Today we’d like to introduce you to Linda Eckerbom Cole.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Linda. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Before I started African Women Rising, I was working and living in Guine Bissau, Angola, Mozambique and Uganda. I spent many years in the development and humanitarian fields, and starting this organization ultimately comes from those years of experience. What really drove me to start a non-profit was a great deal of frustration – seeing failed interventions, short-term thinking, donor driven aid that really did not make a difference and also how so little development is reaching those who are in the greatest need of it.
My background is working with women in conflict and post conflict situations and it was natural that this NGO would focus on that. I spent a year doing research in Norther Uganda, at a time when the conflict between the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army was still ongoing. I had a lot of ideas but experienced enough to understand this was not about my ideas but what was meaningful to the women. What did they consider important to rebuild their lives after years of conflict? What would they like to see from an organization? AWR is based upon initiatives started by the women themselves, we help them realize it. The women in our programs are active participants in defining their own development strategies. We are here to give them that extra push that make it possible to realize.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It is a bit tricky to work in a conflict zone as a parent with two small kids. I was fortunate to be able to live part-time in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, and drive back and forth to the North where my work was happening.
Let’s just say I didn’t choose to do this work because it’s easy. Uganda is one of the most corrupt countries in the world and it can be hard working in that kind of environment. We have good and close working relationships with the local governments in our districts and we are 100% against corruption. I’m sure that sometimes works against us.
Northern Uganda is recovering from 20 years of conflict. Some people have been living in camps for internally displaced for that long. Everything in these communities were destroyed – schools, health centers, local government structures. Many people lost everything they owned – homes, livestock, any assets. Over 50,000 children were abducted. It will take a long time to rebuild from this.
The women in our programs live in extremely remote areas. Sometimes they are completely cut off during the rainy season and it makes our work harder.
Communication can be a problem, you can’t just pick up the phone and call someone. Often times the people we work together with don’t have access to phones or they live in areas with limited network. Language can also be problem as we work with many refugees from South Sudan. We hire refugees in some position to mitigate that problem.
Now, as I am based in Santa Barbara, I go to Uganda once a quarter. It works because of technology. I can have meetings with the management team in Uganda using WhatsApp or Skype. The challenge is there is a 10 hour time difference so a lot of my meetings start late at night. And don’t get me started on making bank transfers, I have spent way too many hours in the middle of the night negotiating a rate or waiting for a confirmation.
We are a small organization with a big impact. I am constantly amazed at the amount of work we are able to do. But we don’t have the resources to promote the way we should. Its a common non-profit problem, you want to spend as much of the funding as possible on programs.
Please tell us about African Women Rising.
African Women Rising was started in 2006. The first year we worked with 150 women and had 1 staff. Today we have a staff of 230 in Northern Uganda and 2 in the US. All our staff in Uganda come from the communities where they work. There are currently just over 20,000 women and men in our programs, 5,000 of them are refugees from South Sudan,
We run three different programs because the women have identified three areas as being most important for them to be able to live their lives with dignity – access to capital, agriculture and education. All programs work together in synergy.
It is hard to do anything unless you have access to capital, that is the truth no matter where you are. We run a modified micro-finance program that help women borrow and save money within their own communities. We are basically building small, local banking systems all across northern Uganda.
When women have access to capital they invest in their farming. Agriculture is the most common way for women in this region to support and feed their families. Any excess is sold to pay for things such as health care and school fees. We run two kinds of agricultural programs, the Organic Field Crop and Permagarden programs. Both look at how to use local resources and simple techniques to improve soil fertility and water retention to increase yields.
AWR is the largest provider of adult literacy in Northern Uganda. Our centers are more than just a place to learn how to read and write. Our facilitators work together with the learners to identify problems in the communities and then come up with a plan for how to solve it. When women know how to read and write they have access to information and can use that in their farming and businesses.
We also work with 1,500 girls in primary school. In some of the areas where we work not a single girl continues to secondary school. Our goal is to have all girls complete primary and be in a position where they no longer need organizations like AWR.
- Website: www.africanwomenrising.org
- Phone: 805 2523645
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: africanwomenrisingorg
- Facebook: African Women Rising