‘I was born in Buhoma, Uganda. I grew up with my mother who had eight children. All she wanted was for us to have an education. Then, when I got a degree in tourism at the university in Kampala, she asked me to come back home and see if I could set up something to help other women. I asked her: ‘Mum, what am I going to do? How will I do this?’ But she said: ‘No, that’s the reason why I took you to school. You find a way of doing this.’
At that time my husband was in the UK studying marketing, so I came back with my daughter. We came to Bwindi and started a new life. Eventually, I was able to buy eight bicycles, and we started by teaching mechanics, but it was just run out of a mobile office. Then in 2011, I met a lady from Australia. She had come here to do gorilla trekking, but because she was a quilter she was buying African fabrics. I asked if she could come back and teach women how to quilt. She came in 2012 and we were able to start a sewing school.
We started with 14 women. The hardest part was picking those 14 out of 300. We needed people who were dedicated to learning because we were not going to pay them at that point. The chosen ones were able to learn for three weeks and then we started going into lodges and to the briefing area for the gorilla trekking to talk to the guides and tell them what we had started.
The place where the centre is now used to be the bush – a grazing place for cows. When we started, everyone used to be afraid of moving far away from each other because of snakes and other animals. But now every year we build something that is new in this place.
We now have 54 women working at the centre. In the villages where they come from women depend on farming but they cannot afford modern agriculture. Even when they grow food, the harvest is very small, because the fertile soil has been worn out. Recently, we went to the village where one of our women lives. She has six children living in a house with two rooms. They do not have a mattress. The kids sleep on the scraps that we usually leave as we are making quilts.
At the centre these women are fed and we give them purified water which is open to the whole community. We also have a group that dances and we give them breakfast. We work with women who have been domestically abused and girls who have dropped out of school and we have education for children.
Eighty children are now sponsored to go to school through our programme. So those are 80 children who, in the future when I retire, may also be interested in helping others.
We now pay the women. The highest takes home 10,000 shillings and the lowest takes home 6,000. We had 300 women and we couldn’t sustain them all. So the best way was to find other activities that these women could engage in and that can help them be empowered socially and economically.
We found a donor to donate $5,000 which we gave to 14 women. He was able to add in more money and from then, people have kept adding in. In total, we now have 150 women that have microloans.
These women run small businesses – they do retail, second-hand clothing, second-hand shoes. Some have goats, poultry, coffee. Some of them have bought land and built houses. Such things have been helping these women to keep going, to see that every day there is hope for tomorrow.
Previously at Christmas we gave out packages. We would buy a kilo of sugar, some salt, some cooking oil. But this time, we are not going to do that. This time we are going to call in the husbands of all the women that work here – for those who have them. The reason why we are doing this is because we need to talk to them about what we are doing, and how they need to teach other men what they’ve learned from us.
One of the things we’re talking about is: how do you appreciate a person who is working? We are saying: do not look at her as a threat, someone who is taking over your position as a man, but look at her as someone who is bringing change into your house and fighting the poverty that is within.’
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