Ida Horner, 49, sits at the Inyamat Restaurant at the Capital Mall supermarket in Ntinda. Wearing a light white cotton blouse, Horner has presence. She is soft spoken but this does not dim out her strong conviction about her personal mission: Preventing young girls from getting married for the sake of it and not having financial independence because they do not have the skills they can take to the market.
Having lived abroad for more than 25 years, Horner has been coming to Uganda several times. Originally it was to visit family but now she mostly comes to oversee the community work projects she runs.
How the seed was planted
A 2006 visit to Kabale nudged at Ida Horner’s heart and triggered in her a desire to do something. As a Ugandan living in the United Kingdom, she had worked with London’s poor, providing affordable housing. So when visiting relatives in Kabale, the level of poverty she witnessed challenged her to use the skills she had acquired working with London’s underclass, to change and empower the people she had seen.
Horner did not want to join the normal aid bandwagon but rather preferred to offer trade opportunities for the women she had met. On return to the UK, she started Ethnic Supplies, an online enterprise that sells Ugandan crafts to the international market.
A surprise call from Ann McCarthy, who after reading an article about Horner’s work, called for a meeting to discuss a collaboration and about her project in Ruhanga.
“Ann told me about the work she was doing in Ruhanga,” Horner says.
She was charmed by McCarthy and saw potential for a partnership. She later travelled to Uganda again and went to Ruhanga, where she had a meeting with the local people.
“I went and met some of the local people,” she says. “We had a village meeting to discuss the issues in the village and what their priorities were.”
At the community meeting, Horner says, the women asked for access to clean water, while the men requested for a nursery school to be built.
“Those were to be our priorities; Build a nursery school and fundraise for clean water,” she says.
On return to the United Kingdom, Horner and McCarthy registered with the charity commission, Let Them Help Themselves Out of Poverty.
Horner embarked on a vigorous fundraising strategy.
“I invited a few other Ugandans I knew and other friends. We raised £5,000 (Shs21m) to start with, and we built a community centre,” Horner says. “Another room was a computer room, where the teenage boys interacted with the older people, who could use computers. We finished the nursery school in 2009.”
In order to make the project sustainable and have a stable source of income, McCarthy registered the charity with the GAP year companies, who send volunteers to the developing world to work on voluntary projects. Horner explains that volunteers pay a fee to volunteer on projects, and this is the money that enables organisations like hers, to operate sustainably.
“Money paid was given to us,” she says, “and it grew from a nursery school to a primary school now called Ruhanga Community Development School.”
These earnings, Horner says, also made it possible to construct more housing to accommodate more volunteers and saw an increase in enrolment of students.
“That side of the project grew. Money from more volunteers was invested in building more bandas to have more volunteers.” In addition, she adds, “we hired staff, and today have 500 children from the initial eight students.”
Horner and McCarthy raised more money to supply 250 mosquito nets after a government scheme did not cover everyone in the village.
They later turned the focus on raising money for clean water for the village. The bulk of the money, Horner says, came from the volunteer fees. In addition, one volunteer, on return to the UK told his employer about the need for clean water.
Horner says friends in the UK organised sponsored walks, which also raised money for the projects. She also got online donations from friends and colleagues. As a result, the children attending the school pay very little, and there is also a sponsorship scheme to cater for the very poor families, she adds. Horner says the local people manage the scholarship selection process and are able to determine who is most deserving of the scholarship. The school runs up to Primary Six.
Horner also enters for competitions and has won grants from organisations like Hastoe Housing Association.
A strange resistance from the community
Horner contracted a local engineer who created 30 water taps in the community.
At the launch of the clean water project, Horner explained to the community, that they would have to maintain the water.