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Reachin out, Uganda- By Rohini Jog (Volunteer, India)

Reachin out, Uganda- By Rohini Jog (Volunteer, India)

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"It’s a challenge to step out of a lucrative career to become a global citizen, but then some one has to raise their hands to make a difference in the poorest and most vulnerable communities"- says Rohini
"It’s a challenge to step out of a lucrative career to become a global citizen, but then some one has to raise their hands to make a difference in the poorest and most vulnerable communities"- says Rohini

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Published by: iVolunteer Overseas India on Apr 17, 2012
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iVolunteer Overseas
D-134, First Floor, East of KailashNew Delhi-110065Tel.: +91 11-26217459Email : vso@ivolunteer.inWebsite: www.ivoindia.org
Reaching out, Uganda
By: Rohini Jog, VSO Volunteer, India
My first impression is that Kampala is very green, very hilly … everything
that has happened so far has left me with a
happy warm fuzzy feeling …’
 I loved my job in India but volunteering with VSO in Kampala opened awhole new world for me. Suddenly my job was exciting, fun andmeaningful at the same time.
When I came to reach Out, Uganda, I was expecting
 – 
NOTHING,besides the novel experience of living in a foreign country.
So, when I looked at the project and the livelihood projects currently running within, I wasimpressed, coz I felt like there was some real work in progress. It seemed that the infrastructurerequired to run these projects was in place in terms of people, equipment and training.The VSO volunteer there preceding me had created excellent systems, reports and documentationto track sales and stock and pricing.So, what was the issue then? Why were the Roses of Mbuya consistently losing money?It seemed that management skills and marketing skills were sorely lacking. So, even though wewere sitting on a great product, a great idea with a lot of market potential, the execution of theproject was in trouble.
So, my work was cut and dried.
 
When I first came to Uganda, I was told by my Program Officer at VSO that I should take it ea
 
sy
and not try to do too much too quickly from the word ‘GO’. Realistically, it might take me up to 3
months to actually begin contributing and sharing skills with the organization. At the time, I had
viewed it as ‘typical NGO’ attitude. I had no experience of working in development sector and had
always viewed the NGO machinery a bit like government machinery
 –
slack and bureaucratic!!But when I first came to Reach Out, I realized that that was not the reason why I was told to bepatient, but that there really was not much choice if I had to understand the environment I wasgoing to work in for the next 1 year.So, I literally sat it out for 3 months, just watching the proceedings, getting to know people, thework they do, how they feel about it, how does Reach Out function, what are the dynamics,professional and interpersonal. I must say it was a wonderful learning exercise.
 
 
iVolunteer Overseas
D-134, First Floor, East of KailashNew Delhi-110065Tel.: +91 11-26217459Email : vso@ivolunteer.inWebsite: www.ivoindia.org
It was frustrating at times to just sit and feel so useless (I came from a work culture where
spending 12 hours at work or more!! was routine). And sometimes I even felt like, “this is a wasteof time; I am never going to learn anything in this way!”
 But, as I sat and watched and listened, I also began experiencing a slow integration with the rest of the people at Reach Out.I had no doubt that I was being watched closely especially with my interaction with the ROSES,since this was a project more or less written off by everyone and the only person who seemed to
have some faith in its ‘right to exist’ was the Project Coordinator. The Roses of Mbuya had lost 20
mil Ugs (approx.10, 000 USD) in the year 2004. The VSO volunteer preceding me had done anaudit and st
rongly recommended that the project is a ‘white elephant’ and should be shut down. I
tended to agree because logically anybody could see that when there is only so much money wehave, it should be spent more judiciously on items like medicine, for example, and not be
‘squandered’ on paying expenses of a livelihood program that supported 15 people and had lost
money for the 3rd year in a row.But, my driving force to try and make a go for it came from 3 quarters
 –
 One - the faith Dr.Margrethe Juncker, the dynamic Project Coordinator of Reach Out seemed todisplay in the ability of the ROSES.Two, the faith displayed by Clodagh Warde, a consultant with Reach Out from the UK on a 9month assignment to primarily carry out organization restructuring (Reach Out had grown from 3volunteers and 14 clients to 230 volunteers and 1900 clients in a space of 4 years and was typically
facing what is popularly known as ‘pangs of growth.’ Hence, Clodagh, who had also volunteered
with Reach Out earlier, was brought in to help the organization carry out an evaluation andrestructuring exercise to enable smoother and cohesive functioning).Clodagh was looking after the workshop (a stop gap arrangement till I arrived) and was in theprocess of executing an export order to the UK
for children’s clothes. Also, they had just been
through a workshop with Danish Fair Trade and there seemed to be an aura of optimism due tothese two facts.Thirdly, my own conscience seemed to tell me that if they had called in a VSO volunteer in ordert
o attempt to set right whatever is wrong and had identified ‘lack of marketing skills’ as one of their key issues, then they must mean ‘business’ and this was not just a half 
-hearted attempt to
set a ‘wrong’ ‘right’.
 Also, given the fact that the ROSES had actually never worked at 100% productive capacity, to me,was a big problem, even to ascertain whether the model they were working with is potentiallyprofitable or not! How does one know the true capacity of a production unit if it has never workedat even half of its potential or projected capacity? (I am sure there are statistics to work this out,
but I have always stayed away from that subject…I think stats encourages stereo typing :
-)).Anyway, after a good 3 months of this sitting out, I finally began to venture out of my shell andbegun building on the fragile bonds I had created with different people at Reach Out (All this iscoming to me as a retrospective, I definitely did not do any or most of this by design). I startedinitiating a one-on-one relationship with people at Reach Out, most importantly, with the Rosesthemselves (the tailors) and the supervisors and managers. I began to actively follow-up withevery conceivable lead that might bring in work for the workshop. (I have a background in
 
 
iVolunteer Overseas
D-134, First Floor, East of KailashNew Delhi-110065Tel.: +91 11-26217459Email : vso@ivolunteer.inWebsite: www.ivoindia.org
business development, but since I knew nothing about the country or business I thought the mostprudent line would be to follow-up on all queries being generated by default and convert thesewhile I try and learn more about competition, potential buyers, distribution outlets etc.).Since the workshop was not making money anyway, I decided to switch focus on just generatingenough work to enable 100% (or close to 100%) productivity. So, I began to make contractualagreements with different organizations, mainly other NGOs who had work for us (conference
bags to nurses’ uniforms…we did it all!!). The objective was to just keep the ROSES busy and of 
course try to make profitable deals to the most possible extent. Slowly, but surely, it startedcoming together and
I began to realize that my ROSES (by that time they had become ‘MY ROSES’
in my head) had some superlative advantages and positive traits that actually made
this ‘successstory’ possible!
Just to list a few key ones
 –
 1.
 
Reach Out is a young dynamic organization whose management has a never-say-die
attitude and the ability to stick through times of trouble and emerge winners! (Don’t know
even many corporations who can say that for themselves).2.
 
Almost 70% of the volunteers (Reach Out has no employees, only volunteers who areoffered a stipend) at Reach Out are clients (HIV+) who all truly believe that this
organization has been singularly responsible for their ‘second chance’ as they call it andhence, they truly understand what is ‘positive living’. This attit
ude reflects in everything
that takes place in this organization. So, the ‘resurrection’ of the ROSES was a part of this
belief.3.
 
Reach Out has an enviable infrastructure and at this point is a fairly well fundedorganization, meaning, its risk taking ability was a bit healthier than most organizationsmight have in comparison. This is not taking away anything from the spirit of theorganization, but is stated as a mere fact. (Am sure there are plenty of well-fundeddevelopment projects with snazzy systems who cannot recognize their left from theirright!)4.
 
The Roses of Mbuya comprises of the most fantastic group of 15 women that I am evergoing to have the good fortune to work with again. They are clever, intelligent, brave, hardworking, funny and most importantly, FIGHTERS! The credit of this turnaround of fortuneof the ROSES goes entirely to them.A little more about the ROSES, just so that the reader understands what are some of the odds forwomen living with HIV in Africa
 –
 Like practically anywhere else in the world, almost all the ROSES come from extremelyimpoverished backgrounds and had no marketable skills till they tested HIV+ and were offered a
chance to develop livelihood skills, in this case, sewing, by Reach Out’s vocational training school.
Till that point they were largely dependent on their husbands or other men in the family to earnthe bread while they produced children. Contracting HIV meant loss of any semblance of normalfamily life largely due to the death of the loved ones or being abandoned by these same lovedones due to stigma. Not only that, now they found themselves in the unenviable position of looking after themselves and the children (very often the children are not all their own, but areorphans from next of kin or even children of second or third wives of their spouses), with nolivelihood skills or education whatsoever.This also illustrates why livelihood programs are such important components of an HIV/AIDSmanagement program. The choices left to uneducated, unskilled men and women left to fend for

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