Every year New Vision, in its Woman Achiever Awards, recognises the unsung heroines, those women who have gone an extra mile to improve the conditions in their communities. In the ninth edition, New Vision, in partnership with UNFPA, is recognising women who have made tremendous contributions to education, especially helping girls who have dropped out of school due to pregnancy or other reasons, to go back to school or attain any form of skills training to better their lives
By Abdulkarim Ssengendo
Two years ago, Ruth Ndyabahika, was enjoying an easy, fun life in the US as a child psychologist. Her only responsibilities were herself, her siblings and parents, who were living in Uganda. Today, Ndyabahika lives in Kabale, with 45 girls aged six to 17 under her wings.
Moving to Uganda
In 2005, while watching a documentary titled Invisible Children, which depicted human rights abuses meted on children by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in Uganda, Ndyabahika was touched. She decided to carry out more research about the atrocities.
Subsequently, Ndyabahika joined a US movement that was advocating support for the children. The activists marched through major cities such as New York and spoke at universities and events around the US. On her part, Ndyabahika lobbied for support for the children on Capitol Hill in Washington DC and other US State Houses.
A major breakthrough came in 2010 when US president Barack Obama signed the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act into law. Ndyabahika was recognised and she received a letter of commendation from the late senate Edward Kennedy for her contribution towards the cause.
After that event, Ndyabahika’s holidays in Uganda changed. Besides fun and family time, she started volunteering at orphanages around the country. She discovered that this gave her a sense of fulfilment.
This is how she came up with the idea of setting up Grace Villa, a sanctuary for vulnerable girls aged between six and 21.
She saved money for two years towards realising the project. Although the plan was to start with only 10 girls for the first year, Ndyabahika found out that it was impossible to keep the numbers low.
Every week, at least five people walk through their gate, all with heartrending stories. Currently, there are 45 girls at the centre.
Ndyabahika with the girls she supports
Imparting skills to girls
Ndyabahika started three main programmes at Grace Villa; Grace Villa Learning Adventures, Grace Villa Soccer Club and
Graceful Grains Bakery.
Through the Grace Villa Soccer Club, the girls explore their abilities, exercise and learn teamwork, discipline and healthy competition.
Through the other two programmes, Ndyabahika brings experts in various fields to teach the girls skills such as baking, computer and IT, photography, tailoring, entrepreneurship and farming.
“These services are extended not just to the 45 girls at Grace Villa, but also to disadvantaged girls in the community,”
So far, 95 have received training at Grace Villa.
All the 45 girls at the centre receive primary, secondary or vocational school education, scholarstic materials, school fees, uniforms, lunch and sanitary pads.
Ndyabahika says 80% of the girls at the home had dropped out of school due to lack of school fees. The ones who are mothers are enrolled in the tailoring class, but one of them is in the soccer club.
“Children interfere with the girls’ ability to work, so they enrol their children in pre-school and kindergarten, enabling them to work and attend classes,” Ndyabahika says.
Some of the girls have expressed a desire to work at the home after completing school. Three have worked as interns at Grace Villa during their holidays.
Grace Villa also offers counselling and support to the extended families, which take care of the children under Grace Villa, but do not live at the home.
“Grace Villa also offers therapy, counselling, mentoring and healthcare services as many of the girls have been through varying degrees of trauma,” Ndyabahika says.
Although sometimes family and friends help reduce the burden of buying food at the centre, Ndyabahika’s biggest challenge has been finances.
Ndyabahika intends to reach out to more disadvantaged girls.
The centre also plans to expand its bakery so that the girls can learn business management, entrepreneurship and bookkeeping skills through running the business.
Ndyabahika notes that this will be a source of income and sustainability for their home.
They also want to expand their chicken farm to support the bakery to generate income.
Grace Villa plans to open a private school with the aim of providing quality education for children, regardless of their economic, religious or social background. The home also intends to offer scholarships based on merit and need.
What others say about Ndyabahika
Prof. Joy Kwesiga, vice-chancellor, Kabale University
I have officiated at the graduation of her girls. What pleased me most is fact that Ndyabahika picks the girls from slums. She has helped fill a big gap in our community by helping disadvantaged children.
What beneficiaries say
Doreen Musiimenta, 18
I had been living in a child-headed household since I was seven years old after my parents died. I have a long story, but all I can say is Grace Villa saved me. I now have a home, a mother and I am in school. It is a dream come true.
Elizabeth Atuheire, 16
The best thing for me is the skills I am learning. I have never come across a female photographer, but I am now learning to become one. I have also learnt baking and tailoring. Being at Grace Villa means I can be anything I want to be as long as I do my best.
Woman achiever awards 2014: Women in education
Do you know any woman who has mobilised or used her own resources to spearhead programmes aimed at promoting girls education, especially helping girls who have dropped out of school due to pregnancy or other reasons, to go back to school or attain any form of skills training?
Nominate her by sending her name, her telephone contact, her area/community of operation, what she has done/is doing and your name and telephone contact to Woman Achiever 2014, New Vision, P.O. Box 9815, Kampala. You can also email: firstname.lastname@example.org; or by SMS type achiever (space) her name and telephone number, and send to 8338