PFF launched our Women and Girl’s Empowerment Program in November 2015.
We truly believe that the best thing we can do to affect 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 and most overlooked part of town (90% of the population live in modest huts with no access to clean water or electricity). These communities are located at the Northern most border of Queen Elizabeth State Park, where many of the women support their families by collecting firewood. This is backbreaking work that requires them to walk up to 20 kilometers with dozens of kilograms 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 can do to intervene and assist women with sustainable options to make a living. We are piloting a three-month long business skills and training class. Some of the many challenges we have found include the harsh fact that the majority of these women have no education past primary school and most cannot 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 goats 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 expectations are clear. During a recent six-month check in, PFF was impressed by the initiative these women have taken and their resourcefulness despite all of the challenges they face. And we were humbled by their commitment and dedication to improve their personal situations along with 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 named Medrine who opened her own sewing school for girls.
We first met Medrine 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 uniforms for themselves 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, meaning 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 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. 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 girls' lives.
We have made progress over the past eight months, but there is much to be done. 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 US Dollars per woman.
- 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 Medrine’s sewing school, with the goal of teaching 50 girls to sew their own uniforms by end of 2016 - approximately $300/month.