The Women of Rabaga

Rabaga is a district of Kampala, Uganda. It rests on the slope of a hill. Within Rabaga and hidden from the street by small store fronts is an area referred to as a slum. Indeed, it may be a slum, but it is not without a strong sense of community: made stronger by the women who belong to the Rabaga Women’s Lending Group. They meet once a week but their spirit permeates their community daily. They are leaders who wish to make a difference in their community. And, they all own businesses within this area.

I went to attend the group meeting with my translator, Herbert. As we entered the district (there is no problem regarding safety, the people are very welcoming), Herbert went to a small shack, perhaps 10 x 15, and entered behind two cooking pots heated by charcoal. A roof of corrugated steel hangs over the entrance. Two women are attending the pots and a number of naked babies wander and play in front. Behind the pots is a small opening thru which Herbert disappeared. I, loitering only briefly to say my hello’s, did not notice his quick disappearance. In an instant, he was gone. When I noticed there was a group behind the opening, I went in.

Herbert was already greeting the seated women. Inside there were two tables about the size of picnic tables. Against the wall, facing the room, sat the council of five women. In the middle was the Credit Officer. All the women sat very closely together, as the room was small. They were very much as one, and the business of the day was well underway. On the tables each person had a lending booklet to keep tabs of their account. In total there were 18 women in the small shack.

As mentioned, Herbert was addressing the women as I entered. He was in the back facing the council leaders. They all were speaking in Luganda, but many English words sprinkled the conversation, though I could not make out anything until Herbert said “Douglas”. That must be my cue. (They call be Douglas because when I arrived in Uganda, I introduced myself as Doug but they found that strange. So, I tried Douglas and have had no problem sense.)

I rose and thanked them for allowing me to observe, told them about why I was there: “I represent an organization that helps to connect lenders to people who have businesses like yourselves”. Herbert stopped me often, to interpret. “Hmm. Hmm” the women would comment. They were very focused. I continued. “I am very pleased to be with you” “Hmm. Hmm”, they replied. A few more pleasantries followed by hmm, hmms and I sat down. The meeting went on.

At the end of the meeting, Herbert said that now we will go and visit their businesses. With this we entered the heart of the district. Rabaga doesn’t so much embrace you as it does engulf you. Almost immediately you become “lost” as you wind and turn along narrow paths. Huts of brick, adobe, wood and corrugated steel are tightly woven together. At every turn people are standing by cooking pots fueled by charcoal, digging trenches or building structures. Just as quickly as you see them you make another turn and they are gone.

For the next 4-5 hours, we walked and visited. Most of the women in group went along quite interested in what was happening. When we would enter a hut, only large enough for 2-3 people, the others stayed outside, occasionally looking in. They did not discuss a lot among themselves, for they were intent on what was happening. This was a business meeting and they treated it as such.

The women had no problem answering all of my questions: how old are you, are you single, married, widowed (many are widowed, due to AID’s), how many children do you care for, (often 6-10: 3 to 6 of their own and almost always an additional 2-4 of brothers and sisters who have died). How large was your loan ( these loans are in the range of $175.00), how do you plan to use the loan, what are your dreams for the future (with this they always smile, for they do have dreams) often it is to own their own home (10 x 10 hut) and they want  their children to go to school with uniforms. It is all very business like and they treat the process with a high degree of respect.

It is quite a rewarding experience to interview these women on sucn a candid level. It should be noted that only a few thought they might like to one day leave this area of Rabaga. This is their home, where they raise their children and have their friends. They do not see themselves anywhere else, only to improve their lives in Rabaga. Rabaga is a strong united community due in part because of these determined women.


About the author