By Patson Baraire KANUNGU
Atukunda Sheila Kirebete is no ordinary woman because she is compassionate about community empowerment and her efforts are geared toward eliminating hunger and poverty.
Born in 1988, Atukunda, studied Social Work and Social Administration at Uganda Christian University Mukono, and returned to her native village in Nyarushanje sub county in Rukungiri District where she worked with North Kigezi Diocese under Compassion International which is involved in Child development welfare, until Sept 2018 when she quit her job to get involved in her lifetime passion of helping the more disadvantaged members of community.
This experience exposed her to have a big involvement in community based work and mobilization which ably put her in contention with how rural hard to reach areas dwellers were persevering to make a living albeit through untold uncertainties.
“The people are living in abject poverty , feeding on one a meal a day and unable to make savings for future use thereby surviving in a vicious cycle of untold suffering despite the fact that they devoted all their time in agriculture” Atukunda said.
Atukunda said that the experience she came face to face with made her realise the need to work with the communities to help them realise their potential by leaving within their means to fight hunger and poverty.
“I thought I would use reach out to the community by getting involved in politics but this needed sometime and I decided to get straight into community mobilisation at grassroot by identifying those areas which are most needy,” She said.
She said that by quiting her job , she realised that she can work better in community, teach them life survival skills not only to live until they die but to live a quality life with enough food to eat and plenty for sale which would completely eliminate poverty and hunger.
It was because of this that Atukunda decided to venture into large scale Irish potatoes growing in Kerere village Rutenga sub county in Kanungu District where she invested in acquisition of land and straight away started with the season which has not disappointed her because the harvest is promising and her team is seeing fruits.
Atukunda said that her mission to change peoples lives are paying off because in the 4 months she has been in community, she is already employing 5 people on permanent basis and 65 part time workers all whose life has changed for the better.
“The residents were growing Irish potatoes using old methods of farming but I had to bring in an expert agricultural extension officer who advised on better farming methods and in so doing , the farmers have realised a maiden number harvest.” She said.
She said that her objective of empowering communities is paying off because all people, women , youth and men are involved in the chain of large scale Irish potatoes growing and both poverty and hunger are becoming history.
Atukunda has connected the local residents of Kerere village to big time business people from Kampala, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo whose instant cash inflows have changed people’s lives.
“In the past we would sell the little we produced through middlemen but ever since Atukunda introduced us to direct traders from Kampala , we are getting more money ” Muhumuza Fulgence one of the local farmers testified.
Atukunda however said that, she wants to mobilize the farmers to work in groups so that more production is realised. Atukunda however said that there are still challenges being faced in her effort to economically empower the rural communities.
Top on the list is lack of land because all the last land she is using now is hired. She also said extension services are hard to find for the remotest areas of Rutenga and transport is a nightmare because of poor road network.
She however said that she is optimistic that these challenges can be solved because she will in future acquire her own land , have a full time extension officer and hopes the government works on the roads as promised.
Rutenga LC 3 chairman highly commended Atukunda’s interventions in poverty eradication and hunger elimination working with the communities and asked other people to join her initiative and embrace it in order to transform the lives of the local people.
“If this model approach is embraced by other people so that all villages are reached poverty and hunger will be history in this area, ” The chairman said. About 500 people in Kerere village in Rutenga sub county are currently benefiting from Atukunda’s farming intervations.