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Kasese, Uganda

Women's Empowerment 

PFF launched our Women and Girl’s Empowerment Program in November 2015.  

We truly believe that the best thing we can do to effect sustainable economic growth is support entrepreneurial ventures with special attention paid to encouraging and empowering women.

Women form the backbone of the community and by educating and empowering we can effect change by engaging one woman at a time. 

As we have learned more about the various needs of the community we support, we have become aware of three neighborhoods in the poorest most overlooked part of town (90% of the population here live in modest huts with no access to clean water or electricity). The communities are located at the Northern most border of Queen Elizabeth State Park and many of the women support their families by collecting firewood in the park. This is backbreaking work that requires them to walk up to 20 kilometers with dozens of kilos of wood strapped to their backs. Several of the women have been raped in the park and a handful have died by either being shot by rangers or killed by wild animals. 

We have begun to focus on what we could do to intervene and assist women with sustainable options to make a living. We are piloting a three-month long business skill and training class. Some of the many challenges we are facing include the harsh fact that most of these women have no education past primary school and most can not read or write.

Out of the 190 women we trained in the pilot program, 50 were chosen to receive seed loans from PFF to assist in developing their businesses. They launched or grew existing businesses ranging from wholesale buying and retail selling of beans, fruits, vegetables, charcoal, and goat sales to farming, beading and tailoring.  

The communities themselves have set up a self-governance system and a locally appointed village savings and loan office monitors the joint accounts set up as Co-ops in each neighborhood. They have drawn up their own constitutions outlining the guidelines for participation in the Co-ops and hold regular meetings to ensure they have the support they need and that expectations are clear.  During a recent six-month check in, PFF was impressed by the initiative these women have taken, their resourcefulness despite all of the challenges they face, and humbled by their commitment and dedication to improve their personal situations, and the support they provide one another.

We have tried to form a dotted line between our jobs-based work in the cities and our community growth work in rural areas by paying extra attention to supporting businesses in retail clothing and tailoring. We recently supported a woman who opened her own sewing school for girls. 

We first met Medrine a year ago when we were walking a year ago when we were walking through the neighborhood to assess overall conditions.  She had a small mud shack and when we looked inside we saw two sewing machines and multiple dress patterns made from burlap sacks.   We met the proprietor and found out that it was Medrine’s dream to have her own school to teach girls to sew their own school uniforms so that they could attend school (Girls face the danger of being kidnapped as they walk to and from school if they are not in uniform so many are forced to drop out if they cannot afford one).  Medrine had taken the initiative to train a small group of girls in her neighborhood and had used this small shack as her classroom.   We knew right away that we wanted to help Medrine increase the size of her space and realize her dream.   Over the past year, Medrine and her husband worked and presented a business plan aimed at growing her school to teach at least 50 girls a year. The PFF is in the process of raising funds to provide her with a seed loan to cover the additional equipment, rental of a larger space and a salary for her and a second teacher.   She has the ability to empower many other women and girls by teaching them skills and has created a happy, safe environment for them. This most recent visit was as a reunion of hugs, smiles and tears of joy.   As we drove up to her location, the girls were lined up beaming with pride and wearing matching dresses they had made themselves. With Medrine’s drive and commitment to growing her sewing school, she has the potential to change hundreds of girl’s lives.

We have made progress over the past eight months but there is much to be done. The PFF is seeking funding to support the following:
  • Seed loans for the remaining 110 women trained in our pilot empowerment program.  Average loan is 200,000 Uganda Shillings, just $60 per women.  
  • Ongoing salaries for one supervisor, one banker and four trainers, approximately $100 per month.
  • October 2016 kickoff of second program to train and additional 150 women, approximately $3,000.
  • Ongoing support for our Medrine’s sewing school with the goal of teaching 50 girls to sew their own uniforms by end of 2016, approximately $300/month.

Health Care

After visiting and restoring a health center in town we learned that there were over 50,000 people that have no access to health care at all.  This is due to its remote location of Kihara in the Rwenzori Mountains and a river that routinely floods, washing away any infrastructure and cutting local residents off from much needed health care. Last year alone, 15 people died trying to cross the river in search of a doctor or nurse and hundreds die every year from treatable diseases due to a lack of access to basic health care. After many people told us we were crazy for trying to build in the middle of a remote mountainous area, one year later we opened the Marietta Steinberg Health Care Center in November 2015, named after the late mother of one of our employees who had recently passed away. The Health Center has a staff of four and has treated thousands of people suffering from malaria, dysentery, tuberculosis and other illnesses that are treatable if a person has access to immediate health care.


While the health center opening has been monumental for the region, we have realized there is still a big need for additional space for maternity and infant care.

In 2017, we plan to build an additional two rooms onto the current health center. The first room will be for prenatal screening, testing, and consultation and the second room will be for delivery and post pregnancy recovery. The center will be the sole location for prenatal and childbirth in the village of Kihara and is desperately needed.



The center currently has no running water or electricity. Access to clean water is critical when treating patients. In order to serve patients correctly, there is a dire need for these additions.

The PFF has priced out solar power from a local resource to provide much needed electricity for lighting, sterilization, lab work and the basic needs of the doctor and staff. Research is being undertaken to determine how best to draw water from a nearby well for use by the facility as well. This water will likely be captured, filtered and pumped into the health center using the solar power, which should already be installed at the facility



Due to a fast moving river that flows through the Renzori Mountains in the Kihara region, there is a desperate need for a suspension bridge to connect the residents on the north side of the Nyamwamba River to the health center. Engineering studies have been done and the PFF is actively seeking funding to finish the project. The PFF has chosen to work with the foundation, Bridges to Prosperity to build the bridge and train local engineers on the maintenance and repair of the bridge.


Fashion Mentorship & The East African Fashion Community 


LDJ Productions is a technical production, creative services and event management company that produces large-scale events on a global scale. The agency has been producing New York Fashion Week for several years and is responsible for executing the vision and operations of the biannual event. We are known for our expert eye for details necessary when executing a show that is covered by thousands of cameras and scrutinized by millions of people around the world.  

In 2009, LDJ CEO and PFF Founder, Laurie DeJong was honored to receive an award from Enterprising Women for the rapid growth of LDJ Productions. It was there that she listened to Terry Neese speak about the program “Peace thru Business,” which connects entrepreneurs in the US with entrepreneurs in Rwanda and Afghanistan. She was inspired by the work of this great organization and knew instantly that she wanted to get involved. It was through this chance meeting that Laurie began to mentor Rwanda fashion designer, Colombe Ituze Ndutiye. It was the beginning of a long lasting relationship with the East African Fashion Industry.

Colombe had just started a partnership with a small group of people who were trying to organize a fashion week in Kigali. It was then that Laurie had the realization of just how simple it would be to share her company’s experiences - having produced Fashion Week for so many years in NY - with the team on the ground in Kigali. Fashion Week in NYC brings in over $800 million annually and generates more revenue for the city than any other event including the 2013 Super Bowl, the NYC Marathon, and the US Open. If Fashion Week in a developing nation could bring in even a fraction of this amount, the economic impact could be substantial by creating jobs and many more sustainable business opportunities.

Six week later, two of our employees from LDJ were on a plane to Rwanda. After travelling to Africa for the first Fashion Week, we were inspired and committed. We began coming up with ideas of how LDJ could mobilize and take this to the next level. As of this we have assisted in the growth of the fashion and related industries in both Rwanda and Uganda and worked with aspiring entrepreneurs in five East African countries through mentorship, sharing of knowledge and technical training.

As we began to involve more people word spread throughout the industry about our programs. This led to contractors, vendors and even clients getting involved by providing resources, or in some cases, even joining on a trip to share their expertise and best practices. We’ve formed many wonderful relationships based on mutual respect and love for the business and have expanded the program to include a one-on-one mentorship program and have given some the opportunity to work with us in New York during Fashion Week.


With the support of LDJ Productions, Paper Fig has continued to support the fashion industry in East Africa and has worked with designers from 7 countries, providing mentorship and sharing best practices.  

After an extensive needs assessment, we have learned that technical training classes are the biggest need in the region.  We recently completed a one-week pattern making training class at Gahaya Links for top tailors and designers in the region and working towards more frequent training 2016. Those trained have committed to passing on the training they received to others on the ground and our goal is to assist with establishing a base of technical experts in the region. Additional frequent trainings are needed and PFF is planning to host a draping class in the fall. The PFF is also looking for an individual(s) who would be willing to do a PFF residency to conduct a multi week training class in pattern making and draping. 

Fashion weeks in both Kampala and Kigali are planned for October 2016 with a host of events occurring in each city including business skill training, technical training and pop-up shops. 

In May of 2016 Laurie DeJong represented Rwanda in a panel about the International Fashion Market at the World Economic Forum in Kigali, Rwanda. The PFF is working with a group of Rwanda based designers on the formation of their own fashion council.


PFF is currently looking for support and partners to assist with the following:

  • Second training class in Pattern Draping for twenty students.  Class fee, supplies, venue and expenses total $100 per student
  • Sponsorship for both Kigali and Kampala Fashion Week.  Sponsorships start at $1,000.
  • Recruiting an expert pattern maker to complete a six-month residency in Kigali to continue pattern-making classes.  Expenses are approximately $2,500.
  •  Expenses to assist with travel for two designers to intern with LDJ Productions during New York Fashion Week. (Approximately $2,500 per person).