Guerrilla group leader Joseph Kony’s unspeakable atrocities threw Uganda into darkness for decades. Thousands of women and about 65,000 children and youth were kidnapped. Some were used for sex slaves and soldiers. Schools were systematically destroyed, beginning with schools for girls. Thousands were killed, and about two million people were displaced. But now, Ugandan women, such as tailor-turned-entrepreneur Angela Adeke, are rising up with so much light and determination, the whole world is watching. Six years ago, Adeke struggled to survive and provide for her children, working as a farmer, labor, and sometimes seamstress. At the same time, she was anxious to enroll her children in school. But administrators scorned her and chased her away when they learned she couldn’t even afford uniforms. Dismayed but not defeated, 37-year-old Adeke turned that shameful moment into a shining business opportunity.
With the support of San Carlos, CA-based nonprofit Village Enterprise, Adeke received training and a small $150 grant to buy cloth and training to invest in her tailoring business. Adeke began her business by proudly sewing her children’s school uniforms. Since then, in a success story that reads like a Hollywood movie, Adeke went on to sew uniforms for 4,000 other children at four schools in Ngora, one of Uganda’s poorest districts. Two of Adeke’s children are in a top boarding school, one in a regular school. Adeke also supports and educates two of her brother’s orphaned children. The schools that once shunned women like her? “Now, I go to the schools and lobby for business. I am strong and confident. I can walk into any office and ask for work and negotiate a good payment.” After Adeke was trained in business skills by Village Enterprise, she purchased five sewing machines and created a school to mentor and train about 40 other women as tailors. She moved from a grass-thatched house to a three-bedroom home and built her parents a home.
Now, Adeke’s annual revenues include:
· School uniforms tailoring: $12,500
· Teaching tailoring students: $375
· Farming Groundnuts ($416); Cassava ($250) and Maize ($333)
· Mending and sewing clothes for others: $2,900
She found remarkable entrepreneurial success in a region that was devastated in 2003 when Kony’s soldiers swept into Ngora and neighboring Soroti districts, and where many still live on less than $2 a day. “I feel great, and it makes me want to continue doing a good job,” Adeke said. “We eat a balanced diet, have decent clothing, and bedding. I purchased a plot of land in town where I hope to have another tailoring school.”
Adeke’s business is promising as Uganda works hard to get children into school after decades of neglect and high illiteracy. Some classrooms in her district have up to 120 students, so uniforms are in high demand. “One school has been my client for five years. Because of my training, I’m able to use good business language to keep my clients, apply my skills in keeping records, and make informed decisions,” she said. Adeke’s rise as one of the rare, female business leaders in patriarchal Uganda is admirable, considering that 75 percent of trade businesses are dominated by male employees, according to the Women and Girls Empowerment Project. “It gives me great joy to stand as a woman, not begging, but helping others and playing a role in changing the world in which I live,” said Adeke. “It gives me greater joy to see others come up, especially women from my community, because it seems that today in our society, women are playing a critical role in helping their families. Helping make that happen is my greatest pleasure.” Indeed, after Kony’s rampage of terror, many women are still traumatized and afraid. But Adeke found her voice–along with her savvy business skills.
She says she is grateful she didn’t let her circumstances crush her chances to be a change agent for all women. “I plan to make sure my children and the orphans under me become influential people in society,” Adeke asserted. With Village Enterprise’s savings program, Adeke is saving each month. Operating in Kenya and Uganda, Village Enterprise’s poverty alleviation program includes a yearlong business, financial literacy, and conservation training program, $150 grants, ongoing business mentoring and evaluation, and Business Savings Groups. A pioneer in the microenterprise development field, Village Enterprise has started more than 29,000 businesses, trained more than 130,000 business owners and helped lift more than 600,000 people out of extreme poverty in rural Uganda and Kenya. According to Village Enterprise CEO, Dianne Calvi, based on the size of families in the areas in which the nonprofit works, each new business increases the standard of living for, on average, 20 people.
About the blogger
Susan Skog is the author of “The Give-Back Solution: Create a Better World with Your Time, Talents, and Travel” and a nonprofit consultant that champions humanitarian organizations addressing extreme poverty, injustices, and conflicts across the developing world. Trained as a journalist, Skog has captured stories of Ugandan women reclaiming their lives in the wake of Joseph Kony’s atrocities.