Having directly experienced humanitarian and disaster relief operations in the 1990s in countries such as Bangladesh, Somalia and Angola, Derry man Denny Elliott moved on to directing local charitable organisations and working to achieving positive impacts at a local rather than global level.
Now, 18 years later, in taking up the role as Head of NI Self Help Africa, Denny feels he has come full circle but is back where he belongs.
The vision of Self Help Africa is of a rural Africa, free from hunger and poverty and, within weeks of taking up the post of Head of NI for the charity, Denny was on an aircraft to Uganda, to see first-hand how Self Help Africa is making that vision a reality on the ground.
Speaking to the ‘Journal’ on return from his visit to the east African country with new Self Help Africa Northern Ireland Ambassador, Ulster and Ireland rugby player, Rob Herring, Denny says the most striking thing about his visit was witnessing the gratefulness and enthusiasm of the women who farm the land.
A staggering 80% of farming is being carried out by women and one of the main reasons is due to a joint venture with TruTrade a subsidiary Self Help Africa social enterprise linking small scale producers with buyers in a secure and transparent way and empowered women find this a safe, quick and efficient way of doing business. Trading includes sorghum, cassava, maize, fruit and vegetables.
Denny said: “Self Help Africa provides local farmers in Uganda with start up assistance and the farming groups and community collectives we met on our visit were just incredible.
“I was overwhelmed to meet women who are happy and satisfied to be managing their farming businesses with thanks to the help they’re receiving from Self Help Africa. They are able to farm their land efficiently and negotiate good prices for their crops quickly,” said Denny.
In sub-Saharan Africa, investment in agriculture is up to 11 times more effective at reducing poverty than investment in any other sector. Denny said that working with target groups in Uganda has been beneficial for families to be able to provide high-carbohydrate and high-protein meals for their children.
“There has been an increase of 245% in disposable income for some in the last five years, making a lasting and sustainable difference to people who have experienced war and suffering in the conflicted country. We are working to improve the livelihoods of the population and to build resilient communities with skills and means required to survive without our assistance in the longer term.
“Some women have been able to purchase a small plot of land with our help and are growing food and earning an income from this. They are sharing the knowledge from the training we’ve provided with their neighbours and their children are eating more meals and therefore thriving in school,” he said.
Denny added that visiting Uganda helped him link the work being done in NI, with the impact on the ground in Africa by seeing projects in Kampala benefiting communities on a daily basis.
“We have more than 200 volunteers supporting the charity here in Northern Ireland, some of whom have been volunteering with Self Help Africa, previously known as War On Want NI, for more than 40 years.
“The impact made by our volunteers and the general public, who donate and fundraise or purchase clothing and books at our stores, was really brought home to me when I visited our projects in Uganda and it gave me great joy to see how lives have been transformed,” he said.
In Teso, Self Help Africa provides training and practical support to more than 1,500 households to farm more productively and working with women’s groups here, Self Help Africa is helping combat the challenges of poverty, climate change and high levels of HIV/AIDS.
Denny added: “I would appeal to Derry Journal readers who would like to make a difference to families in Uganda, and in the other eight countries where we work with our own African staff and partners to undertake a range of integrated development programmes in rural communities, to donate whatever little they can, as any donation, no matter how small, can plant a seed and make a sustainable difference to families in Africa.”