Saving Christmas in Ugandan villages

Togetherness. Members of  Mpaama Tumanyane group in Ntungamo municipality  share meat on  December  24, 2020.  PHOTO/Alex Ashaba

What you need to know:

  • Doing it the village style. As the festive season draws closer,  plans on what to shop for and where to shop from is  top of  most lists for house heads.  Alex Ashaba meets with different groups of people who have made sailing through the festivities smoother.

What is a feast without meat! What is a celebration without some fizzy or frothy drinks and breaking away from the staple meals! The festive season is here and it is dictating the  expenditure for majority of  us. However, it gets hotter as everyone looks for the best deals on most items, especially  food stuffs.
Every Christmas Eve, majority of urban dwellers head to villages to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones.
On the same day, others throng markets to shop for items to use during the celebrations and this requires one to have saved enough money to spend during festive season. Different people have found different ways to reduce the financial stress.
James Turugurwa, 72, a resident of Mpaama Village in Ntungamo Municipality, is the founder  Tumanyane Group.  In 1994, he mobilised his village mates with a goal of saving money to use during the festive season.
He  was a casual labourer in Mbarara District. With his workmates, especially the males,  whenever Christmas approached, they had budgets whose expenditures outweighed  their income. One of his peers sold them the idea; where people from the same locality with common goals and objectives came together to prepare for the festivities. They bought items to share among themselves.
“I started this initiative in our village, to plan better for our Christmas together,” he says.
The start
When he returned home, Turugurwa mobilised about 10 people from his village in February 1994, and they agreed to make tonto(a local beer from bananas). The brew would be sold to bars in the locality as one way to raise money.
“Everyone who agreed to join had to bring four bunches of bananas for making the local brew twice a month. We sold each jerrycan of tonto at Shs10,000 and waragi at Shs70,000,” Turugurwa explains.
Initially, the group allowed only married couples who had banana plantations and at that time,  family heads  were involved in preparing  for the family.   
The group had a  treasurer and whenever they had a meeting, members were allowed to borrow money in form of  loans and those who borrowed monthly were charged an interest rate agreed upon by members.
“The  interest was meant to increase group savings and by September, income generated plus interest would be used together and buy a cow,” he recalls.

Back then, cattle cost between Shs90,000 and Shs300,000. When the group raised more money, they bought a cow that weighed more than 150 kilogrammes. And after that, one member could take responsibility to feed it on behalf of the group until December.
The elderly man says by December, the group normally raised between Shs400,000 and  Shs700,000 before 2000 unlike today when the group members raise more than Shs 1.5 million.

Turugurwa says he started that initiative to keep family heads in the society working together, promote unity and a member to have insurance that his/her family during Christmas will have what to eat.
“The advantage of this initiative is that during the festive season you have food, because even the balance left is equally shared among members to buy other items such as rice, salt and drinks for their families. It also helped members to learn how to make local brew,” Turugurwa says.

Alex Bahikiirirwa, a resident of Mpaama Village in Ntungamo District, who has also been the group chairperson for years, says they were 10 members and  they bought a cow at Shs 96,000 in 1996. He says in 2020, membership raised more than Shs1.5million which they used to buy a cow. Then, a member offered to slaughter it on December 24. The change is shared among the members.
“Every year members share between 15  and 25 kilogrammes of meat depending on the number of members. Each member takes home a part of the cow and since we have got to know our neighbours and some relatives also catch up,” Bahikirirwa says.

The pros
Bahikirirwa says when you receive visitors at home during the festive season, you are well prepared because it is always challenging to celebrate Christmas when you have not saved enough.
He adds; today, many people in the neighbouring villages of Kabingo, Kafunjo, Kiyoora, Nyakihanga, Rwencheera, Rugooma, Rugazi and Nyakashozi have copied the idea and members have formed similar groups.
 The money which the group raises depends on the number of members in the group and membership fees each member is asked to pay. 
“In 2020, they were nine members and each member paid subscription fees of Shs130,000 and in November we bought a cow at Shs 1.5m and members  will share the change (money)  to buy others items such as alcohol, soft drinks and clothes for children among other things for their families,” Bahikirirwa says. 
He says today, most members have opted to raise money and not make local brew any more to increase their savings because of the banana bacteria wilt that attacked their banana plantations.

The dry spell
Ronald Alituha, the chairperson of Buryanyenje Tukwatirehamu Association in Kabarole District, says after seeing many families in the village struggle with food scarcity during the festive season, in 2018, they formed an association to address the challenge.
“I came up with that idea of coming together and forming a group to aid each other  celebrate Christmas with enough to eat and drink. Even then, most families could not afford a kilo of meat during the festive season,” Alituha says, adding that such as items caused  misunderstandings between couples. Then, poor children would be sent to eat at the  neighbour’s.” 
Alituha’s group comprises 38 people and every week, each member has to mandatorily  save Shs1,000. When the  money accumulates they give it out to members in form of loans  with interest and by time the year ends, savings have grown.

Alituha says they have bought two cows, one at Shs 1.6 million and another one at Shs 1.4 million awaiting slaughter  on  December 24. He does the maths for us.
 “Today, one kilogramme of meat is about Shs13,000. The year has 52 weeks and a member saves Shs 52,000 and shares over four kilogrammes of meat. It is cheaper for the members   compared to those people who buy meat individually. This association is magical!” Alituha emphasises  with a smile.
Lucy Kabahinda, a resident  of Muhangi in Kyenjojo District, says she joined the same group which was focusing on buying food stuffs for its members during Christmas three years ago. Every member saved Shs 5,000 per week.
Kabahinda says on December 20,   members’ savings were pooled and they bought bags of rice, millet, and posho for sharing.

 “On the day of sharing, each member would go home with bags of rice, posho, millet flour and money.  Imagine if you have a big family of more than eight people, you need more than 15 kilos of meat and for us in groups we have surplus!” Kabahinda says.
 She says such groups relieve stress during  festive season because you are assured that you use your savings to celebrate.

The cons
Not all is rosy with these arrangements.  Bahikirirwa says some members join but fail to meet their financial obligation. Others are not consistent with making payments,  which makes their operation very difficult and planning is not as smooth.
He  adds that  by the time they were making local brew; thieves  would steal their brew causing the group losses. 
Facing challenges is part of the fabric every member ought to have.

 “One time a member from another group in Nyamirembe who was trusted with members’  money to go and buy a cow for the group disappeared with the money,”  Bahikirirwa says , adding was  before long,  they realised that the member had stolen their savings.
Saving for the festivities does not have to make one break the bank.  This system has to a great extent financially empowered village folks.

The maths
 Ronald Alituha, chairman Buryanyenje Tukwatirehamu Association in Kabarole District, says they have bought two cows, one at Shs 1.6 million and another one at Shs 1.4 million awaiting slaughter  on  December 24. He does the maths for us.                  

“Today, one kilogramme of meat is about Shs13,000. The year has 52 weeks and a member saves Shs 52,000 and shares over four kilogrammes of meat. It is cheaper for the members   compared to those people who buy meat individually.” 


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