Happy faces welcome you to the small building that houses the Kataara Women’s Poverty Alleviation Group in Rubirizi district. The women’s group which started in 2005 with ten people has now grown to 30 members, four of whom are men.
Moses Agaba who founded the group says the main purpose was to provide a source of livelihood for the women most of whom are widowed, promote conservation and also rally the community to protect the animals in the Queen Elizabeth National Park which is within their neighborhood.
“The idea of making paper from elephant dung came from turning a difficult situation into an opportunity. This is because elephants walk into our gardens all the time, destroying crops and incensing the locals so we decided to get what they left in our gardens and make something productive, their dung into paper,” Agaba explained.
He adds that this has enabled the women in the group and the rest of the community to see elephants as contributing to their welfare instead of taking away from.
The elephant dung paper is used to make gift bags, cards, menus, signature/visitors books which are usually bought by tourists heading to the national parks in the area.
The group also makes handicrafts, improved cook stoves and briquettes also made from a mixture of elephant dung and other materials which are all a source of income for the group.
“Having this extra source of income means that the group members and their families do not have to go inside the park to hunt for animals for meat or other resources,” Agaba says.
Jovita Kyomugisha the chairperson of group says the group has changed her life.
“After my husband died, I used to depend on farming, I would work in my garden, then go and work in other people’s gardens just to get some money for my six children. Now with the group, I know I can get that extra income I need so I work in my garden first then come here to work too,” Kyomugisha says.
The members get 25 percent on every item they make that is sold, 5 percent goes to support orphans whose parents died in the park, whey they would go to hurt animals for meat to eat or sell. 20 percent is re-invested in the group’s on-going projects while 50 percent goes to the groups saving and credit scheme where members can save and also get small loans at low interest rates when they need them.
“ We are encouraging more people particularly women to join the group, and now with the funding support, we have been able to go to homes and train others in making handicrafts which we help them to sell,” Kyomugisha said.
The group has twice received small grants from UNDP Uganda’s SENRCAM project and because of their success as a community based initiative, the group was also the recipient of the 2014 Seed Initiative award.