By Stephen Senkaaba
The road to Erisa Lokwi’s home is winding and shrubby. Through identical tiny grass-thatched huts, we finally found our way round.
Along the way, we met half-naked pubescent girls with colourful kilt-like skirts wrapped around their waists. They smiled invitingly and pointed us to the old man’s home.
Lwokwi is an 82-year-old blind man; a resident of Bazaar village, North Division in Moroto municipality. Of medium build and a little frail-looking, he wears glasses and walks with the aid of a stick. I doubt if his glasses help much.
But with his pristine green jacket and well-polished brown shoes, the metallic rimmed accessories seem to complete a ‘genteel’ demeanour.
He and his wife Lea Naduk, 62, are among 4,020 elderly people in Moroto district that receive a monthly stipend of sh25,000 in the Government’s Social Assistance Grant for Empowerment (SAGE) initiative.
Launched in 2011, the programme, under the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development’s Expanding Social Protection programme, supports the elderly and vulnerable groups in 14 pilot districts.
Every month, a radio announcement goes out calling for the registered elderly to collect their money, delivered to chosen pay centres by MTN vans.
Lokwi and others then converge at an agreed centre in Moroto town to receive their money from SAGE representatives. They present an identification card, which has been issued to them for this purpose and upon verification, receive their pay. Sometimes they send a registered trusted family member; otherwise known as the “alternative recipient” to pick their money.
Lokwi has struggled to support his two wives and eight grandchildren, left behind by his deceased son. “I retired years ago and have no pension,” he says, and have lived on nothing except for a little sorghum and beans from my garden.”
With such a burden, Lokwi now looks forward to the beginning of every month when the radio announcer will call out beneficiaries to receive their monthly stipend.
“With sh25,000, I am able to buy scholastic materials for my grandchildren. I am also able to support the family brewing business."
In a country where only 98,000 (7%) out of the total 1.4 million elderly people have access to a pension; where, according to the 2009/2010 Uganda national household survey, poverty is more prevalent in households with the elderly than in those without, a fee even as seemingly meagre as sh25,000 (about $9), goes some way in changing the lives of the poor elderly.
“I have got some money to buy medicine, to have a shelter and buy some food; that is all that matters to me,” 68-year-old Jovino Kodet said.
A former soldier, this man lives all by himself in a miserable rental mud and wattle house on the outskirts of Moroto town.
The small garden in his backyard, has, because of unfavourable weather, hardly produced any food. He is happy that his most pressing needs are met.
However, some beneficiaries, especially those with many dependents find sh25,000 inadequate. Insecurity, bad weather and impassable roads hamper timely delivery of money to the pay centres.
In Usuk sub-county, Katakwi district, beneficiaries went for two months without pay after the MTN van was intercepted and the money in June.
We've been greatly helped: (L-R) Winnie Ikorit (72), Nakut (83) and Longo (78)
According to SAGE officials, sh56m was stolen. In Katikekile and Tapac sub-counties, 1,021 of the 4,020 beneficiaries have to negotiate a mountainous, fl ood-prone terrain to reach the pay centres. “All too often, they fail to make it,” says Wotunya.
They then have to wait another month and pray that the conditions will permit them to receive their money. District officials are trying to address these problems.
“We are in touch with the service providers to ensure that money is delivered on time and we try to senstise the communities putting the money to good use,” says Scola Alupo, the Katakwi district deputy Chief Administrative Offi cer.
Simon Omoding, the programme communications manager says Government has dedicated sh2bn this financial year to support the programme.
Of course the money will help, but, in a country where no such scheme has worked before, finances are only part of a rather complex equation.
According to the 2009 Uganda national household survey, poverty is more prevalent in households with the elderly than in those without.
Over 4,020 elderly people in Moroto district receive a monthly stipend of sh25,000 in the Government’s Social Assistance Grant for Empowerment (SAGE) initiative.
In Uganda, only 98,000 or (7%) out of the total 1.4 million elderly people have access to a pension.
Social security for the elderly
Beneficiaries save sh500 in SACCOs
In Akomotukoi village, Angongoja sub-county, Katakwi district, Alex Omeri, 72 and Alfred Ocen, 67 dedicate sh500 from their monthly stipend to a Savings and Credit Co-operative Society (SACCO), which they are members of.
“As members, we can borrow money, use it and then pay at a reasonable interest. This has helped him a lot.
“I have bought two goats, planted cassava and paid fees for my grandson. He has also hired young men to cultivate his garden,” Omeri says the stipend has been helpful.
In many communities, local leaders have taken advantage of pay days to senstise communities on pertinent issues on health, education, sanitation, and HIV/AIDS.
“Our people’s response to these programme has greatly improved,” Peter Henry Wotunya, Moroto district deputy chief administrative officer said.
The SAGE programme seems to have come at an appropriate time for people like Omeri and Ocen, who due to advanced age are often too frail to work, have been abandoned by their able-bodied family members and usually have many dependents.
As the first ever social scheme aimed at pulling the elderly and most vulnerable members of our society out of poverty, it is helping to lessen, albeit in a modest way-a social protection gap that has existed for donkey’s years in this country.