Sunday June 8 2014

Support community self-help initiatives

Recent community self-help initiatives to better rural healthcare and education by citizens in Kalangala and Masindi districts, and Obongi County are big marks of active citizenship.

For Obongi, residents of Aliba Sub-county have mobilised to build grass-thatched classrooms and managed to push to school 333 children, who had failed to walk seven miles to the nearest school. The parents too, voluntarily pay each of the five teachers at the school Shs60,000 per term.

This drive backs up another of the residents’ campaign to raise funds to buy an ambulance for their health centre IV after waiting for government to buy one in vain. These humble citizens’ endeavours show what great difference small efforts can make in the lives of rural communities.

Nevertheless, these citizens’ initiatives also expose the dismal failure by the government to provide decent education for its citizens in rural Uganda as cited by Obongi County MP Hassan Kaps Fungaroo.

This citizens’ action must challenge government to wake up and come to the rescue of Obongi residents, provide teaching materials, desks, office furniture, and pay teachers’ salaries besides iron sheets to stop the thatches from leaking.

Like Obongi, the Kalangala Islands District has since 2009 with foreign assistance, laboured to improve its healthcare services. First, it sponsored three students to study medicine at Makerere University so that they return to work as doctors on the islands when they qualify next January.

More recently, Kalangala has raised health workers pay by Shs500,000 using local revenues to motivate and retain them. Again, these noble efforts by citizens should not cushion the State to sidestep its core obligations but must take all practical measures to provide basic medical services to the islanders.

Having only one doctor who doubles as the district medical officer to cater for all Ugandans on the islands for the last 13 years, is a big shame.

Other communities have as well stepped up to fill the gaps where the central government and local councils have abdicated their duties and obligations.

For instance, a Facebook user group of more than 5,000 people from Bunyoro sub-region have raised Shs1.5 million of the planned Shs7 million to build a toilet for Masindi hospital’s out patients department after the old one collapsed. It is good that the district authorities have blessed the drive and have opened a joint bank account for the project.

But these noble citizens’ efforts to create and protect a clean and healthy environment must remain only complementary with both the State and citizens meeting their obligations.

While citizens in Obongi, Kalangala, and Masindi have contributed to the wellbeing of their communities, government must play its role and support these efforts to change rural livelihoods.