Village Enterprise COVID-19 Tales: Produce Seller Becomes Soap Maker during Pandemic

Lamwaka Lillian at her food stall in Paicho, Uganda.

Before the coronavirus, Lamwaka Lillian used to arrive home after selling tomatoes and onions in the market and hug her two-year-old daughter. Now, this routine can’t happen, because Lamwaka’s afraid of catching the coronavirus while serving customers in the market and spreading it to her daughter. She has no idea where her customers come from or who they’ve interacted with, so she is especially cautious when she comes home by removing the exposed clothing and washing her skin diligently before hugging her child. This is Lamwaka’s new reality; a reality that is seen and felt all around the world during this global pandemic.

When Lamwaka is selling tomatoes and onions to her customers she often thinks, “what if they have the virus?” In an effort to keep her community safe, she now carries water and soap to her stall and asks her customers to wash their hands before tending to their orders.

Lamwaka’s caution, in fact, fact prompted a business opportunity. After they noticed Lamwaka had soap at her stall, customers began asking if they could buy it from her. Due to a lockdown in Uganda that has been in effect since late March, transportation has been prohibited. The lockdown has allowed health officials to contain and monitor the virus within the country, however, it has led to difficulties for people who reside outside of major towns. People in Lamwaka’s trading center used to sell soap and other goods purchased from nearby Gulu, but since they are prohibited from moving, this market was disbanded. But people still need soap.

Lamwaka knew what she needed to do. She went home, collected the necessary ingredients, and began to make soap. She mixed chemicals and added scents and coloring until she concocted a liquid soap that would end up being purchased by many of her customers in Paicho.

Lamwaka now makes and sells soap regularly in addition to her regular wares.

At Village Enterprise, we help our business owners understand the importance of diversification and market research. Before starting a business, we encourage our business owners to see what is needed in their village. Maybe it’s onions or fish, or maybe it’s used clothing. We also encourage them not to put all of their eggs into one basket, because remaining flexible and expanding a business to other products is always a great way to get more revenue. Lamwaka did just that, during a pandemic no less!

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