One on One with Ann McCarthy - Paving the Way to Facilitating Development
I really wanted to find something a bit more personal, and this happened when my driver took me into an orphanage in Kampala.... Ann has now joined up with Ida Horner of Ethnic Supplies Ltd and together, they are organising the Gala Dinner and Auction on 17th October at the Hilton Hotel, Cobham.
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First published: June 18, 2008
For some people retirement means kicking back and enjoying the freedom offered by not having to get up and answer to someone else's beck and call in order to sustain the required living standards afforded by the individual in question. For one 65-year old grandmother, it would appear that retirement does not take such a form. Rather, it appears like an opportunity to pursue means of redressing the way in which poverty in developing nations is tackled.
Having travelled to Uganda by default, Ann McCarthy appears to have become endeared to the country and its people - in particular one region of Uganda south of Kampala the capital. She set out to work with natives by finding ways of assisting them to improve upon their lives through projects based on income-generating businesses. "They do not want hand-outs. They just want the opportunity to learn simple business skills - everyday stuff that we take for granted," Ann intimates. This has led her to meeting various people in both Uganda and the UK who have played a role in supporting the projects, which are now presented under the theme 'let them help themselves out of poverty. I had the opportunity to interview Ann McCathy for Ugpulse and this is what she had to share.
Life around the Ruhanga Area Migorora, Kaziisi and Nyamahani
Grace: Hello Ann. I am very intrigued to learn who you are. Please tell me a little about yourself.
Ann: I always wanted to travel and migrated to Australia as a £10 tourist with my husband & one son in 1970. We liked Oz (Australia) but my dad offered us a good deal to come back and take over a family pig farm so he could retire. As a result, a few years later, my husband and I returned to the UK. Instead of flying, we came back by cruise ship with our son and two new baby daughters and had a brief glimpse of fifteen different countries. This made me determined to travel again but it was not possible until our four children were grown up.
Have you always been in this line of work?
I have always run my own businesses - from breeding rabbits when I was at school, working alongside my Dad cleaning out and feeding pigs, then clipping and bathing dogs and selling dog meat from a van and later running a charity shop for the Scouts. I did fundraising for the Scouts and was a Cub Scout leader for 10 years, organising many camps and fetes. Later I had a mini-cab/chauffeur hire business and finally, with my husband Paul, we run a small guesthouse. Employing staff enabled me to travel again, which led me to Uganda and to what I am currently trying to achieve.
What moved you to want to get into this field of work?
For a long time I had thought of sponsoring a child but was not sure that I wanted to go through the big charities as I am sceptical as to how much money is actually given to the children compared to that spent on administrative costs such as 'employee salaries/wages' and brand new vehicles. I really wanted to find something a bit more personal, and this happened when my driver took me into an orphanage in Kampala. I found most of the children there were funded by Amigos International; I met Phil Pugsley who founded the charity, and decided to sponsor a couple of youngsters. This has enabled them to live with extended family, much more preferable to living in an institution, however good it may be. At this point, I also decided to raise money for the Farm Training Centre that Amigos was building and challenged myself to travel ten thousand kilometres across Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda by public transport.
How are you managing to balance out your family commitments along with the kind of work you have embarked on?
I keep saying that I should be retired at 65 anyway! My family is long grown up (although not necessarily moved away). The guesthouse is a family business and I make sure we have adequate staff to do the work. Paul & I have been married for over 40 years but we have diverse interests in life - he is most happy with his head under a car bonnet tinkering with the engine or in his workshop. Coupled with the overriding factor that he does not like long-haul flights or being away from home, I travel alone. I believe as we only live once, we should do what we can, while we can.
What is your philosophy towards addressing global poverty?
Scenes from Ruhanga.
I have realised that a high percentage of the population in developing countries do not understand the concept of "running a business". Our kids in developed countries grow up with it - they make cakes for the school fetes and help at jumble sales. The African children - even if they have a basic education, are not taught this. What most of them understand is that they have to plant some seeds to grow their food to eat or they will be hungry. In developing countries, I have found, most persons do not think to grow something extra or more unusual or get some materials and put some work into it, add their time and then sell the end product at a profit.
Micro-finance is very helpful. If they can have the correct training, most Ugandans will put the funds to good use and start some income-generating projects. However the interest rates (in Uganda anyway) need to be carefully monitored so that it is realistically possible to use the money and make a profit.
Charity money (international aid) needs to be carefully monitored and to be channelled directly into small grass root projects where there is far less chance of a large percentage going astray on corruption, bribery and shiny new vehicles.
The projects need to be administered on a small scale so that what actually works for the local people can be monitored. This is what enables them to learn better health practices, better agricultural practices and gain better business skills.
You have travelled in over 70 countries of the world and one could say that poverty is all around us. What has made you want to base your project in Uganda?
Guess you could say it was a chance encounter or opportunity. I think it just happened that the guys I met there during my first visit took me far into the slum areas of Kampala and yet I was made so welcome by kids, women and all. The more I talked with Phil from Amigos, the more I wanted to help the Ugandan people, especially the vulnerable children. As Amigos are based in Devon, it is not easy to get closely involved in their fund-raising. As I have always run my own business, this made me want to do a similar thing out there - be in charge and see some of my own ideas taking shape.
What can you tell us about Ruhanga Community Development Network (RCDN)?
Working alone with very little help, I do not want the challenges and responsibilities that come with setting up a registered charity here in the UK. I understand that it also takes quite a lot of money to get one off the ground - I am just me! (Although I seem to be acquiring more help now I have teamed up with Ida Horner). When I have any cash to spare, I send it out to buy more building materials - or of course, put it towards my next flight. I realise that my travelling days cannot last forever - at least in the way I prefer (staying in budget hotels or with village families).
To set up a NGO (Non-Government Organisation) in Uganda also takes a lot of time, effort and red tape. However, they have another system in place - a group of local people can get together, form a committee set out their aims, mission and goals and register themselves with the District Government Office as a Community Based Organisation (CBO). Denis, who inspired me to help complete the Uganda Lodge Guest House Project, suggested several of the more educated villagers who could volunteer to become committee members and they chose me as their patron!
They named it the Ruhanga Community Development Project (RCDN) and they now have regular planning meetings. Ruhanga is the parish in which the lodge is located. The idea is that the lodge, besides giving jobs to a number of local people, facilitates meetings, training classes, and other community gatherings. Currently, the project is just about breaking even but when it starts to generate a profit, this will be used for the good of the community as a whole.
We have just been accepted as a member of UCOTA (Uganda Community Tourist Association) and they will assist with training villagers on how to look after tourists and what they need to learn to be able to promote themselves. Later, we plan to have kiosks along the roadside so they can market both produce and crafts. See www.ugandanetwork.org for a list of the many ideas that have already come up for the future.
What have you found challenging in setting up or sustaining this project?
Everything moves so slowly in Africa - except the buses on the main roads! However, I guess a lot of my frustration comes in the form of not having as much money as I would like to get the buildings completed and the place looking good landscaped, etc - for tourists. Promotion has to be done to attract the tourists who will bring money into the area. We cannot afford a proper manager who could get the place ready and then 'hand-hold' the short-term volunteer tourists who come for two or three weeks and pay ten times what it really costs for food and accommodation. I am currently looking for some self-reliant helpers who would be prepared to pay about £40 a week each rather than £400 and I know we will still be in profit from them (and the community will benefit from their input).
The welcoming shouts of "Mzungu" the frantic waves and "How are you?" "I'm fine, thank you", etc are a reward enough to me.
How long would you envisage your input into this project to last?
I have an endless list of income-generating businesses that could be set up with small amounts of funding. My aim is to get Uganda Lodge making a profit, get the training workshop and craft centre built, and have daily classes running for many vocational skills. I have found excellent training material from www.tme.org.uk and www.reconxile.com to help achieve these aims. Business studies and health education are two of the first things needed plus a nursery school for the village children.
We also need to have a reliable, safe, clean water supply near. I want to set up demonstration projects at the lodge - first to check that they are actually do-able and can make a profit and then encourage identical set-ups to be started up back in the villagers' own compounds. Being on the main road, we are in an ideal position to organise this.
My input... well as I said I am 65 now so I need to get on with the work quite quickly. Very few NGO's or foreign (white) people are helping in this area, probably because it is a four or five hour journey from Kampala. Although Ruhanga is located along the highway to Uganda's mountain gorillas and Rwanda, most volunteers and tourists just pass straight through or stay around near the big tourist attractions at Jinja. Alternatively, they go up north to Gulu courtesy of the multi-national aid agencies.
Aside from the Ruhanga project, are there any others that you are a part of or involved with?
Just the Amigos Kira Farm at Gayaza. However, I have visited a number of other small projects and try to learn from them plus pass on any knowledge that I have found useful.
The TME DVDs are absolutely brilliant - and such a simple idea. Almost 30 titles are recorded in easyto-understand English and some are now translated into other languages. They can be played on cheap portable battery operated DVD players and as I went to a meeting TME held in London recently to throw around ideas, I guess I am involved with them!
So far, what have been the highs and lows of setting up this project in Ruhanga? (You mentioned meeting a member of the Royal Family of Bunyoro).
Ah, yes - I had a meeting up in Hoima in Uganda with the Bunyoro King - a lovely man. When I phoned, he said he was free and would love to meet me (I guess they do not get many white people up in Hoima). I was ushered into his huge main hall at the palace complete with a throne and lovely old wooden chairs along each wall. We talked for about 30 minutes, mainly about ideas for helping his people. All the while, another man was frantically taking notes. Well..., maybe I gave him something to write about, I do not know, but it was an interesting experience.
I have been to one wedding out there and I think now seven burials. At the latter, I usually spend a while, just sitting with the grieving women and the feedback I get is that they are all so happy that I am willing to sit with them and share their grief. My humblest time was perhaps when I agreed to go back to Kampala with our vehicle and collect a young man's body to transport it to the village. Everyone was so appreciative and I had phone calls from both Australia and USA with relatives thanking me so much.
I love sitting with the little children and also joining the women when they are making pots or weaving bags and mats. I have several lads who say they are my African sons and that their beautiful babies are my black grandchildren.
Have you been able to get any sponsors for the projects you hope to undertake?
We have been offered a few auction items or raffle prizes including a flight in a private plane to Devon for lunch, and a piece of African art. However, we have no offers of cash donations towards the cost of putting on the event yet.
What kind of input are you seeking to get? (You mentioned requiring interpreters...)
The Teaching DVD's - I am looking for native speakers of Runyankole, Luganda, Lugisu, Acholi and Ateso able to write and translate fluently from English into these languages. We also want people able to read out these translated scripts and record them - preferably not the same person. They charity is based in Warwick but are willing to come to London for recording sessions.
I am looking for volunteers to travel at their own expense to Uganda Lodge and stay at least a couple of weeks. They need to be able to think and plan for themselves - people with management or teaching skills are ideal. There are many things they could do out there depending on their skills and interests take a look at the website www.volunteerinuganda.org for ideas. We do not need help with basic manual work as there is a willing workforce already there, what they do need is basic management and organising to get them to work together to see results. We request £40 per week to cover accommodation and food. An additional income for the community would be to hire our vehicle and driver at £40 per day plus fuel for a safari around Uganda. One can see much of the country in 10-14 days including chimpanzee, rhinos, gorillas, rafting etc.
How did you meet Ida Horner - are you able tell us briefly how her input is going to be of benefit to the Ruhanga project?
I saw an article in the local paper about her (as I tend to read up on anything about Uganda) and so I followed up to see if we could work together. She came to see me and we spent a whole afternoon going through the challenges in Ruhanga. The result was an idea of a fundraising dinner to try and finish off the projects the people of Ruhanga have started. As I have never organised a large prestigious event like this before, I thought this would be a huge challenge. Ida was confident that this is easy and convinced me that it would not be difficult to get sponsorship or sell the tickets as she has a lot of contacts and more importantly, is not 'afraid' to ask!
She has been instrumental in getting the event off the ground - she very quickly got on the phone to Shahid Azeem and asked him to speak at the event for free, which he agreed. She contacted her network of Ugandan friends and through them brought Mirembe Campbell on board along with a donation from Judith Banya (a UK-based fashion designer) and a Ugandan band under the leadership of Charles Kyazze. In addition, through her Ugandan network, the Diaspora-based Ugandan media (Ugpulse.com and Connectuganda.com) soon offered to advertise and promote the event for free.
She then contacted her web designer Nathalie Jamois of Abricot and explained what we are doing and she (Nathalie) offered to provide a website free of charge. Nathalie contacted her network too and soon we had the people who were in charge of health and safety on the Millionaires' Mission show on board and others who are fundraising behind the scenes.
Ida Horner It is hoped that if the women are taught the skills to produce good quality crafts, these can be imported by Ida through the Ethnic Supplies project, thus improving their financial independence.
How would you see the fundraising event to be beneficial to the Ruhanga project?
When our workshops and the Craft Centre are completed, several crates of tools, equipment and books that I have already shipped out there with the help of 'Tools with a Mission' (www.twam.co.uk) will begin to be used to teach various vocational skills. We have computers, sewing and knitting machines, text-books, mechanics, carpenters, builders, electricians, and plumbers tools all waiting for a building where teaching can begin.
Additionally, if we can raise enough for a clean water supply then I am certain the health of the village people will improve. Currently, I see the children getting all their water from a muddy stream nearby, since it takes about an hour to walk to a supply that is piped down from the hilltop, wait for the jerry can to fill and then walk back again. I understand they rarely boil the water as it is not easy to collect firewood to do this but they keep wondering why they are ill!
They have great difficulty affording clinic or hospital fees. Therefore, if a child is ill, they wait until he/she is very ill and then, if for example its malaria, it is too late despite the nearest hospital being only a few kilometres away. The chairman of one village told me that a tiny child dies needlessly almost every month. They need more education - my aim is to help make Uganda Lodge become a focal point for the village and show everyone that it is the place to come for help and guidance.
In light of the ever-happening crises globally, from one region to the next, why should persons donate to this particular cause?
Well, if someone is already supporting a project in a developing country, then each of us can only do so much. Nevertheless, if everyone did a little bit (and lets face it, practically none of us would miss a few pounds a month), then look how many millions more vulnerable children could lead a much happier and more satisfying life. It is like the starfish story - the starfish that get washed up on the beach, you might not be able to throw them all back into the sea, but for the few that you can throw back, the effort makes a huge difference.
So, unless you are already heavily involved in a different cause, then I implore you to support me on this project in one way or another. I will personally give feedback to anyone who wants to know exactly how the money is being spent - if someone would like to go out there and actually get involved, then I could offer advice. And if anyone just wants to be involved from their armchair, then I will report back.
Suggestion - maybe a packet of cigarettes less a week or a bottle of wine less, or fewer toys that your kids never really play with anyway - or a couple of sweaters less a little saved here can do so much out there.
Ann, thank you so much for the interview and for giving us an opportunity to learn about what you are trying to achieve. On behalf of UGPulse, I would like to wish you the best that you manage to raise the funds you require at the forthcoming fundraising gala, alongside any future events.
Last year Ann had the opportunity to send out several crates of tools, books and other equipment to the project through the charity TWAM (Tools with a Mission). These are currently being stored until such a time that Ann can raise the finance to continue with the building of a large craft centre and workshop.
She has also noted the need for a fresh clean water supply to prevent waterborne infections in addition to preventing crossover diseases from animals reared in the vicinity to the local population.
She has now joined up with Ida Horner of Ethnic Supplies Ltd and together, they are organising the Gala Dinner and Auction on 17th October at the Hilton Hotel, Cobham. All that would wish to make a difference to this cause are invited to attend or donate in kind. So please feel free to contact Anna at the following address:-
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First published: June 18, 2008