Into Your Hands-Africa started the Women’s Enterprise and Training Program because it has been shown that empowering women is key to empowering the community. In the rural areas we serve, most of the women are small scale farmers, often heads of households with many children. Being able to increase their incomes, whether by expanding their agricultural work or adding a new business, lets these women send their children to school,reduces food insecurity and overall raises their standard of living.
Nakallisa Maria participated in the Women’s Enterprise Training Program in 2017. She is a small scale coffee farmer who is responsible for two children and ten grandchildren, all of whom are in school. With the training she got in the program, and money from her start up kit, she launched a book and soap making business in May of 2018. Things were going well: she had linked up with traders who had been distributing her products in nearby centers and markets. She had a contract to supply books for a nearby primary school.
Then came Covid-19. In a country with a population a little larger than California, there are only 55 Intensive Care beds and 6 venitlators. If the virus becomes widespread, the results will be catastrophic. The President completely locked down the country, including all private transport. Suddenly, Nakallisa Maria could neither get materials to make her products, nor get them to markets to be sold. She had taken the books she made to the primary school, but they were to pay her after Visiting Day, when parents pay the balance of the school fees. Visiting Day was cancelled because of the quarantine, so fees have not been paid to the school, and the school cannot pay Nakallisa Maria. Those parents are also not working. When or if they will be able to pay their fees is uncertain, so she does not know when she will be paid.
In the meantime, Nakallisa Maria still has twelve people who depend on her. Money she had saved for materials are needed for food and other necessities. Scarcity has driven prices up. She does not know how she will feed her family, pay for school fees and buy materials to make her products.
This is a familiar story to anyone who has a small business anywhere. In Uganda, the situation is particularly dire, because there is no safety net except for the goodwill of family and neighbors. The government is distributing some food, but not everywhere and not enough to sustain a family. There is nothing akin to unemployment insurance.
Since the quarantine, our farmers have been unable to access commercial feeds and vet services. No traders come to buy their products. Health conditions are declining. People have to walk long distances to access health care , and do not have the money to pay for it. The savings small farmers like Nakallisa Maria have is literally and figuratively their seed corn, which they now have no choice but to eat.