Spolight on International Women's Day


Today is International Women's Day a day to recognize social, economic, political and cultural achievements of women. I thought I would take the time to spotlight work my mother has done abroad. Judy Shepherd has a MSW and  PhD  in social work and currently teaches adjunct at San Diego State University. Judy spent the past three years living and teaching in Uganda. As a daughter, I have had many qualms about having her far away, however the work she has done is truly inspiring. She has set up a foundation and school for widows and orphans promoting health, education and financial independence. Read more below!
1. How did you get involved? 
I was teaching social work at a university in Uganda as a Fulbright Scholar, and a student leader in my class asked me if I'd like to visit his home community in west central Uganda to meet his family and friends and see the work he was trying to do with landless widows (women who have been widowed and are in risk of losing their homes because the father's family inherits property) and with critically vulnerable orphans.  This region has a very high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, currently listed at around 13% of the district, so subsequently has a high rate of orphans and widows.  It was almost a 4 hour drive to his home community to the rural district of Lwengo. My student, Peter Kitayimbwa, set up a day tour for me where I visited the homes of widows he was helping, the home of his family, a Compassion International Project with 250 kids and 3 workers, and the local water supply (a pond shared with cattle). We had break tea and then lunch and I talked with Peter and his friends about issues and needs in the area.  I realized not only was the need significant, but that Peter, and his friends Isaac and Betty, were amazing community leaders, who would be wonderful to work with on a project to help support orphans in school and to help the widows generate income through micro-lending or micro-enterprise projects.

2. What services are provided? 
The four of us became the founders of an organization called the Widows and Orphans Support Organization Uganda (WOSO) with the purpose of assisting critically vulnerable widows and orphans (in Uganda a child is classified as an orphan if they've lost one or both parents).  WOSO is starting its 4th year of operation this year.  Currently we offer a primary school sponsorship program for orphans who are recommended by community leaders.  In this program we pay all of the children's school fees, provide them with school uniforms and writing materials, feed them breakfast and lunch at school, make sure every child is wormed and tested for HIV/AIDS, and do home visits and meetings with their guardians (the cost to sponsor a child is $250 annually.  We also now have 7 micro-lending groups with 6 women each in a group.  These groups meet and support each other in starting income generating projects (like selling pancakes at the market or selling second hand clothes).  Each member of the group can receive a loan of up to $100 for 6 months, and if they can pay back the loan with 2% interest, they can then apply for two more 6 month loan cycles. And, we started a secondary school for the community in January 2015, since there was no secondary school in this sub-county.  We now have 175 children enrolled in senior 1, 2 and 3 classes (junior high) and will add a class each year so that the children will have a full secondary school curriculum.  We also have 53 girls boarding at the school, since it is too far and often not safe for them to walk to school.  The WOSO website describing these projects here.

3.What advice for starting an international non-profit? 
Make sure you work with people in the community who you trust and whose mission you completely believe in.  Listen to what community leaders say and support the initiatives they suggest, since they know their community's needs and solutions better than any outside NGO worker.  Spend time doing lots of the organizational building activities while you are providing a service, such as setting up a bank account, getting registered in country as a community based organization, getting a website set up, speaking to groups in country and in the US about the work you do, taking lots of pictures and getting short video clips made so that people understand the work, exploring funding possibilities, and getting a registered non-profit organization set up in the US that can accept donations that will be tax deductible.

4. How can someone get involved? 
 There are many ways to help, and assistance is so needed.  Any individual can sponsor a child in school for $250 a year.  We ask that anyone interested in sponsorship commit to supporting the child through primary school, since we want to ensure that every child starting school can complete at least primary education.  Also, individuals or groups can fundraise for needed items such as mattresses for the school boarding section or school desks.  Individuals or groups can also support a micro-lending group so that women can generate income to feed their families and help with their children's school fees.  GoFundMe drives for items for the school or children are so appreciated.  Anyone interested in sponsoring a child in school or donating to the secondary school or micro lending fund could contact me here.  It's a wonderful project that I love being involved with, mainly because of the commitment and hard work of community members who so much want their children to be able to access education. I lived in Uganda for 3 years and will be traveling back again this spring, so I know the project workers and many of the children and widows, and love to see the growth and development of the project.

Thanks for sharing!

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