How do I help women in rural Uganda?

There are lots of problems in Africa and just as many (if not more) views on how to tackle them. A vast majority says that education is one of the most important solutions and I tend to agree. However, you need to understand that education here is not free. I haven’t met a person who wouldn’t want to be able to allow their kids to go to school. The problem is that most people cannot or struggle to pay the tuition fees. Therefore I am very happy to be working on a project that helps to increase the income of over 40 families.

I already briefly introduced you to two women groups with whom I work here. My work objective remains the same – increase sales revenue from the hand-crafts they make from locally available resources.

These are goimg to look so good on my dinner table while hosting guests.
These would look so good on a dinning table for a ‘love themed’ dinner.

How do I help “Kasana Mothers Creation” women group?

They are currently making only recycled paper bead bracelets, which were mainly sold by two former volunteers from Integrated Villages. Even before my arrival I already knew that this type of business model is not sustainable and I challenged them. 

So what are we planning to do? Firstly, I would like to find at least a few B2B business partners (e.g. fair trade type of shops in Western countries or souvenir shops in Uganda). We need to make sure that even though revenue is low, it will create a constant flow of income. In order to approach those potential partners, we are working to improve/ adjust their product design, making it more suitable for our target audience. 

The good news is that the product is quite small in size and considered affordable in the local market. Even though the shipping cost outside Uganda are high, there is still room for the addition of a much needed profit margin, especially if sold to Western countries.

We are also working on improving our product marketing. Currently we are brainstorming on how to brand the different bracelets e.g. related to the environment where they live. My favourites are “Uganda soil” and a limited edition collection entitled “Mountain Gorilla”. We will develop fitting products tags for each bracelet and included a printed brochure introducing the women behind the product. 

“Uganda soil” bracelets from recycled paper beads.
“Uganda soil” bracelets from recycled paper beads.

I love the recycled paper bracelets as it stimulates the circular economy. However, I would like the women to diversify their business activities. I think it would be good to develop businesses which are less dependent on foreign markets and have a functional utility for the local market. They are mostly favourable for starting tailoring and piggery businesses now. The problem is that buying one sewing machine for €110 or a piglet for €20, is quite a big investment. One they currently cannot afford.

Since my blog is reaching more and more people who are reaching out  to help, we have already gathered some initial investments. I am actually really not in favour of asking for donations, but if someone is willing to buy their beautiful products and give a small tip, that’s more than okay. My mum is especially very active in this regard, so hopefully by the end of my stay, we can ensure that at least 20 women, who currently don’t have a piglet, get at least one and perhaps even buy one sewing machine.

How do I help “Luteete single mothers”?

As I have already noted in my previous post, each story is unique here. I still didn’t visit any of the homes in Luteete, but I sense it’s going to be worse from what I have seen so far. Most of them are single mothers; their income is so low that their kids are most likely not going to finish secondary school. I sense in Kasana women group, most families will manage to let their kids finish (an albeit low quality) secondary school.

In Luteete each woman develops her own product. Often times they sell them to neighbours or random passengers (this because they live close to a main road). I like their products a bit more because I would say they have more functional value. For example, the fruit baskets, which are made from banana leaves and decorated with reused ribbon material from wedding parties. They can make you any colour you desire and they are super durable. It takes them a full day to finish one basket. 

Sturdy and beautiful fruit baskets made from banana leaves and decorated with re-used ribbon material from weddings.
Sturdy and beautiful fruit baskets made from banana leaves and decorated with re-used ribbon material from weddings.

They also make mats which are used in Ugandan homes a lot. Many houses don’t have chairs, so they sit on the ground on those mats. It takes them a month to finish the product and it’s made in various colours and ornaments from palm leaves. There are a few other women who do tailoring, beach hats, recycled paper bead necklaces, bags and clutches. I like their diversified businesses, yet the challenge remains the same. Where to sell them?  

So basically with Luteete women I am trying to do same as in Kasana. Find B2B partners inside and outside Uganda to sell their products. We are also working on developing a few new products with the goal to make them more attractive for foreign markets or tourists around beautiful Uganda’s national parks. For example, we have already designed cup coasters, rings for napkins, bookmarks and are still developing a lighter and small version of the aforementioned fruit basket.

Palm leaves tea coasters made by a single mother Saidat.
Palm leaves tea coasters made by a single mother Saidat.

There are so many problems here. Many houses are uncemented, so kids sleep on the dusty floor. Many people are sick and cannot afford medicine, many don’t have electricity, some cannot allow their kids to go to school or simply have a diversified healthy nutrition. Every day I see more and more of those problems which I have never experienced before. It’s really tough to be here coming from Europe, especially when you realize you simply cannot help everyone, even though you try and would really like to. 

So what do I do? I continue growing my “strong skin” and sticking to my project objectives. Helping the two women groups establish businesses which can generate a constant flow of income, even a small one. I want to make a difference to those 40 families. 

How can you help? Well, if you know some shops or any other businesses in Western world who would be interested to sell their products, please reach out. Women are jumping, singing and clapping each time when we get a new order. If you are willing to buy a local product, let me know too. This would help us to save up for buying the piglets and sewing machine.

Clutch decorated with recycled magazine paper beads.
Clutch decorated with recycled magazine paper beads.
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