As a mother of five children, Hellen felt discouraged. Her family lives in a rural area in Uganda, about 115 miles east of the capital city of Kampala, and she constantly worried about her children’s well-being as she and her husband struggled to provide for them.
“Nothing in my family was going well,” the 30-year-old says. “The makeshift kitchen was leaking badly. When it rained, my family had to go hungry. That was not all. We didn’t have a toilet. We shared with our neighbor. Sometimes we defecated in the nearby bushes.”
They used to relieve themselves in a hole dug in her family’s backyard, which was smelly and attracted a lot of flies.
“I was always scared whenever defecating, especially in the night time or rainy days,” Hellen says. “I had to be stealthy like a thief.”
This whole family of seven shared one small house. She ran a small vegetable stall and barely made enough to provide for her family. She and her husband would search for day labor work, but because they live so far from town, they often had to walk two hours to find such work. Life was hard, and there were times they couldn’t even afford to pay the house rent.
“Sometimes we got a job, sometimes we didn’t,” Hellen says. “When we got a job, we returned with some bread for our children. If not, we were back barehanded. Our children had to sleep without eating their dinner.”
Hellen’s mind and soul were restless.
“I was always thinking of what and how could I feed my children,” she says. “Nights were longer and heavier for me. I couldn’t sleep well. People were reading my worries from my face and advising me not to fret but I couldn’t. Worries were heavily weighing on as I felt inadequate.”
But hope started to break through. Her son, Rome, had become a sponsored child in World Vision’s child sponsorship program. Because of World Vision’s community development model, other programs to help improve their lives took shape in her community as well.
Hellen attended training programs in saving, business skills, and entrepreneurship. In the past, she had lacked capital to expand her vegetable business and, as a result, it earned her very little income. After the trainings, her business skills improved — and so did her business.
She also joined a savings group, where she is now able to save, borrow from the group’s revolving fund, and repay loans at an affordable interest rate. These savings groups are incredibly important for people living in poverty because they provide much-needed financial services for people who don’t have access to traditional banking services.
Another sign of hope also came when Rome’s sponsor sent them a Special Gift. When a sponsor sends a Special Gift, a portion of the money is used for community programs, and the rest goes directly to the child and their family. World Vision staff work with the family to identify the greatest need to address with the Special Gift funds. Items could be teaching and learning materials, or some children also use their Special Gift to buy secondary school uniforms, and this motivates them to study hard. Sometimes the gift helps provide food supplies to support the child and family during the lean season. This prevents sponsored children from traveling to neighboring communities in search for food and money. Some families receive livestock animals for breeding.
“When I got the news I danced, ululated, and sang,” Hellen says. “I hugged my son so tight. I couldn’t believe my ears when World Vision’s community worker told me that Rome’s sponsor had sent him money. The money reached us at our critical time. We thanked God so much and prayed for Rome’s sponsor for blessing.”
Hellen’s new savings and Rome’s Special Gift allowed their family to build a new house — complete with a kitchen and a toilet. With the new house, the family no longer defecates in the bushes near their home, and they also stay dry and protected when it rains. The family’s food and clothing needs were also addressed, and Rome now has a sturdy table to do his schoolwork at as well.
Before World Vision began working in the area, many families struggled with sanitation and hygiene, and experienced a lot of illness, especially from diarrhea. As part of the community programming efforts, World Vision staff has worked to encourage behavior change and assist with improved water, sanitation, and hygiene. Now many families have built toilets.
With improved sanitation, diseases like diarrhea are declining in the community, and Hellen’s children are healthier. Rome’s father, Yusuf, is thrilled with the changes.
“We’re what we are because of our sponsor’s support,” he says. “If I met Rome’s sponsor, I would thanks him for changing our lives. We’re now able to fend for our families. We are even healthier because of cleaner kitchen and toilet.”