“It is treating the others with dignity that you can get self-respect”
In 1997 in Gulu, North Uganda, a small group of women living with HIV/AIDS, unable to continue their traditional and tiring work in the fields, decided to ask for help to the NGO Comboni Samaritans of Gulu in order to start alternative economic activities to guarantee their families’ and their own subsistence.
With the help of Comboni, together with the continuous economic and organizational support given by the Italian Organization Good Samaritan Onlus and deep will and strong obstinacy, these simple people, sick but not destroyed by their drama caused by AIDS, opened, step by step, a new way for alternative forms of work.
In Gulu District, the area where most of the workers come from, the diffusion of HIV/AIDS percentage has reached, in the last 22 years of war, rates of disease-spreading high above the national average level.
The sick people living with AIDS are often destined not to be economically self-sufficient. Their physical weakness, the high costs necessary to cure the frequent relapses, the depression together with the social stigmatization are the main causes of the increasing poverty and the rapid worsening of the sickness.
For these people, team working is a precious resource. In few years the number of people asking to enter the cooperative has been increasing; its social base has become larger to include other vulnerable categories (disabled, sick people with chronic diseases and IDPs) and also some men.
The good results obtained, both in terms of positive impact on the sick people and the good economical outcomes, pulled the NGO Comboni Samaritans of Gulu to formalize the existence of this group, constituting the “Wawoto Kacel Cooperative Society Ltd” (Walking Together Cooperative) in 2004.
The new organization maintained the same principal aims which had originated its birth in order to:
- guarantee a job, adequate to the physical conditions of the vulnerable people involved;
- guarantee a source of income in order to increase the way of living of the vulnerable categories;
- promote their capabilities and professional competence and evaluate their creativity;
- give psychological, moral and spiritual support with the aim to stress the rehabilitation process, self-acceptance and the resilient ability against the stigma;
- create a positive working climate and a social network of support;
- favour the social reintegration of sick people.
To accomplish the statutory aims, the members must be: people living with AIDS or other chronic diseases (the majority), disabled and displaced people obliged to live in IDPs camps (the number of IDPs members is decreasing thanks to the end of fighting and resettlement process); only a small part of the human resources is composed by healthy people, in order to guarantee a sufficient continuity to the project.
The cooperative assures the work to 150 members (the number is changing because of the high mortality and the frequent worsening of the physical conditions of most workers) and it is now composed by six sections: embroidery, tailoring, weaving, tie and dye, production of jewels made of beads and wishing cards realized with banana leaves.
In the 2007 Wawoto Kacel Cooperative Society obtained the authorization to export abroad and it started a profitable cooperation with the Fair Trade.