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Lily cooking for customers.
“I had no sense of purpose,” Lily Peter said. Lily lives in the Rhino Refugee Settlement in Northern Uganda. She is one of the more than 1.5 million South Sudanese who have fled their war-torn homeland for the safety of Uganda. Every day she woke up and made porridge for her five children along with three orphans she cared for, collected firewood for the stove, and then waited for the day to end. Like most refugees in the camps, Lily’s family depended on the beans and corn that the United Nations distributed once a month to keep her family from starving. But finding the funds to send the children to school, or to treat them when they fell ill, was impossible.
The feeling of hopelessness began to dissipate when Lily and two partners received the opportunity to start a business with the help of Village Enterprise. Lily, Jane, and Asuku opened a restaurant, using their initial grant to rent space and cookware and to buy the ingredients needed to make the food. In just a few weeks, their business began to grow.
Now when you enter Lily, Jane, and Asuku’s restaurant, the smell of caramelized onions and simmering beans fills the space with a welcoming aroma. Lily and her partners use their profits to buy vegetables for a more balanced diet and to pay for their children’s school fees. They are also saving money to build a larger restaurant. “I feel proud to see people eating our food,” Lily confessed proudly. “We want to run a good restaurant. Eventually we’ll open a larger one…. Now when we wake up, we have hope.”
Dinah with the painted “MPesa”
Dinah Cherlonlaten stands in front of her shop in a purple dress that complements the painted letters on her house that read “MPesa”, a mobile phone-based money transfer and microfinance service used widely in Kenya. Today she earns $120 a month as an MPesa agent.
Six years ago, after participating in the Village Enterprise program, Dinah started a small shop in her home selling sugar, soap, and vegetables. But Dinah and her business partners soon had competitors, so they decided to diversify and add MPesa to their offerings. In addition, Dinah bought a motorcycle and hired a man to transport community members for a small fee.
Dinah is a widow with five children. She is now financially independent, an accomplishment that has brought her great pride. “People see me as a person who has changed her life,” Dinah declares. With savings from her business, she replaced the dirt floor of her house with concrete. Her home is neat and clean, with white lace doilies carefully draped over the couch cushions, and her living space is free from bugs and dirt. She has also purchased a TV, bought land to grow corn to supplement her family’s meals, and buys the best school shoes for her children.
Joseph and Rose at work in their shop.
Today Joseph and Rose run a flourishing tailoring business, but their success was far from assured. One day when Joseph was young, the school headmaster arrived and told every child who wasn’t wearing the school uniform to stand up and leave the building. He could never afford to return. And when he couldn’t pay for uniforms for his own children, they were sent home as well. The cycle was repeating.
Joseph joined the Village Enterprise program to learn the basics of running a small business. “As a school dropout, I found the training very, very helpful….I came from nothing, but now I’m something.”
With an initial grant of $150, Joseph and his two business partners bought fabric and rented a sewing machine to make dresses and school uniforms. The business grew rapidly and soon couldn’t handle the steady stream of orders. Rose had always had an interest in tailoring but couldn’t learn due to lack of money. Now they could afford to teach her. Soon she and the other partners sewed constantly to keep up with the growing demand.
Joseph and Rose now allow parents to pay for uniforms in installments, thus realizing his dream of helping children end the cycle and stay in school. As he begins hemming the bottom of a red dress, Joseph smiles and says he’s proud of what they have built. His customers happily tell him how often they are asked, “Where did you get that dress?”
Carolyn in front of her new house.
In 2004, Carolyn Nawire’s husband died, leaving her and her seven children destitute. She planted crops on a small plot of land she owned and tried to make enough money to support herself and her family. But there was never enough.
Carolyn’s life changed when she met Village Enterprise business mentor Eunice Kiombe, who invited her to a meeting to learn how to start a business and, just as important, how to start saving money. At first Carolyn was skeptical, but she agreed to take a chance.
That moment changed her life forever. With her business partners, Carolyn started selling fish. Soon they found that there was significant competition, so they switched to selling corn and perfume. This was initially successful, but when there was no corn available due to drought they returned to selling fish. With the increased sales, Carolyn was able to open her first savings account.
Recently Carolyn built a new house of concrete—right next to her old house of mud and sticks, which has now fallen apart. It’s a striking symbol of the drastic way Carolyn’s life has changed. Carolyn lives in her new home with eight of her eleven grandchildren and, thanks to her savings, is able to pay for all of their school fees.
Carolyn now has plans to buy a plot of land in town and construct houses to rent. Carolyn says with a laugh, “I feel very, very happy. Fish changed my life. With my money I can doing anything I want.”
Juliet Agemo is a testament to how hard work and opportunity can change lives. Ten years ago, Juliet was under-nourished, so thin you could see the bones in her face. She ate just one meal a day, usually porridge, but sometimes skipped days to buy medicine for one of her three children. School fees were so high they seemed out of reach. She longed to be a teacher, but that also seemed an impossible dream.
When Juliet was invited to participate in the Village Enterprise program with two partners, she never thought it would end up transforming her and her family’s lives.
With their grant, the partners bought a few lambs, which quickly multiplied and turned into many, many sheep. They sold the ewes, shared the profits, and decided to begin buying and selling pork as a way to diversify their enterprise. This was the beginning of their highly successful pork business in Ngora. Once the business was established, Juliet approached her partners and asked if they would be willing to help her return to school to learn to teach. They agreed.
In 2015, Juliet graduated as a teacher. “I love the work of being a nursery school teacher,” said Juliet. “My students will help Uganda. They will be the next Members of Parliament and doctors.”
Juliet and her partners have also continued to build their business. Over the past eight years, they have used some of their profits to buy 325 citrus trees. Now they own a massive orchard and will soon be selling the fruit to buyers who come from neighboring Rwanda and Kenya. “Village Enterprise helped us a lot, most especially me,” Juliet said. She smiles broadly with her full, round, healthy face. “I can afford to drink milk and eat meat now. I used to be so small. I never thought I’d be like this.”
Ruth standing in front of her home
Ruth dreamed of living in a peaceful, sturdy house surrounded by orange trees. For years this seemed impossible. She survived on the small amount of money she made from selling illegally-brewed alcohol. Ruth’s compound was continuously full of men who came to drink and socialize; it was loud and dirty. It also wasn’t very profitable because so many people would drink without paying.
Six years later Ruth’s home is an island of serenity: her beautiful house, surrounded by orange and mango trees, is quiet and peaceful. Friends and family sit around the compound talking. Sometimes a radio plays the news. “I’m living like someone in town,” Ruth said. “If Village Enterprise hadn’t come, I never could have done this.”
Ruth and her two business partners received a small grant and business training from Village Enterprise. With part of the money, they raised turkeys and pigs. They also purchased mango and orange seedlings, and when they began to produce fruit, sold their bounty at local markets.
These various initiatives allowed Ruth to save enough money to begin molding bricks for a house. She feels so happy that Village Enterprise and her partners helped her realize a dream she long thought impossible. Her hard work also put her four children through school, one of whom completed university and is now a teacher. Ruth believes her businesses have been successful because she worked with a group of people who were equally committed to and shared the same goal: they all wanted to educate their children.
Today, Ruth still has her turkey business. She and her fellow business owners share the responsibility of caring for the birds.
Pamela cutting out donuts
“We feel empowered,” declares Pamela, a donut maker in Nwoya, Uganda. “Every time we move in the community, we move with our heads held high.”
But their lives weren’t always this way. As recently as last year, Pamela and two of her friends, Jackline and Ketty, had reached the end of their rope. “We were just sitting at home every day,” Jackline explains. “We had no way to make any money.” Ketty had previously taken a bakery training class in a nearby town, but she lacked the capital and know-how to translate her training into a profitable business.
Then Village Enterprise came to their village. After joining the Village Enterprise program, the three women decided to open a donut shop. Pamela taught her partners the art of donut making, and the three women now work together every day making their sweet treats and selling them in the local and community markets. After running their donut business for just a few months, the three women now proudly proclaim, “We are no longer beggars.”
“Before,” adds Jackline, “I would ask my relatives and husband for money. But now I am independent. I have my own source of money.”
One of the best things about their business is the peace of mind it has provided the women. Ketty’s one-year-old son has epilepsy. Before the business, she worried about hospital fees and whether she could to help her son when he had a seizure. Now, she is confident that she can take care of her child.