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Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park, USA


Pastoralist Women in Uganda “Moving Mountains”



Lilly Amony and her husband in the goat pen


Karamoja is a magically beautiful, but arid and intensely hot region in northeast Uganda. Slowly recovering from decades of ethnic conflict and instability, it remains the least developed area of the country.

Its pastoralist communities are deeply rooted in tribal traditions, with strong gender disparities between men and women. While women rarely make decisions in the family, small but significant changes are starting to sprout, initiated by the women themselves, turning a life of obstacles into potential opportunities.

One of these women is Lilly Amony, a 42-year-old mother of eight from the Karamojong tribe, living in the remote village of Napwatapuli.

A view from the Napwatapuli village, Uganda

Moving briskly around her manyatta, a homestead consisting of grass-thatched mud huts surrounded by a fence, Lilly smiles broadly as she introduces the new additions to her home.

“That’s a latrine I had built, and there is a bathing shed and a drying rack for clothes,” she says, pointing to simple shelters constructed from mud and twigs. Then moving to a fenced animal pen, she says with great pride, “And here are the goats I myself bought.”

Lilly, like most Karamojong women, married young, has a large family and no education. In Karamoja, where less than 5 percent of youth are enrolled in secondary school, most people lack basic knowledge of hygiene, nutrition and how to conduct a stable livelihood. As a result of malnutrition and sickness, 102 out of every 1,000 children die before reaching their fifth birthday.

USAID is stepping up to help with a program called Apolou (“growth” in local language) to improve food and nutrition security for vulnerable households. A bonus: it’s contributing to women’s ability to create change and strengthen self-reliance of their communities.

Women in Napwatapuli Take Charge of Their Lives

When the initiative started in Napwatapuli in May 2018, Lilly learned the importance of clean water and sanitation practices for her family’s health and was immediately inspired to make changes at home. In a Mother Care Group, led by a Leader Mother -- a respected woman chosen by the community -- she and neighboring women were taught about the importance of good nutrition for health.

“I am now using beans, various vegetables and cooking oil, and know how to keep my children healthy and safe,” she says.

Anna Nakwang, one of the 11 Leader Mothers in the village trained through the USAID activity, plays a key role in changing old habits.

Leader Mother Anna Nakwang

“I make home visits and talk to women about hygiene and how to prepare more diverse foods. I also encourage pregnant women to get antenatal care and get tested for diseases, like HIV,” she says. Polygamy is common in Karamoja, contributing to the spread of HIV, which affects 6 percent of the Ugandan population.

The activity also reaches out to men who are open to different perspectives, including Lonyia Loger, one of the four Male Change Agents in the village.

“I was inspired when I was chosen for the role. I started to make decisions together with my wife and it improved our life together,” he describes. “I do peer-learning with men, encouraging them to go to antenatal visits and share responsibilities with their wives.” And men are starting to come around, as they see positive changes taking place in their village.

The project has reached 36,000 women through the Mother Care Groups, is working with over 3,000 Male Change Agents, and improved access to improved sanitation -- including latrines and handwashing facilities -- for over 2,500 people.

“I was inspired when I was chosen for the role. I started to make decisions together with my wife and it improved our life together,” he describes. “I do peer-learning with men, encouraging them to go to antenatal visits and share responsibilities with their wives.” And men are starting to come around, as they see positive changes taking place in their village.

The project has reached 36,000 women through the Mother Care Groups, is working with over 3,000 Male Change Agents, and improved access to improved sanitation -- including latrines and handwashing facilities -- for over 2,500 people.

With one small change at a time, the residents of Napwatapuli are taking charge of their lives. Lilly Amony certainly is.

“In addition to taking better care of my children, I am now earning income for my family,” she says. As her husband is unable to work, Lilly started saving money through the Village Savings and Loans Activity, another aspect of the USAID initiative, aiming to improve women’s livelihoods.

“When I got my first share of 400,000 Ugandan shillings ($108), I bought sorghum and started selling it,” she says. Her income from sorghum, the key food staple in Karamoja, soon doubled. “With the profit I got from the sorghum sales, I bought the goats.”

Lilly has become a role model for women in her community because of her savvy business decisions. “Many have asked me how to save and start a business,” she says. “I am so excited that women now come for advice and I can help them improve their lives.”

Lilly has become a role model for women in her community because of her savvy business decisions. “Many have asked me how to save and start a business,” she says. “I am so excited that women now come for advice and I can help them improve their lives.”



As an old proverb goes, “When sleeping women wake, mountains move.”

The women in Karamoja are taking vital steps towards moving the mountains that are in the way of their children’s and their own well-being.



Quote of the Day:
“Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man's self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.”


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