By Sarah Odongo, member of the Rotary Club of Port Bell, Uganda
It all started when members of our Rotary Club of Port Bell from District 9211 visited Kirombe, a nearby low income suburb of Kampala City, Uganda in 2009 where we were introduced to local residents, mainly women, who had formed a group of about 25, with the aim of joining together and helping lift one another’s standard of living. The group had already started with a few activities like crafts making, baking, and tailoring, but lacked some essential equipment for most of the activities they were trying to engage in (e.g. sewing machines). We assisted them with some of the start-up equipment, but we also noted that a number of them had no experience in running a business, so we introduced training in simple business topics (e.g., book keeping) and encouraged them to open savings/bank accounts. The training sessions proved quite popular and at the group’s request, we started including medical and hygiene topics and encouraged the group to invite other interested residents.
This led to our joint project with the group. We had observed that the larger community had sanitation issues and were using unclean water from sand pits for their household needs. Our Rotary club organized a general cleaning exercise with this Kirombe women group during which we jointly cleaned a big public area, including the shops and market place, while encouraging the residents to continue keeping their areas clean. It was interesting to note that, at the start of our first cleaning exercise, some residents were not very cooperative while others assumed that we were perhaps looking for political votes, but by the end of the first day most of them appreciated our efforts and quite a number of them had even joined us.
The group of women was chartered as the “Kirombe Rotary Community Corps” in 2014, and our club has continued to work very closely with them in identifying and addressing the many challenges facing their local community, especially access to clean and affordable water, as most residents in the area cannot sustainably pay the water bills. Our club partnered with the National Water and Sewerage Corporation and provided public water sources in the community which the Kirombe Rotary Community Corps helped monitor.
Our club carries out immunizations twice every month at two centers within our community and the Rotary Community Corps members assist us in mobilizing community residents to take advantage of these medical services and also help out during the exercise. They also join with us at the annual Rotary Family Health Days, and serve side by side with Rotarians, Rotaractors, Interactors, and volunteer medical staff.
Last Rotary year, our club decided that on the last Wednesday of every month, we would not have an ordinary meeting at the usual hotel venue, but instead would take a walk around the community. This innovation has proved to be quite popular as it gives the club members a chance to identify the needs in the community around us while the community gets to know more about Rotary; it also opens an avenue for a more informal interaction between club members and the community.
During one walk, the Rotary Community Corps members took us to a protected well from which most of the community members collect water. It was clear from the environment that the water was not clean, and now our club is working with the Water Authority to install a modern, but affordable, water system at that site while the Rotary Community Corps members identify other public areas in the community where more affordable clean water points will be installed. The community will get clean water again with the help from our Rotary club in partnership with the Kirombe Rotary Community Corps. It is a great partnership.
A Rotary Community Corps (RCC) can enhance community engagement and ensure project sustainability by empowering local leaders to pioneer change. RCCs are teams of non-Rotarian community members – men and women who may be farmers, teachers, shop owners, or even retirees – who work in partnership with Rotary clubs to improve their communities. They are committed to their communities’ long-term development, and bring enthusiasm, creativity, and sustainability to the projects they design and carry out. By organizing an RCC, you can make a tremendous, long-term impact in your community.