Celebrating Matriarchs: Ursula’s Incredible Story

Written by
Eryn Austin-Bergen
Published on
May 9, 2024 at 7:07:42 PM PDT May 9, 2024 at 7:07:42 PM PDTth, May 9, 2024 at 7:07:42 PM PDT

Ursula proudly holds a bundle of her freshly harvested kale.

"Life before was difficult, feeding our children was difficult. We survived on a single meal a day,” Ursula remembers.

“I couldn't afford school fees for my children which forced them to drop out, so they married really young,” she continues. “Early marriage resulted in giving birth to children who were not planned. Their marriages did not go well and that is why I have so many grandchildren I am taking care of.”

At 66 years old, Ursula finds herself the primary caregiver to seven grandchildren—as well as to her husband, Stephen, who is already 79. As she ages, it’s getting harder. She no longer has the stamina to walk three or four kilometers (each way!) to the farmland she used to rent. Instead, she cultivates the land closer to home which is smaller and less productive. Acidic soil and prolonged periods of drought add to the strain put on Ursula as she is forced to manually water her vegetable garden.

Ursula and her husband (far right) love their grandchildren, and she's working hard to upgrade their home (see the cement siding on the house to the left!).

“When I was faced with these problems, I was feeling angry and fearful, and was tired from not getting enough sleep. I lost my appetite and withdrew from others. As a mother, I struggled,” Ursula shares.

Someone in the community saw Ursula’s struggle and connected her to a local community-based organization called Bunghoko Rural Development Centre. They trained people on vocational skills and through their workshops, Ursula learned how to organize and manage Savings and Loans groups. A quick learner, Ursula formed her first group with 15 members (10 women and five men). 

They started saving a small amount each week and by the end of their saving cycle, Ursula had set aside enough money to start making and selling bricks. With her income, she bought premium materials to upgrade her own home. 

Joining FH Uganda took her to the next level. “Since I was already a trained savings group facilitator and knew my community better, I joined FH as a Lead Farmer and a Savings and Loans group leader.” 

Ursula took agricultural training with FH to deepen her knowledge of organic farming. She learned how to make her own fertilizer with compost and livestock manure, as well as how to collect free mulch and use it to suppress weeds and pests and conserve water. As a result, she’s harvesting way more than before! And she’s teaching others to do the same thing. 

Ursula with the plowing machine her savings group bought to share among the farmers, making their work faster and less labour intensive.

“As a Lead farmer, I am now involved in promoting organic farming,” she explains. “I train my fellow farmers and this has enabled me to make a notable change in farmers’ livelihoods.”

She now grows maize, raises cattle and poultry, and boasts a robust vegetable garden filled with tomatoes, sukuma, eggplant, cabbage, and pumpkins. “We eat these vegetables at home, and I sell some, too. This income helps me buy paraffin, sugar, and cooking oil for my family,” she says. “I also save 2,000 shillings every week.”

For Ursula, the best part of all these changes is that she can now provide for her grandchildren.

“My family has changed—we have enough food and greens to eat and this has improved my health and my grandchildren’s health. We are enjoying three meals a day!” she exclaims. “I can even pay for my grandchildren’s education and other necessary expenses.” 

The joy and pride she feels motivate her to continue working to change her community. The new savings group Ursla formed after being trained by FH is twice as large as the firstboasting 30 members, all of whom are farmers.

Under Ursula’s leadership, the group has pooled their resources to buy three bulls and a plowing machine which they share. But they’re not stopping there. Ursula shares: “My target is to see every household with a plowing machine and oxen for plowing so that the money they now use to rent [these] can instead be used to purchase whatever else they need for their farms.”

These kinds of innovations will make gardening less labour-intensive (so, easier for aging caregivers like Ursula), cheaper, and more sustainable. Combined with the FH agricultural training she received on using available resources like farmyard manure to increase yields, Ursula can now harvest between 300 – 500 kilograms of maize in a single season on the same land that used to produce a meagre 30 kilograms.

In the midst her flourishing garden, Ursula shows off her pumpkin plants and the other produce that help her feed her precious grandchildren.

News of her successful farm is getting around. “I used to sell vegetables from my home in my village. But, now, vegetable vendors from neighbouring areas come to buy vegetables directly from my garden,” she says. “This has saved me from having to [walk] long distances. In addition, I get the opportunity to train these vendors and share my experiences with them, thus empowering them.”

Ursula’s community is also changing. In years past, only men owned land, which, according to Ursula, made women dependent and negatively affected food production in the community. Through partnership with FH Uganda, however, mindsets are beginning to shift. The community is increasingly empowering both men and women to own assets, which has led to increased food production as women are allowed to take full ownership of their gardening efforts and what they harvest

More children, especially girls, are being supported by their parents to finish school instead of marrying young like Ursula’s children did. In making this change, the community is taking another powerful step toward breaking the generational cycle of poverty.

It’s innovative and courageous matriarchs like Ursula who are catalyzing their communities to embrace positive change and create a flourishing future for their children and grandchildren. 

“I am very grateful to FH—at the age of 66 years I feel empowered!” Ursula exclaims.

You can partner with women like Ursula and empower them to lead their families and communities out of poverty. 

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