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Monitoring social transformation for the vulnerable using visioning and household mentoring

©IFAD/Radhika Chalasani

Members of the Busiisi SIDA women's group in Hoima meet to distribute funds. Members must demonstrate that they have a working business before they can apply for a loan.

The District Livelihoods Support Programme (DLSP), implemented by the Ministry of Local Government in Uganda, and funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has been piloting the use of visioning and household mentoring as a new approach to tackle rural poverty among poor communities. The approaches have the unique aspect of providing social transformation for the most vulnerable households by empowering them to make joint decisions as a family and tackle their challenges. So far, the approach has shown great improvement in family income, gender equality, as well as awareness of other community programmes from which households can benefit.

In visioning, the targeted household members are guided to develop a vision - a clear description of how they would like their households to look like after exploring possible strategies to fight poverty.   It is an expression of what they want to be, a preferred future, where their basic rights have been achieved. This approach is implemented through the household mentoring approach, whereby a designated mentor sits together with all members of the family and helps them to develop a vision for the family, by identifying the issues impeding their development. The family looks back to their lives and then discusses what they can change to improve their livelihoods. Together with the mentor they find solutions to foster the personal, social and economic growth of the household.  

Mentors use a number of tools such as the vision journey, where a family expresses its objectives by using drawings and pictures. Different symbols are used, for example a sunshine represents the objectives a family wants to attain, a circle in the middle shows where the family are currently positioned and a lower circle shows where the family was before the mentoring. In addition, a very rugged road links up the two circles, while a smooth road from the present circle to the sunshine shows the road to be travelled to reach the objectives.

The Vision Journey is one of the tools of the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) implemented by Oxfam Novib in western Uganda. The DSLP staff first interacted with the methodology during a Learning Route organized by Procasur. Later, they received further training from Oxfam NOVIB through an IFAD Grant.

The idea of introducing these approaches was to address a major challenge identified earlier in project implementation where some of the households benefiting from the project were unable to make social transformation because they believed they were incapable. "The programme contracted experts from Resource Projects Kenya in 2010 to develop a Household Mentoring Handbook which could work in our context," said Josephine Ruko, sociologist for the DLSP programme.

In 2011, a year after the manual was developed, the mentoring commenced. A number of mentors were recruited based on the following criteria: they had to volunteer to do it, they had to be respected in their community and be literate. Gender balance was part of the consideration with 50 percent of mentors being women. "It was important to have that balance as a female-headed household would be more confortable with a female mentor. In other cases, a male head of a household may not easily accept a woman mentor," explained Ruko. Each mentor had to mentor 10 households, usually within the vicinity of their own house.

The vulnerable households are selected with the help of the district, sub county, village leaders, and the community at large. They were required to have some physical assets such as land that they are not using; they were to be very poor and unable to use what they have. The mentor's main role is to work closely with the vulnerable household to identify their own challenges. In that role, he or she has to first build up a relationship of trust by visiting the household at least once a week. The process involves all the household members, including the children.

After one to two years of mentoring, the household is given a food security grant to ensure they have enough food and planting materials for the next season. Once they gain confidence and build self-esteem, they join enterprise groups and begin to learn more about how to overcome poverty. Through this approach, farmers have learnt how to use better practices to grow their crops, to take care of livestock, and to have their children immunized. Mentors also give advice on how to plan together as a family and keep the proceeds from the crop sale to cover other needs such as school fees.

At Iwemba sub-county in Bugiri District, Uganda, the family of James Chamwada, a husband of two wives, and 10 children has benefited from this approach.  The family was one of those identified for support under the DSLP project.  With the support of mentor Olala Amunabi, the family was able to discuss their situation at the time highlighting poor hygiene and sanitation in the home, which exposed the family to disease outbreaks, lack of immunization for the children, and also not taking their children to school. Another big problem was a medical condition affecting their second born daughter, hydrocephalus. Her illness was a constant worry for the entire family, compounded with lack of finances to access medical care. The two wives were also not relating well with one another causing disunity in the family. They also found that while the family relied on subsistence farming solely for the family upkeep, they were not reaping from the farm's potential as a result of poor timing of planting, delayed harvesting and other negative farming practices.  

They then identified the immediate things they needed to do such as building a latrine using locally available materials; taking all the children for the necessary immunization; and registering them in school. Olala also shared with them ideas to improve their farming, and also referred them to the district hospital where their daughter started receiving the much needed medical attention. Through regular visits and discussions, the family of Chamwada has come to accept and trust Olala. The joint discussions helped to improve the relations between the two wives, as they no longer see themselves as adversaries. Together, they developed a family vision. One of the family goals was to own a rice swamp nearby, to expand their income. To achieve this goal, Chamwada first started by leasing a swamp.  He sold the harvested rice and after saving a while, he was able to buy his own swamp. Although Chamwada agrees that providing for a big family such as his is a challenge, he is more hopeful of the journey ahead.    

Biribawa, a member of the Nambo ‘B' Agali Awamu Integrated Association, is one of the farmers who benefited from the methodology. The married mother of nine children, aged 12-27, struggled to make a living and provide for her family. "I was a housewife. My husband had no formal employment and is a drunkard," said Biribawa. Five of her older children had dropped out of primary school, mainly because of lack of parental guidance. "My enterprise group helped us to understand the value of education," she said. The four younger children are now in school and one of them even managed to seat for secondary school exams. Besides taking their children to school, the family's vision was to construct a permanent house. Through the income from the improved farming and weaving of mats, the family has been able to raise money to build a permanent house.

In some rare cases, the household relapses into old ways after the mentoring period is over. When this happens, the mentor goes back to the household to help them redress the situation. Mentors themselves tend to graduate into bigger roles such as the village or community counsellor.

DSLP has been able to share their experiences with other IFAD-funded projects in Uganda through the Uganda Knowledge Management and Learning (KM&L) Working Group, coordinated by the IFAD Uganda Country Office.  The group is composed of: - i) the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS), ii) the Vegetable Oil Development Project Phase II (VODP2), iii) Rural Finance Support Programme (RFSP), iv) the Community Agricultural Infrastructure Improvement Programme – Project 1 (CAIIP-1), v) Kalangala Oil Palm Development Project (KOPGT), and v) DSLP. Two projects – NAADS and VODP2 are keen on replicating the methodology in their project areas. The working group is a platform for sharing lessons, tools, innovations and experiences across projects.