Only a few strands of life interweave to create a story as joyful and meaningful as that woven by Uganda’s Social Assistance Grant Empowerment for the Elderly (SAGE) program. For over a decade, this program has been a lifeline for senior citizens aged 80 and above, a beacon of hope that brightens their days and ushers them into a life of dignity and support.
At the helm of this transformational initiative stands Patrick Muwonge, the project manager whose unwavering commitment has played a pivotal role in turning SAGE into a resounding success.
The SAGE program, birthed in 2010 by the Ugandan government, aims to provide a monthly stipend of 25,000 shillings to elderly citizens. It is a compassionate step towards fostering social cohesion and inclusive growth, aimed at ensuring that those who had paved the way for future generations are not left to languish. “It is a social protection avenue,” Patrick Muwonge explains, “that involves direct payments to the elderly as part a national strategy developed to create inclusive growth and social cohesion.”
In 2020, Centenary Bank joined hands with the Ugandan government, partnering with the Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development to provide payment services for the SAGE program. With a deep understanding of the unique needs of the elderly, Centenary Bank embarked on a journey to empower and serve this vulnerable segment of society.
“When we came into play, we picked data from the elderly,” Muwonge shares, “then we went ahead and opened accounts for them. At the time of pay out, we traveled to accessible areas so that we could pay them because they are weak by nature.” Beyond financial services, the bank also undertook the task of imparting financial literacy, equipping these senior citizens with the tools to sustain their families and the lives of their grandchildren who often reside with them.
The impact of the SAGE program is a testament to the powerful ripple effect of genuine compassion. Over 305,000 elderly citizens now benefit from this initiative, with numbers continuously growing as new members join this community of care. Muwonge notes that the program has brought about profound changes at various levels. “Availing these resources usually helps them in terms of food, in terms of medication, and all the like,” he says. This stipend, given out quarterly, serves as a lifeline, enabling these senior citizens to address their immediate needs.
The impact transcends mere survival. Education and health have witnessed remarkable improvements. “The elderly stay with their grandchildren,” Muwonge enlightens, “so with this money, they are able to contribute to their grandchildren’s education.” The financial resources provide the means to access medical support and educational opportunities, fostering a brighter future for the next generation. Furthermore, economic growth has flourished, as these senior citizens venture into endeavors such as livestock farming, agriculture, and small businesses, enhancing their own livelihoods and contributing to the economic vitality of the nation.
Muwonge goes on to say that every quarter, 24 billion Uganda shillings are distributed as entitlement to approximately 305,000 senior people. “Because we follow the fiscal year of the government, we will distribute over 100 billion to the elderly on a quarterly basis this year,” Muwonge added.
Elifaz Ssonko, a SAGE program beneficiary who is 99 years old, thanked the President for constantly caring about the elderly and ensuring that their money gets to them. “We, the elderly from Busungire, are grateful to the president for this money, which has enabled us to purchase some meat and juice.” Ssonko exclaimed.
However, the journey has not been without its challenges. The physical condition of these elderly beneficiaries, who are often frail and weak, poses logistical hurdles. Moreover, technological barriers such as biometric enrollment have proven to be stumbling blocks. Muwonge acknowledges these issues but underscores the bank’s commitment to overcoming them. “We always run announcements on radios across the country aside from the mobilization from the local government so that the communication reaches all the elderly,” he explains.
Looking ahead, Muwonge’s vision is one of enduring partnership and growth. As Centenary Bank celebrates its 40-year milestone, the commitment to the SAGE beneficiaries remains steadfast. “We are just starting and are here to serve them,” he assures. “We are always moving and getting feedback to ensure that the service is better and all-time customer care.” This partnership between Centenary Bank and the Ugandan government is a beacon of hope, a reminder that institutions can be compassionate pillars of support, changing lives and shaping futures.
In the words of Patrick Muwonge, “Centenary Bank is privileged to partner with the government to ensure that it serves the communities.” The SAGE program isn’t just about financial transactions; it’s a testament to the impact that can be achieved when institutions and individuals unite in pursuit of a better world.