A few weeks ago our project manager came to me and said, ‘the workers have a request for you’. Usually I would then expect that they are going to ask for something for free. This is not something we encourage very much and the staff know our attitude on this. The request for gum boots (wellies) as the wet season was approaching and Ugandans like to wear them a lot! The request was for me to get some good quality gum boots for them and pay for them upfront. Then the workers would pay us back for them over 4 weeks, by having some money taken off their wage at the end of each week. This is exactly what we did.
I was impressed!
We always say to the staff that we are always willing to help, but that it has to be done in the right way. We agree with sharing the cost for items, and paying upfront to help spread the cost out for them as they repay us.
This enables them to buy for themselves and most importantly, take ownership.
They feel proud because they have been able to buy something. It is theirs to look after and theirs to keep.
Everyday after work, the staff are gathered around the water tank cleaning the gum boots. They take great care in them and value them so much more because it is their property.
I have seen many people give various items to people here and I have done it before, and then often the item is not looked after, it gets lost or broken, and it doesn’t seem to mean anything to them. Ownership is very important value for people to feel, and continuously giving things away doesn’t seem to achieve this.
I believe that rather that the best way to help people is to ‘help them to help themselves’. This is what we do, we enable people to afford things in a manageable way – and that is farm more sustainable than giving gifts again and again.