We pulled up the long rural driveway with Julius, our driver, coach Ritah- one of the compassionate and dedicated street business school trainers in Bulogo, and my BeadforLife colleague- coach Phoebe- to our final on-site business visit for the day in Bulogo village, about 45 minutes drive north of Kamuli town. What a wonderful surprise to end the long day of field interviews! Monica Mwesigwa was seated on a small wooden bench outside of her free standing outdoor brick kitchen with a thatched roof, rolling out carefully prepared and mixed dough for her newly launched and thriving small business selling banana pancakes. These are not the traditional pancakes to which we are accustomed, light and fluffy golden colored cakes topped with melted butter and dripping with maple syrup, but rather a dense sort of croquette– a mixture of locally sourced and hand processed cassava flour, smashed bananas and a pinch of baking soda. Rolled out and cut into small circles with her multi purpose plastic cup and empty recycled glass bottle, she handed them to her daughter – 1 of 6 children ranging in age from 17 to 1 and 1/2 yrs- who was tending the indoor charcoal fire over which rest a pot of boiling hot oil to deep fry these sweet little snacks! As we talked with Monica, age 33, we could just sense her incredible entrepreneurial spirit! Waves of smoke escaped from the small outdoor kitchen, encircling our senses as we snapped photographs and filmed quick feature videos, highlighting her amazing success!
Bulogo Women’s Group.
Monica enrolled in November 2014 with the first class of Bulogo Women’s Group, consisting of 20 members. Bulogo Women’s Group is one of the first partner organizations to replicate the business training curriculum and mentoring developed and introduced by BeadforLife’s Street Business School program- currently under expansion with the goal of providing entrepreneurial training for 1 million women living in extreme poverty worldwide. By December, only a couple short weeks after her first few business building training sessions, Monica had already launched her pancake selling business! She sold 1 chicken at the rate of 11,000 UGS (approx $3.25) to obtain the capital she needed to get her small business off the ground. Monica shared with us that she used to eat chicken she raised until she learned in one of the trainings she had the choice and opportunity to sell one instead- giving her financial means to save and invest for a business.
Sparked by these fundamental business lessons, one of which encourages women to “start small” and understand the temporary nature of their present difficulties, Monica applied herself in earnest. This takes wholehearted belief and trust, and Monica decided to embrace change and take that risk. Investing the profits from her pancake business, Monica launched her second business – selling a homemade secret recipe banana juice. She sells these by the 400 or 500 ml cup in town. She shared with us that she earns about 2,500-3,000 UGS profit daily from her juice (approx .75-.80) as well as a profit of 3,000 UGS from her pancake business daily. She is now earning close to $2 a day and is continuing to expand. She has more than doubled her income and her graduation date is set for next month in Bulogo village! Like all entrepreneurs, Monica faces challenges. Currently, she told us she is challenged by lack of access to the specific variety of ripe bananas to meet her growing demand for the juice. Tending to her 6 children in addition to running her businesses proves challenging, but Monica is so passionate and driven we are unequivocally convinced she will have continued success!
I asked Monica what she is most proud of in her business and she replied,
” Now, I am able to afford things I couldn’t before- without the help of my husband- whom she called “boss” with a smile and laughed! …. ” if I would like a piece of meat, I can buy it… If I want to have my hair done or buy a special lotion for myself, I am able to do so and am not depending on my husband.”
As we left her bustling home workshop, we thanked her profusely for her time, as well as her earnest efforts in English to help us film a short video of her tremendous accomplishments. What a courageous and brave woman- so incredibly wise for her young 33 years.
I left home early July with a particular definition and understanding of the words “courage” and “bravery”, and enjoy experiencing the evolution of this definition with each passing day shared with some of the most enterprising, and tenacious women I will have ever met in my life. I am truly blessed for these encounters and for the lessons they have continued to teach me along this unimaginably profound journey.