Obwavu Bye Bye! “Goodbye poverty!” in Luganda.
Over the course of the past two days I have witnessed the heart and soul of BeadforLife’s holistic poverty eradication model here in Uganda. Yesterday, ” Standard Group” arrived one by one, having traveled great distances on overcrowded roadways to meet the 9:30 am sale start time. At the call of ” circle”… ( drumbeat- dum dum dum dum…) circle…. Da dum , dum dum… Circle!” The women mobilize for a short time of refreshing, and a chance to sing, dance, and clear their minds of all their troubles and worries for just a short while. Babies resting on hand woven mats in the humid equatorial sun, while their mommas experience an uplifting and engaging social group activity. Each of the 35 women belonging to Standard Group has a unique and captivating story to tell. While time didn’t permit me to speak with them all, their smiles and expressions told so much. The truth is easy to find in the gaze of one’s eyes. I’ve come to appreciate this silent communication.
I liken BeadforLife’s role in the communities to that of a shepherd, gathering the flock who have gone astray, left behind, and in need of guidance and leadership backed by love and genuine concern. Each group of women are hand selected to participate in the 18 month Beads to Business program or the shorter- condensed 6 month Street Business School program.
Today I visited the village of Mutungo- transport to which required a ride in a matatu as well as a Boda Boda in the interior of the village. Today’s session lead by 3 of BeadforLife’s entrepreneurial training staff ( Rachael, Clare, and Joanita) took place inside of the local church. I peeked into the boarded up space with simple roof and saw rows and rows of plastic white chairs, and one easel at the front of the class. On the wall hung three tear sheets reviewing yesterday’s lesson on the 4 P’s – in addition to the notes from session #1. Women arrived with supplies in hand, babies on their hips, and hope in their hearts! In the customary manner, we formed a circle and moved around singing and dancing like school children. I took my seat next to coach Clare, located at the front left side of the classroom, who acted as my Luganda- English translator and immediately started taking detailed notes. This highly customized and researched curriculum is based on core components which serve to engage, empower, and substantially improve the economic independence of these women holding no more than a 5th grade education.
On average, Street Business School members earn less than $0.60 per day and many earn 1/2 of that. This means they are unable to afford school fees for their children, they may not understand the rights to land ownership, nor are they aware of how they deserve to be treated as accepted members of the community.
Beatrice is one of these women. Both Beatrice and her 17 year old daughter Maureen attended today’s session with hopes of transformation. Maureen sat in the front row, so eager to learn and write down each and every word from the trainer’s mouth. Maureen, you see, stopped going to school at the age of 12-13 at the conclusion of primary school. In order to continue to secondary school, fees are required for supplies and exams- fees her widowed mother of 15 years, Beatrice, could not afford. Having merely a primary school education herself, Beatrice makes her living selling raw sugar cane stalks to local children. Once a week, she walks about an hour to collect over 23kilograms of raw stalks and transports it on the top of her head all the way back to her village. She nets approximately 1,000 Ugandan schillings a week profit- or about $0.29 – a WEEK.
Following the training, I was invited into Beatrice’s home, along with her daughter Maureen and we talked about her dreams for her new business and how she could realize the potential inside of her. Reminded by the training earlier that day, she scanned through ideas while Joanita patiently and so precisely translated for me. We all giggled in this 10 x10 sq foot home with only a thin sheet hung as a front door. Naturally, we purchased a sugar cane stick from her and I sampled what I like to refer to as a “Ugandan lollipop”! Biting down on the coarse, fibrous stalk – you have to slurp out the little bit of sugary sweet liquid that is extracted when squeezed.
Maureen sat closely to me on the couch, her head curled up snugly on my left shoulder the entire visit. By the end of our visit, a crowd of neighbors and village children arrived at the front door peering in to see what all the commotion was! We were praising God and praying for blessings to come to Mutungo village. Laughing heartily, we moved outside of the dark, cooler interior of her home and outside into the bright sunshine.
Two doors down, we were invited into Rose’s home- a much smaller, less structured little home built of timber. Squatting down to enter her tiny front door, my eyes were greeted by two small beds, a dirt floor covered in blankets, and a small sitting chair. Rose has 4 children, and they all live with her in this space. Mosquito nets hung from the low tin roof, and we took a seat and listened as she shared her business with us. Unlike Beatrice, Rose has a steady stream of income selling cold sodas and waters in public gathering places such as matatu stops. I noticed in the corner of one of the beds, a heaping pile of belongings behind a sheet draped 1/2 way from the rear- forming a little partition. This was the extent of her belongings- her children’s few pieces of torn and tattered clothing, a cleaning rag or two, and a water can. Rose walks to fetch clean water. Her youngest daughter named JenRose- thin as a rail- introduced herself to me in English and caused the entire room to roar in laughter! In hysterics laughing, they were so impressed with her courage and inhibition. I am sure this moment created memories we will all cherish for a lifetime.
BeadforLife is the shepherd.
Destitute, down trodden women the sheep.
As this day draws to an end, I am reminded of the message in this week’s church bulletin on Faith, Hope, and Love.
” Those who know they don’t know it all, find it easy to believe. People who can’t control tomorrow find it easy to hope. People who have nothing to give but themselves, find it easy to love.”
This last sentence helped me understand why Maureen nestled so closely to me during our home visit. Love is what she has to offer to me, and how sweet the feeling!
To engage and help ignite 1 million women out of poverty through entrepreneurial training and mentoring, please prayerfully consider a donation by clicking here: vegas.ignite1million.org
Love and blessings to you all!