GULU, UGANDA – As temperatures begin to cool and shoppers start looking for fashionable winter wear, many may not know that some popular name brand items are being made by widows in Uganda who are crocheting thousands of beanies and gloves to rebuild their lives.
Last year, more than 75,000 products were created and shipped out of Uganda by one organization called Krochet Kids. Krochet Kids has a robust training program for women in Uganda who create hats, scarfs, bags and other goods, and the products are sold around the globe, from coffee shops and college bookstores toTom’s Marketplace and Nordstrom.
This year, IJM Gulu formalized a new partnership with Krochet Kids; many more women will now be empowered to become leaders not just in their homes, but in their larger community.
IJM’s Work in Gulu
Since IJM opened our newest office in Gulu almost two years ago, more than 150 people have been able to return to their land.
Many of these are widows and orphans, whose land was stolen from them by more powerful neighbors while they were living in Internally Displaced Persons camps (IDP camps). Over the past two decades, nearly 80% of Northern Ugandans were forced to flee their homes due to violent civil war, conflict and unrest. As these women have returned home with children and grandchildren who were raised in IDP camps, many have found their homes occupied and farmland stolen.
Without a home—and land to cultivate—it’s nearly impossible for a widow to provide for her family. When a widow does go to local police, most officers have never been trained on property rights or the related laws. Land deeds are rare, and customary land ownership is not well recorded. Customary marriages are also common in Uganda, and without documentation of a customary marriage or a marriage certificate it is difficult for a woman to prove ownership of land that is legally hers.
This is the battle IJM enters into: helping widows and orphans fight for their land, and helping police understand their role in protecting the vulnerable from violence.
Getting the Tools to Build a Safe Future
Even after a widow is legally restored to her home, it’s critical that she has the tools and skills she will need to stay on the land she has fought so hard for.
Since 2008, Krochet Kids has mentored, educated and employed hundreds of women in Gulu. Krochet Kids has also set up a local credit union, founded and created by their own beneficiaries, that gives the women and their communities the opportunity to save and borrow in times of need.
Jennifer joined Krochet Kids four years ago as a single mother to start earning an income for her family. “Because of my hard work I was quickly promoted to being an instructor,” she says, adding quickly that she has been inspired by all the women she has met along the way. “Women are strong.”
Another woman named Christine said her entire life changed when she joined Krochet Kids. Through the trainings, she said, “we get knowledge: trainings on health, our rights, how to care for our families and how to take out loans and save.”
Widows IJM works with will now be able to benefit from Krochet Kids’ training seminars on personal finance, agriculture and raising livestock. They will also be able to access the organization’s small credit union where they will learn the importance of savings and small loans. Some of the women leading the seminars have themselves benefited from the Krochet Kids program and are able to share their personal stories of success.
Dorothy Oriem, IJM Aftercare Specialist, says the Krochet Kids partnership and trainings won’t just help them survive, it will help them thrive: “Not only will they learn farming skills for feeding, but for business—to get them out of poverty.”
How IJM Will Make Sure Women Stay Safe in this Community
IJM now has a new opportunity to raise awareness and help prevent property grabbing from happening in the first place. IJM lawyers will offer legal seminars as part of Krochet Kids’ training curriculum, to teach the women about their basic rights as Ugandan citizens.
One hundred and forty women attended IJM Gulu’s first legal training organized by Krochet Kids in June 2014. The IJM team explained the importance of formalizing marriage relationships as an important way to secure their property rights.
Some of the women who attended had been living with their male partner for more than 20 years, very much married in the eyes of their community. But without legal documentation of marriage, if a man were to pass away his partner may be more vulnerable to property grabbing. IJM explained how to formalize a marriage now to prevent a legal battle later.
Christine from Krochet Kids said she went home and explained to her husband why formalizing their marriage was important; she even had him put down in writing that he agreed. “Now my home and marriage are peaceful,” Christine says, “My husband is committed and I know I have rights and we have responsibility to register our marriage.”
“Our ultimate goal is to stop property grabbing in Northern Uganda, but we can’t do this alone,” says IJM Gulu Acting Director Liz Wells. She continues, “We need to work alongside aftercare partners like Krochet Kids—so that once the vulnerable are protected by the law from violence, they have a way to a sustainable income, so they don’t just live, they thrive.”