Why Uganda?

Nearly two million people in Northern Uganda lost their homes, families, and villages as a result of the ongoing, catastrophic war traveling through East Africa. In 1996, they were forced to relocate to Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camps in an effort to provide refuge and protection, however, a decade later the situation in IDP camps worsened as they became filled with disease, poverty, and malnourishment. Over the years, people were permitted to leave IDP camps and return to their villages, however, most people had nothing to return to. The limited access to education and employment forced many people to relocate to the small town of Gulu, seeking aid and opportunity. When we first learned about this horrific war, we expected Gulu to be filled with despair and hopelessness; but when we arrived in 2008, we met women who were strong, hopeful, and ready to see change take place in their community.

About Our Program:

Our artisans in Uganda grew up during the war, and as a result each have different stories and needs. Most of them had little-to-no education as kids. Some are HIV positive, single moms, and/or have experienced domestic violence. Others were left without family or a home because of the war. As a result, we implemented a 5-year program that wouldn’t just care for a person financially, but holistically. The program is built on four main pillars: Financial Sustainability, Physical/Mental Wellness, Social Support, and Community Impact. After five years in our program, a beneficiary is ready to graduate. This means she is educated, healthy, and confident while managing her very own business where she will have an ongoing, sustainable income. Read about the initiatives for each pillar of the program below.

Financial Sustainability

The ultimate goal of our program is to provide beneficiaries and their families with the skill sets and resources necessary for being financially stable and successful. One of the women in our program said, “We’ve learned things we thought we would never learn, like budgeting, balancing, how to save, and how to start a business.” 

The Initiatives

Each of our beneficiaries earn a consistent monthly income, enabling them to send their children to school, provide food and a home for their families, pay for healthcare when necessary, and save money for a future business endeavor. Their income is equivalent to that of a Ugandan high school teacher.

Micro-financing Opportunities
31 Bits offers small loans for purchasing bikes and other small assets. Owning a bike is a huge accomplishment for our beneficiaries. For most of them, it’s the most expensive thing they’ve ever owned and meets a practical transportation need.

Financial Education
Most of our beneficiaries have never made a sufficient income nor have they ever received an education. As a result, they know very little about how to spend their money, making our Financial Education one of the most important parts of our program. We provide regular classes focused on teaching financial skills such as saving, planning a family budget, and using a bank account. The classes also provide our beneficiaries with an understanding of poverty, how to set goals for the future, and how money is connected to building your character.

Business Training and Mentorship
The ultimate goal of our program is to graduate each woman with a successful business of her own. This will allow her to maintain a sustainable income without depending on the Western market. It will also enable her to employ others from the community and help build the local economy. Our business classes provide education on developing a business plan, identifying skills and resources, and developing a marketing strategy. We bring the beneficiaries on field trips so they can learn from local business owners. Each beneficiary spends frequent one-on-one time with a mentor for guidance and support as they develop their business and prepare for graduation.

Physical and Mental Wellness

Living empowered begins with giving our beneficiaries the resources and education to live well both mentally and physically. Because most of our beneficiaries have little to no education, we’ve found the following initiatives to be a critical part of establishing sustainable well-being. Periodically we offer opportunities for spouses to get involved, to promote health and stability for the whole family.

The Initiatives

Psychosocial Education
We offer regular classes on psychosocial topics such as domestic violence, parenting, creating community in your neighborhood, and more.

Health Education
Our health courses cover a variety of topics such as nutrition, hygiene and sanitation, family planning, HIV and STI awareness, and prenatal care.

HIV Testing and Treatment
In a culture where sickness is associated with an extremely negative stigma, 31 Bits provides an environment where women can speak freely about their health. They can seek advice and treatment in a loving and caring atmosphere. We partner with a local organization called TASO to provide onsite HIV testing. We connect those who test positive with the necessary medication and education for treating HIV.

Onsite Counselor
Many of our beneficiaries are dealing with tough situations, resulting from both current and past circumstances. Our onsite counselor, Gladies, has an open door policy, allowing one-on-one time to meet with beneficiaries throughout the work week. She has over six years of experience mentoring and counseling women in problem solving, decision-making, grief, marriage, and more.

Men-To-Men Talks
For real empowerment to take place, it’s important for the whole family to be involved. Our quarterly “Men-To-Men Talks” provide an opportunity for our beneficiaries’ husbands, fathers, and adult sons to have honest discussions about their part in improving the well-being of the family.

Social Support

Our motto at the 31 Bits Ugandan headquarters is “We Are Family.” We strive to create a family atmosphere for our beneficiaries and staff members. We discovered in our annual evaluation with our beneficiaries that having a strong family and support system is what they value most in our program.

The Initiatives

Staff Relations
A person feels valued when they are known. Our staff members know each of our beneficiaries by name and truly care about their lives. Every week our managers meet with each beneficiary to check in with both their work and their lives. 31 Bits isn’t just a workplace, it’s a family.

Weekly Prayer
We think the best way to start a week is with prayer, so every Monday morning our staff and beneficiaries take turns leading a time of worship and prayer. We love walking into our headquarters to the sound of singing, often followed by some pretty amazing dance moves.

Daily Lunch
We think one of the best ways to get to know someone is by sharing a meal, so we offer lunch at a discounted rate at our headquarters to promote spending time with the Bits family.

Spouse Day
31 Bits aims at empowering the whole family, so we invite our beneficiaries’ spouses to join us for a “Spouse Day” twice a year. This provides an opportunity for spouses to get involved in what we’re up to at 31 Bits. We bring in speakers to discuss family dynamics and communication.

Community Impact

There is no doubt our beneficiaries are experiencing change in their lives and living empowered, but for that change to be sustained, their community must support healthy living and positive decision making. We have implemented opportunities for our beneficiaries to be part of empowering their own communities through sharing their knowledge.

The Initiatives

Serve Day
Our quarterly “Serve Day” provides an opportunity for our beneficiaries to go into the community and use their skills and knowledge to make a difference. They’ve volunteered at hospitals, prisons, and more, hoping to impact their neighbors and make the community a better place.

Educational Attainment
Each of our beneficiaries makes an income that is sufficient for sending their children to school. They are playing a part in raising up the next generation to be educated dreamers who will continue having a positive impact on their community.