The 50,000 or so people living in Ruhiira in Uganda have been part of a high-profile aid initiative over the past nine years. It is one of the locations across Africa chosen by the US economist Jeffrey Sachs to establish Millennium Villages – intended to be a model for accelerating the end of global poverty.
The Millennium Villages concept has been backed by the United Nations, preparing a string of summits this year as the world marks a transition from the Millennium Development Goals to broader and more ambitious Sustainable Development Goals.
The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, says the Millennium Villages are “showcasing how effective an integrated strategy for education, health care, agriculture and small business can be”.
While a few years ago there was scarcely any electricity in Ruhiira, the changes it has gone through are evidently visible. There are shops where you can draw money with a mobile phone. And there is a co-operative bank with customers queuing up for loans but, for now, with all too little capital to meet the demand.
A large water tank at the Ruhiira trading centre – fed by piped water – shows progress, too, in the critical area of providing more people with access to clean and safe water.
Mr Sachs said that at the peak, the Ruhiira project was investing around $60 (£40) per person per year on health, education, water, sanitation, agriculture etc.
“My father died when I was still very young, we didn’t have enough land. Only a plot where we lived. That is the reason I didn’t go far in education. But I worked hard to buy this land where I am farming.”
In the past many children used to drop out of primary school – girls, in particular.
Nyakamuri primary school packs 580 children into its single storey classrooms – one of which is now a solar-powered computer room.
The head teacher, Florence Kakiiza, describes the everyday challenges her pupils face:
“Most of them have to walk long distances,” she says. “They don’t have light to do homework and most don’t have enough food at home.
“It is still a struggle but we are moving a bit on education… nearly every child is going to school.” hg
For more information on the concept of Millennium Villages please click here.