The hard working ladies of Namuwongo

One of the things Ten Eighteen Inc. does in Uganda is micro-business grants. Notice I didn’t say micro-business loans, which is all the rage right now. The reason for this is simple: there is virtually no way for these women to repay a loan and still improve their quality of living, pay their school fees, buy food, and pay rent. None. A  lot of organizations do loans, and, in theory I guess it makes sense (our family chooses not to have debt except for on our house, but I’m not “against” debt per se). But I know these women. I know their conditions, their needs, their deep deep holes. And, quite honestly, if Ten Eighteen can’t afford to give them money, it shouldn’t be loaning it to them either.

In short, every shilling they make running their own businesses needs to accomplish a lot of different goals: restock their goods to continue and grow the business; pay rent; put food on the table, preferably at least twice a day (many, before we help them, can maybe, possibly, put one meal a day down). Even the best of my businesswomen can’t do all this and pay school fees yet, although three have been able to buy small plots of land and start building (when I say small, I mean tiny – like 10’x20′). So paying debt? Impossible. And the failure that comes with defaulting on debt is enough to take these already downtrodden women and throw them into despair. My goal is to help them succeed, and to believe in themselves.

So let’s meet some of them, shall we?

Nulu, March 2011

This is Nulu. She’s my superstar. We’ve given her a total of 4 grants over the last 2 years, and she has at least doubled her business each time. She sells fresh produce (you can see avocados behind me), and knows the profit margin of each product instantly when asked. She has 7 of her own children, and a niece and nephew that her mother was caring for until she died. They are AIDS orphans. She has bought a plot of land, but hasn’t begun building yet, as there is some discussion of a road coming through, and she wants to wait and see how that all turns out. She is a smart, funny lady!

Angela, March 2011

When we visited Angela in May, she had changed her business model from last year, and hit on a GENIUS plan. She is Acholi, which is the tribe up north, Gulu, Kitgum, and up into Southern Sudan. She came to Kampala, as many Acholi did, to escape the refugee camps and massacres by the LRA a number of years ago. There are a lot of Acholi in the slums in Namuwongo, and that’s where her brilliant plan comes in. She goes to the Namuwongo or another market nearby and buys clothes. In Kampala, used clothing is very cheap: jeans are about 3000 shillings ($1.50), a blouse 300 shillings, etc. She bundles up all the clothes, and takes the mail truck up north, about a seven hour drive. The trip costs her about 15,000 shillings, which is less than half of a regular (comfortable) bus. In the northern villages, she sells these clothes for ten times what she paid in Kampala. With that money, she buys these little brown peas and sim sim, both of which are Acholi staples but which are expensive in Namuwongo. She takes the post office truck back, and sells these good there. It is a LOT of work, and physically demanding (and her girls are both in vocational school, sponsored by Ten Eighteen, and can look after themselves). But it’s brilliant! She fills needs on both ends, and is doing great! We’ve given her two grants, and are thrilled with how she’s doing.

Agnes, May 2012

Agnes was one of the first women we met on our first trip in September, 2009. At that time, she was learning to sew with Ray of Hope, and living in a tiny room with six of her seven children. We’ve given her two grants, and she had just opened this produce stand the week we got to Uganda – and it’s in a great location. We saw her all four days we were visiting the slums, because she’s right on the main road. She didn’t have much this day, as her grandson had gone to the market to get more produce and not returned, but as always, she was full of mischief and laughter. I love this lady!! She’s always so full of joy and ideas, and, like the others, is such a hard worker.

Mary, May 2012

We met Mary on our second trip, and she now has a sewing machine in front of her house where she makes things for Ray of Hope, and other items as well. Not pictured is a small produce stand she has at the corner of her block of flats and the walkway. Mary sells fresh produce and small dried fish there, and does really well because she’s kind of far down in the slums, and it saves people a lot of walking to buy from her. So even though her stand is small, she brings back fresh produce every other day and sells out. Her son Festo, to my left, has been one of our sponsored kids for two years, and he was just accepted at university. We will continue to sponsor him there – the first semester they have to bring a lot of things, like a mattress (yep, a mattress!), so that first term is expensive.

We have many more women on the Ten Eighteen team, and love them all. They’re doing so, so great, and are so fun to visit with. I’m glad to be able to share just a few of them with you.

(As always, if you’d like to donate, go to the website and contact us! Thanks!)