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Olaf’s trip to Uganda

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Olaf’s trip to Uganda

Olaf arrives in Uganda

Finally doing what frozen things do in summer! Olaf is one of hundreds of toys recently donated to our new pre-school, due to open at Kathy’s Centre in September.  Olaf was donated, along with Princess Elsa, by Ellie Welsby, age 7, of St Margaret Ward Catholic Primary School in Sale, Manchester.

Children at the school have donated hundreds of toys and education resources for our first ever pre-school. The children presented the toys to Martin, our chief exec, at an assembly at the school. Thanks to various volunteers travelling to Uganda to help paint and decorate the pre-school, many of these toys have now arrived at Kathy’s Centre.

Sorting the toys in Uganda

“We have been overwhelmed by the Sale children’s generosity, and thank them enormously.  The children in Mayuge, Uganda have nothing and these donations will really help us get Kathy’s Centre pre-school off the ground.” says Martin.

The pre-school forms part of our new multi-functional community health and education centre. Kathy’s Centre was the dream of Act4Africa co-founder Kathy Smedley, who, for 14 tireless years worked to bring education and health support to the poor and vulnerable, not only in Uganda but Tanzania and Malawi also. Sadly, Kathy passed away in 2014, but with this Act4Africa became even more determined to see her wish fulfilled.

As well as helping to run Act4Africa, Kathy was also a teacher at St Margaret Ward School in Sale and set up the nursery class there. As an early years teacher, Kathy was passionate about improving standards of education in Uganda, especially in the vital pre-school years.

Nursery children at St Margaret Ward School with donated toys

Jason Hughes, Head Teacher at St Margaret Ward said, “We are proud to be supporting Act4Africa in their new venture.  Children and staff at the school remember Mrs Smedley and her dedication to the nursery at St Margaret Ward.  We are delighted to help fulfil her dream of a flagship early years school in Uganda.”

We still have a way to go to reach our target to complete the centre with internal fixtures and fittings and external ground works. Donations towards the £35k target for this can be made here.

Health, Empowerment and Livelihoods in Malawi

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Health, Empowerment and Livelihoods in Malawi


Soroptimist International Manchester Chair, Sue Underwood, presents Martin Smedley, Act4Africa Chief Executive with £5,000 cheque for HEAL Malawi

In April 2016, Act4Africa were delighted to receive a cheque for £5,000 from Soroptimist International Manchester to celebrate their 90th anniversary.  Since then, the club have pledged a further £1,000 as part of our Big Give Christmas Challenge, which we are delighted to say was match funded by individual donations and Reed Foundation International.

This funding has directly enabled our small team in Malawi to roll out the Health, Empowerment and Livelihoods (HEAL) project in Mchinji District over the past year.

For every three young women in the Mchinji District, at least one will subsist on less than £1 per day; one will have experienced physical or sexual abuse, and one will most probably have had her first child before the age of 18.  Of every ten young women, at least one will be HIV+.

To date, the team have trained 18 young women, as community mentors, in sexual and reproductive health rights and gender equality. Each of these mentors have gone on to act as group facilitators for 25 other out-of-school women (aged 15 to 30), passing on what they have learnt.  The Act4Africa team also train the groups in basic finance and business skills; encourage them to save; open bank accounts and start up enterprises, either individually or as groups.

Groups that have successfully opened a bank account have been given seed funding, as part of the project, to help boost their savings and it has also been shown to increase the levels of trust, encourage the women to save more, and attract more members to their groups.

To date more than 10 groups have opened their own bank accounts and started saving; over 60 loan applications have been processed by the groups themselves, facilitating 69 new enterprises.  The types of businesses the women are setting up include buying and selling tomatoes, fish, maize flower, cooking oil, vegetables, second hand clothes, cosmetics and potatoes. Some of them are also baking and selling doughnuts, manufacturing washing soap, peanut butter and cooking oil, raising chickens for meat/eggs, growing tomatoes, beans and nuts, doing general farming and one even has a large shop for textiles. The women who run these businesses are taking control of their lives and are able support their families.  The empowerment they receive as a result of their economic independence will stay with them for ever, long after the project has finished.

Case Study: Felicitey Shamvu (34), of Kandusu Village, Mchinji

Felicitey has a large family of 7, as she cares for the orphans or her relatives.  Life is not easy for them: they lack many of life’s necessities and often go to bed with empty stomachs.

Felicitey got to know Act4Africa when the team visited her village raising awareness of HIV.  This year she joined a HEAL savings group and now her life is improving.

“We are learning to work as group to fight poverty.  As a group we share our challenges and encourage one another.”

Having taken a loan from her savings group, Felicitey now runs a small business from her home and is also involved in the group’s enterprise. She she says her life is “transformed”.

Felicitey is confident that the businesses she now runs will help her provide for her family for many years to come.

Act4Africa is hugely grateful to Soroptimist International Manchester for facilitating the team’s work this past year and enabling them to reach over 200 young women with this important and empowering training. As organisations, our objectives are closely aligned and we look forward to meeting with the club again at their AGM later this month to feedback on the project and hear about their tireless fundraising: running half marathons; organising tea parties and pancake parties; and getting up very early on Sunday mornings to brave car boot sales.  We are particularly excited to hear that, at the club’s AGM, they plan to present Martin with a further cheque to help us continue this vital work.  The club’s chair, Sue Underwood, told us:

“As Soroptimists, we were attracted by the elegant simplicity of the HEAL project.  We could see that what we would spend on a meal out could be used to fund the training of a community mentor, or that a tube of Smarties, full of 20 pence pieces could turn into seed funding.  Our 90th anniversary project has reached its £9000 target but Soroptimist International Manchester’s support will continue as HEAL makes sense!”

STOPAIDS credits Act4Africa HEAL project

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STOPAIDS credits Act4Africa HEAL project


STOPAIDS Policy Officer, Alysa Remtulla, explains the correlation between gender inequality and HIV; and celebrates Act4Africa’s HEAL (Health, Empowerment and Livelihoods) programme for its achievements in fighting the disease through women’s economic empowerment. This blog first appeared on the Oxfam Policy & Practice website as part of their HER SERIES, a collection of commentaries on women’s economic empowerment. Read the full article here.


Women’s Economic Empowerment and the HIV and AIDS Response



We know that gender inequality fuels the HIV epidemic and that women’s economic empowerment is a powerful tool to change gender relations. Does that mean that women’s economic empowerment can reduce women’s vulnerability to HIV? Evidence reveals the relationship may be more complicated.

In 2015, young women (15-24) made up 20% of all new HIV infections (despite representing just 11% of the population). The relationship is more pronounced in some geographic contexts than others; in South Africa HIV prevalence among women is nearly twice as high as men.

The link between wealth and HIV is less clear. Studies in the early 2000s, for example, showed a positive correlation between household income and HIV prevalence, where income was associated with living in urban settings, surviving with HIV for longer and attracting more partners (for men).

Feminist economists breakdown the household as the unit of analysis, and suggest economic dependence on men, makes women more likely to acquire HIV. Some studies have demonstrated that economic dependence limits a woman’s ability to negotiate safe sex, making her more likely to accept a partner having sex outside the relationship and less likely to insist on condoms, because she has no economic alternatives to remaining in the relationship. Economic dependence is also used to explain age discordant couples where adolescent girls form relationships with older men who provide them with material goods. These men are likely to have already have had multiple partners, and can pass HIV on to their younger partners.

Dependence aside, low household income is also demonstrated to negatively impact school attendance, and subsequently access to information about HIV. Insufficient income can also be a motivating factor to take part in sex work, which in the context of criminalisation, carries an increased risk of HIV acquisition.

For women living with HIV, economic dependence can be further impeded by HIV related illnesses, as well as stigma and discrimination which impact the ability to work. Insufficient income can in turn impact women’s ability to access healthcare. When privatised healthcare results in user fees, women and girls are the first to lose out given that spending on their health is a low priority within the household. Even where ART is free, additional costs such as travel to the clinic can be prohibitive. In families affected by HIV, women bear the burden of the caring responsibility for sick family members, further restricting their opportunities to take up paid work outside the home.

A potential solution


The connection between HIV and economic dependence suggests women’s economic empowerment could play a powerful role in the HIV response, both in terms of reducing new infections and supporting women living with HIV. Indeed, some women’s economic empowerment programmes have demonstrated positive results in reducing women’s vulnerability to HIV.

STOPAIDS member Act4Africa has piloted a programme, Health, Empowerment and Livelihoods in Uganda and now in Malawi. The project combines HIV prevention training, testing and counselling with savings and business enterprise coaching and life skills training, helping young women to secure access to higher earnings and increasing overall levels of confidence and self-esteem. Higher earnings lead to more independence, which has had a direct positive impact on health outcomes. The project is backed up by the provision of HIV services for a wider group of men and women in the community. Since HEAL began, 6,327 men and women have accessed HIV testing and counselling, 1,150 women are actively involved in savings groups and 632 women have set up business enterprises either individually or in groups. Through questionnaires Act4Africa have established a 25% reduction in men & women reporting high risk sexual behaviour compared to at the start of the project and 80% of those testing HIV positive are now taking up healthcare referrals compared to only 48% at the start.

Unintended Consequences
In contrast, other studies have shown that women’s economic empowerment programmes can have unintended consequences, for example increasing rates of violence against women and girls, perhaps as a reaction to the challenge to established gender relations. An increase in violence against women and girls is an unacceptable violation of human rights and indisputably increases vulnerability to HIV.

A 2011 report published by STOPAIDS member, STRIVE, examined the evidence behind intimate partner violence highlighting that employment is inconsistent in reducing women’s risk to violence and that the relative economic position of a women’s partner as well as cultural expectations of gender roles also affect a women’s risk of violence.

The mixed evidence demonstrates that women’s economic empowerment programmes need to be designed carefully to be effective. Programmes need to tackle the underlying gender norms and inequalities, rather than provoke backlash which reinforces them. A report from GSDRC highlights some of the critical elements of successful women’s economic empowerment programmes including involving men in programming and including specific components on information sharing and dialogue around gender, violence and health.

Act4Africa for example have found it essential to involve males from the community at the outset of the project, in order to raise awareness of how the project can have positive outcomes for everyone. They have found that women’s saving and enterprise groups which have the support of the community males are more successful and sustainable than those where there is suspicion and a perceived ‘threat’.

Alysa Remtulla

Source: Remtulla, Alysa. “Women’s economic empowerment and the HIV and AIDS response.” Oxfam Policy & Practice Blog. 22 Aug 2016.