Did you know that investing in women is one of the most powerful ways to lift a family out of poverty? Women invest around 80 cents of every dollar that they earn back into their family, while men are more likely to invest only 30 cents from every dollar in their family. Women are more likely to spend their earnings on education, nutrition, and health care. (Half the Sky) While I was in Uganda, I had the opportunity to meet some of these amazing women.
Our first visit was to Musana’s women’s project in the village of Bkonko. The route to the village was an incredible cultural experience. The road was too bumpy for our usual ride, a fifteen passenger van that we crammed at least sixteen people in, so we had to ride bodas (motorcycle taxis). Everywhere we went we had seen bodas carrying unusual cargo, entire families with babies in baskets, a futon, televisions, towers of plastic crates, so I trusted that my boda driver could handle one little me without too much trouble. There are no helmets anywhere and the bodas share the road with the much faster and bigger van taxis. The vans and semis full of sugar cane just barrel up behind the bodas while honking their horn and the bodas veer over to the side of the road and play chicken with the pedestrians. Fortunately, the road we were traveling on wasn’t very crowded. In fact, it wasn’t challenging enough for my driver, so he had to make it more interesting by talking on his cell phone as we drove! Despite his one-handed driving, he managed to smoothly avoid all the potholes and our Mzungu (white person) parade arrived safely at the village.
We were greeted by a beautiful sight. The women had paused their digging in the fields and were waiting to welcome us with song and dance. They performed a traditional dance for us that involved quite a lot of fancy hip rolling, and then pulled us all into the circle to dance with them (happily none of my teammates has released a video of me attempting to dance). These women sew bags and tie dye fabric that Musana then sells through Flatirons church or an etsy shop. They get paid per project and then use that money to support their family and pay for their children’s school fees.
I felt such a kinship with these women. They are doing everything they can, though their opportunities are few, to provide a better future for their families. They didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Lasoga, but we communicated our hearts through our smiles and laughter and dance. They shared their traditional dance with us and then we taught them a silly camp dance game (which they loved!). The language of laughter is universal.
One of the ladies shared my name, which was quite fun. At the end, she came up to me told me (through a translator) how she prayed that the same God who brought me from far away would guide me safely back home again, and that she was so blessed that I came to visit. I wanted to tell he how proud I was of her, for working so hard for her family, and that we were so much the same even though we were worlds apart, but I was too choked up to be eloquent, but I hope my love shone through.
The next day, we visited Musana’s first women’s project. Most of these women have moved away from the sewing market and have received micro-loans to start a small business. Some of the businesses, include a piggery, a small store, and two brick-makers. They are very motivated to pay back their loans as once an individual’s loan is repayed, another woman in their group is able to get a loan.
Florence is the original brick maker in the group. She digs mud, mixes it carefully with water that she has hauled, and then lets it dry in the sun. She talked about persevering through all the hardships and setbacks to create a successful business. Through her business, she has been able to send four children through school and is currently trying to earn enough so that she can build a four room house for her family (a mansion in rural Uganda). Her joy and work ethic were inspiring! She digs in the red dirt in the hot African sun, back-breaking labor, but she does it with joy and pride because it has helped her take care of her family.
When we left, I didn’t pity these women for their lack of electricity or running water or other comforts. “I want to be more like them,” I thought. “I want to work hard with joy and thankfulness for every opportunity.” These women truly do hold up half the sky.