The Power of Community Based Organizations (CBOs)

Last week, my co-fellow and I traveled into rural central Uganda with a team from the Infectious Disease Institute (IDI) to interview members of various Community Based Organizations (CBOs). These CBOs were non-profit agencies created by community members to address their local needs, particularly in health. A British company awarded IDI a grant for strengthening CBOs in this region in order to improve the healthcare and quality of life for those affected by HIV, so our team’s task was to interview 25 CBOs to understand their health experience, internal democracy mechanisms, financial management and sustainability, and human resources among other issues. Ultimately these interviews were to aid us in determining which CBOs will receive funding.

Kiboga Town from a Distance

This field visit was especially eye opening to me as I was not familiar with the CBO model prior to this project. As we conducted the interviews, I was amazed by the ingenuity and tenacity we found in the face of momentous health and funding challenges.

In some of the more remote villages we were quite the spectacle!

One organization that stood out to me in particular was the Kiboga Association of People Living with Physical Disabilities. This CBO was formed, staffed, and funded entirely by people living with disabilities (PWDs) in order to improve their health standards and advocate for equal rights. One of their leaders, Zacchaeus, candidly explained to us that although the district had many active HIV/AIDs programs, none of them carried out programs for PWDs. He told us that while PWDs are among the most vulnerable for contracting HIV, they are often left out of household HIV testing. As I listened to Zacchaeus, I was overwhelmed by his good spirits and dedication even though he had been crippled by polio, a disease which has been virtually eliminated from the Western world.

IDI Staff interviewing Zacchaeus (on right) in his office.

At each CBO we met people like Zacchaeus who were overcoming great odds to raise funds to support their communities. After traveling for almost an hour and a half down a trail deep into the village we found a very isolated CBO which had pooled their money to purchase a grinder to create maize flour. This group told us that the community often had to transport the sick on the backs of bicycles a long distance to the nearest health center. Two other groups had purchased sewing machines and were raising funds through tailoring. Others formed lending circles where they made interest by lending money to members.

Village CBO members and government officials in front of their maize grinder.

A women's group who was raising funds through tailoring.

The CBOs were nothing much to look at – often just a storefront operation with all of their records painstakingly handwritten in notebooks and on poster paper. What they lacked in presentation they made up for in grassroots knowledge and dedication to local interests. I am hopeful that with some extra funding these organizations will be an even more important key to addressing the burden of HIV/AIDS on African communities.

Some elderly CBO members in their office.

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