Mama Fight


Katwe, a suburb of Kampala, in Uganda, is known globally, thanks to the 2016 Walt Disney Pictures film ‘Queen of Katwe’. Based on a true story, the film depicts the unlikely story of a Ugandan girl who rises of out poverty through her successes in chess. Unlikely, in the sense that chess is a largely unknown sport in the East African nation and unlikely in that Katwe is the largest slum in Kampala.

​​I weave my way through the slum’s streets, in August 2018. Poverty sits all around around me – staring at me. Children in tattered clothes run around, chasing chickens, kicking up dust everywhere they go.

​Women sit outside the front of their homes. Some boil food in steaming pots. Some look up at the visitors with mild interest. I pass an open space. Huge mounds of plastic bottles, numbering in their thousands, picked off Kampala’s streets and wait, ready to be recycled for a few Ugandan shillings. There is a feeling of destitution everywhere I look in Katwe.

​On the job, for Feed A Million Mouths International (FAMMI), Robert Tindyebwa pays a visit to Kyomuhangi Jane, better known as Mama Richard. She is an individual beneficiary of FAMMI’s work. FAMMI is a social enterprise that supports people living in poverty across Uganda.

A native of Rwanda, Mama Richard has been supported by FAMMI for several years. On the morning of my visit, Robert, the team’s Logistics and Customer Care Manager, brings a supply of NRG XTRA porridge. NRG XTRA is a precooked Corn Soy Blend with a vitamin mineral premix. It is a highly nutritious and easy-to-make food suitable for children and adults.

Mama Richard’s home, nestled along a narrow dirty, dirt alley way, is a small, one-roomed hovel, adorned with religious posters and calendars. A pan of cow lungs boil slowly in one corner of the room. It produces an acrid smell that permeates every nook and cranny. Two small beds and a TV take up the rest of the space in the room. Mama Richard is a small, frail woman. She wears two religious chains around her neck and warmly greets me warmly.

As well as providing her with food, FAMMI offers financial and emotional support in a bid to help her rise out of poverty and find a sustainable livelihood. To this end, FAMMI pays 50% of Mama Richard’s monthly rent, covers medical aid, and works with her to find a sustainable way of sourcing money.

This evening she will take her diced cow lungs to the street and sell it to passers-by, most on their way home from work in Kampala. “She says it’s not really a sustainable income but it helps her get by. Her son, Richard, helps her out a lot too,” Robert says after his morning with Mama Richard.

One of FAMMI’s aims with Mama Richard is to move her to a more suitable home. This is something she has fought against in the past. But now, a house change in the New Year is expected. In the meantime, FAMMI has helped to repair the leaking roof in her Katwe home.

“I would say we are a family to her, that’s how I would describe it,” Robert says. “We don’t do this in a kind of business model way, it’s not like there is a middle man who takes on the sponsorship, we do it as a kind of family. We keep in touch with her. If anything comes up we are able to help her out. Given her condition she has medical requirements which we help her with.”

She has ambitions to evolve her micro-business, of selling cooked lungs, into something more sustainable. “Her biggest problem to today has been poverty, it’s the same problem every time,” he explains. “She keeps saying that she wants to reach a time where she’s in a better place. She’s hoping to get a reasonable place and she can set up a micro- business where she sustain herself, to create an environment for her family to come. She has really put an emphasis on this lately, because in the past she didn’t want to leave this house.

Feed a Million Mouths International has replaced Mama Richard’s Leaking Roof
​But I think she realises she doesn’t want her family visiting her there anymore. I think she sees that her other son has a wife and kids, she wants them to visit her in a better environment, wants the kids to come over on holiday.”

The nature of a future business will be plotted together by Mama Richard and FAMMI, working as one, to find the best option for her. The location of her new home will play a factor in this decision.

“I told her that if she finds another place, what you do might not depend on what you think you can do but what is available in the area and what is doable there. So first we need to find her a new place and then assess the area for a suitable micro-business. The business needs to be something solid, something that is sustainable,” Robert adds.

​FAMMI’s involvement with Mama Richard, and other people like her in Uganda, is aimed at providing a helping hand to rise out of poverty. As Robert explains: “She says she is really grateful for Mark’s intervention. At the time when she met Mark (the director of FAMMI) she was in a very terrible state. Mark did not come with the promise of helping her 100%, nor that he was going to extricate her from her situation 100% himself, but by working with her to see that she gets a better life for herself.

“She says that she didn’t expect 100% from FAMMI but FAMMI has given her porridge, she receives financial help, they have treated her when she has had an illness, so she says that she’s in a much better place because of FAMMI’s intervention. Their input gives her energy to do more; it pushes her further.”

As in ‘Queen of Katwe’, the battle to rise out of poverty in Uganda is a difficult one. However modest, efforts by organisations like Feed A Million Mouths International are giving people the tools to fight and win that battle.

About the Author: Eoin Scanlon is the Commissioning Editor for the FAMMI News Desk. He is based in Ireland but has in- depth knowledge of Uganda, having lived there for an extensive period

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