On the road again Monday morning by 7:30 am heading towards Kamuli, Uganda in the east. About 45 miles north of the town of Jinja- the source of the Nile River! I’ve come to anticipate an adventure each time I embark on field work. Travel, traffic, and the sights on the ground mix around me like an unfamiliar collection of spices from a foreign land. Traveling east on Jinja road, we passed through a bustling meat market town called Najjembe, where hoards of workers dressed in blue uniforms wave sticks of street meat – mostly chicken- trying to get your attention! As you slow down to pass through this food refill town, your vehicle is essentially overtaken with people pressed against all 4 windows trying to sell you sticks of meat, bags of bananas- over 5 varieties- avocados, tomatoes, as well as cold bottled beverages like water or orange soda pop!
Our driver picked up a bag of sweet bananas, and my colleague selected a sack of roasted plantains to be enjoyed on the ride to our destination. Shortly after that smoke filled meat rest stop, we passed through the lush valley of the Mabire Forest.
Our work today centered on field interviews with current members of the Bulogo Women’s group- the first partner organization here in Uganda to replicate and test the Street Business School 6 month entrepreneurial training methodology for the poorest women in the rural village of Bulogo. Led by the warm and nurturing mama Esther and coach Ritah, we were introduced to a quarter of the group due to graduate next month!
Each and every visit to the women’s homes and places of business was exhilarating and encouraging! We were seeing first hand the impact that BeadforLife’s Street Business School expansion project was having in rural villages in Uganda!
Our first encounter was with the loveliest woman named Regina Nakalanzi. Regina is 49 years old, married, and has four children. Inspired by the content of her very first training session at the street business school (held under a large mango tree with the trunk of the tree posing as an easel for white paper held up by two members), she managed to string a couple of independent thoughts together and sold a small basket woven of palm branches for a mere 15,000 UGS- a bit less than $5USD. After the sale of a second basket, she invested the proceeds in order to buy a piglet! Embracing the notion of “starting small” with her business, she continued to put lessons to practice at home and begin to save and eventually have her own male pig which would help her financially!
When she’s not busy running her most profitable business, the piggery, she works as the village hairdresser! An old passion of hers that went by the way side due to life’s daily struggles with farming and subsisting- she decided to rekindle her love with this business as well! Honing her skills, and dedicating more energy than usual on this, she has become one busy beautician- especially in December around the holidays! She weaves baskets on the side, and also grows and sells small harvests of sim-sim- sesame seeds- for additional profits. Regina was raised by her uncle after her father passed away at a young age. She never made it through secondary school, and while she had a later opportunity in life to attend a nursing program, she failed to complete it due to lack of school fees to fund her studies. She found herself in a stagnant place – feeling restless, tired, defeated, an complacent for a number of years.
Thanks to BeadforLife’s partnering with Bulogo Women’s group, Regina’s dreams to be independent and successful in life came true! She rose up from her lowest point- having lived in a mud hut with a tin roof when she arrived to Bulogo village and not able to send her children to school. Selling small bags of maize which she harvested by herself, she was able to purchase 7 iron sheets to begin to provide a better shelter for herself.
When asked what advice she would give to other women who may be considering joining a business training program, she said ” you must be patient in marriage, and in business. Save, be creative, and always remember to take a portion of your profits and reinvest them to expand you businesses!” Spoken like a true entrepreneur!
I asked which business she liked most, and she replied with a chuckle, ” the piggery, because it’s the most profitable!”
I was blessed to have the village hairdresser demonstrate her hair braiding talent on my muzungu hair and that was fun for us both! She has never braided a white person’s hair and I have never experienced the fast paced, super tight small rows placed nearly on my scalp! It was great fun and a shared blessing indeed! I was incredibly inspired by her hard work, and enterprising spirit!
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