Uganda: “The savings and loans project has empowered me”
Florence Okello, 58, is married and lives in Pader district, northern Uganda.
She has 10 children of her own and cares for 10 orphans. She is a member of a CARE savings and loans group in her community, and an activist against gender-based violence. This is her story:
"My husband died at the beginning of the war. He was HIV positive. I was left with 10 children. My sister also died, and I now care for her 10 children too.
"In my culture there is a practice of wife inheritance. It means that when a man dies, his brother ‘inherits’ his wife and children. After my husband died, I found out I was also HIV positive. His family therefore rejected me and became violent.
They attacked me and tried to force me to leave my home and land. They took away all my property and goods. They claimed all the land and just left me in the house, with nothing.
"I reported this to the authorities, who thankfully intervened, and I managed to get the land back, although all my possessions had already been sold. Because I stood firm though, until this day I am in my home with my children.
"I joined a women’s group run by CARE to save some money and use small loans to support my family. When your husband dies, you become very vulnerable.
"However, I was able to borrow money and pay it back slowly, at low interest.
I’ve been able to put five children through school with the help of CARE.
"I’ve also bought a bicycle and a cow. Being part of the group helps in many ways.
"It was the women in the group who persuaded me to take an HIV test, and who encouraged me to take anti-retrovirals. They have helped me to accept my HIV status, I am stronger now.
I have been able to turn my personal experience of violence into something positive. I have helped 10 homesteads in my community by intervening where there has been violence.
"I talk to families about non-violence. If a man doesn’t listen, I look for close friends of that man. I sensitise him about violence and ask him to speak to his friend. It’s a gradual process. Men don’t always listen initially.
"The savings and loans project has empowered me. I am able to raise income and look after my children.
When I look at myself now and before I am so different. After everything I’ve been through, I am stronger now.
"People don’t want to help widows. We are forgotten. Now I look on the savings and loans project as my husband. It can provide for me when I work hard."