African Diaspora organisations in the UK are at the forefront of life-changing developments across sub-Saharan Africa. Transform Africa, a North London based organisation set up in the 1990s by a group of UK-based charities, works extensively on a wide range of projects to eradicate poverty across Africa.
Transform Africa’s Chief Executive, Charles Kazibwe, says: “What’s unique about us is our long-term approach and interest in the broader picture. Some organisations only treat the symptoms of a problem without looking at the issues causing it.” He explains: “We worked alongside a HIV prevention organisation in Tanzania, who found that although they ran many HIV campaigns the infection rates were getting worse.”
“We sat with the community and discussed the issues around HIV and AIDS, and saw a real shift from discussions around the virus to the issue of poverty. The community was saying that severe poverty and a lack of options were forcing young women into prostitution and causing HIV rates to soar.”
Many young women living in poverty gather for sex work in areas such as the highway from South Africa to Dar Es-Salam. Most of them do not use protection, which earns them more money but also puts them at risk of being infected with HIV. Charles says that, “Although setting up awareness days is vital, these actions do not treat the root cause. What Transform Africa does is provide vulnerable women with loans and training to enable them to set up businesses so they can escape from prostitution.”
One woman whose life has been changed by Transform Africa is 23-year-old Neima. Orphaned at the age of 14 during the civil war in Sierra Leone, Neima had no education and no employment opportunities. She was forced into commercial sex work to attain the basic needs of life, living with nine other girls in a small shanty room and visiting nightclubs in search of customers.
With support from Transform Africa and the local partner organisation, Neima enrolled onto a vocational education scheme where she trained as a tailor. After graduation, she opened a shop with other students from the course. Charles explains that with the business profits, Neima is able to provide basic life necessities as well as tuition fees, exercise books and school uniform for her seven-year-old child.
Charles, who visits the projects in Africa around five times a year, has a personal attachment to the work carried out by Transform Africa. “I’ve seen and experienced poverty from birth. My parents, who were members of the fishing community in Mityana, Uganda, were forced into peasant farming when the lake dried up. We were a family of eight siblings but four of my sisters and two of my brothers died. They died because of poverty because we couldn’t afford treatment for preventable illnesses such as malaria. As I grew older I threw myself into charity work with passion, starting up Action Aid in Uganda and transforming Action Aid in Sierra Leone.”
A year after moving to London in 1999 to complete his master’s degree, Charles was recommended by his tutor for the position of Network Manager at Transform Africa. In 2003 he took over as Chief Executive of the organisation. “Since then I’ve seen this organisation grow and grow. The feedback and testimonies that we’ve received have been incredibly positive and the numbers of people who come to seek our help continue to increase.”
Transform Africa works on a wide range of projects, which empower local organisations to tackle poverty. The UK office manages the fundraising and grant applications needed in order for the local organisations to carry out the ground work.
The organisation has a long standing relationship with Comic Relief, who with the support of UK aid (from the Department for International Development) is supporting African Diaspora organisations, enabling them to create a bigger impact and reduce poverty and injustice in Africa.