviral drugs]," commented Dr Apuuli Kihumuro, director of the Uganda AIDS Commission, it was also essential for families affected by HIV/AIDS to have a reliable source of income and a social support network.
Another local nongovernmental organisation (NGO), Reach Out, in which more than 70 percent of the participants are women, provides HIV-positive people with loans to start small business ventures, but they have to be undergoing treatment at Reach Out's health centre in Kampala.
Grace Laker, an HIV-positive woman, had no source of income a few years ago, but after taking out and repaying four Reach Out loans to set up a small grocery shop in Kampala, she now earns over 300,000 shillings ($173) a month.
Reach Out makes about 50 loans a month, averaging about 113,000 shillings ($65) per person. After a 30-day grace period, participants are expected to repay loans in five monthly instalments at a flat interest rate of 10 percent, but there are no penalties for late payment.
This lenience means the loans are high-risk but as testimony of the women's determination to succeed, the organisation reports a repayment rate of between 70 and 80 percent every year. "We take their health as our security," said Joy Nannyunja, coordinator of Reach Out's loan project.
About one million Ugandans are living with HIV, more than half of whom are women. Although women contribute an estimated 50 percent of the country's gross domestic product, they earn about 30 percent less than their male counterparts.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions