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Strong Women: The Heart of Community in Kampala, Uganda

By Cynthia Greenwood

I woke up today, on the eve of International Women’s Day, thinking about the remarkable women clients I met on a recent trip to Kampala to visit Opportunity Uganda’s operations.  For me, these women give new meaning to the words “hardworking,” “committed,” “brave,” and “strong.”

Opportunity Loan Officer Charity Namutebi works out of the Kira Branch inKampala, Uganda’s capital city. Charityjust 27 years oldserves 455 clients in 20 Trust Groups. She encourages them to save money. She tells them that they are important and can move up to a better position in their lives. She nudges them to playleadership roles in their Trust GroupCharity talks about how our clients are able to send their kids to school, build homes, etc., because of the increased income that comes from building their businesses with Opportunity loans. She says her own life hasbeen transformed since she joined Opportunity because she has been able to buy her mom a house, help educate her siblings and build important friendships with coworkers and clients. Charity feels that she has been given a lot in her life and wants to give back. She would someday like to build a school to educate more kids in her community.

 Mariam Noah49, is one of Charity’s clients. Since 1992, she has been proprietor of Ladybird Infant Primary School, located just across the road from the Kalerwe marketwhere most of Charity’s clients operate their businesses. Mariam has one class at each grade level, 18 teachers and 411 students (just over half are girls). She provides free education for 30 orphans, some of whose parents have died from AIDS. Opportunity loans enable her to run the school smoothly and Opportunity training has taught her how to get the parents to pay promptly, how to keep records, and how to manage cash flow. With increased income, she has been able to expand her school to accommodate many more children and to build her own house. Mariam cares for her mother and has educated her three children. She is applying for a larger loan to buy land and build a new school that would serve students up to seventh grade. The new school would have playing fields where the kids could develop their talents and exercise. It could also be used by communitymembers for parties, weddings and funeral services.

 Nuulu Nankya, 44, teaches 3to 6-year-olds at Mariam’s school. And, she ischairperson of the Progressive Trust Group that holds its weekly meetings at Miriam’s school. Nuulu has a business selling cold drinks at the marketWith loans from Opportunity, she has been able to buy a second refrigerator and build up her inventory. Before she became an Opportunity client, she sold five to 10 liters of her homemade fruit juice each day; now she sells 20-liter container every day. She also went from selling one crate of soda per week to 15 crates each week. Through working two jobs – as school teacher and market vendor – her income has increased substantially and she has been able to send her children to school. Nuulu isalso very thankful that she has a safe place to put her savings. She has $157 in her Opportunity Uganda savings account.

 Ruth Nassimbwa sends her two youngest children to Ladybird School, and sells onions, tomatoes and Irish potatoes to the school so it can serve nutritious lunches tothe students each day. Ruth also runs a stall at the market in the mornings, then works at her own restaurant at home in the afternoons and evenings. The restaurant employs three other people. Before becoming an Opportunity client in 2006, Ruth had a hard time purchasing what she needed for her business.  With loans from Opportunity, she’sbeen able to build up her inventoryadding more types of fruits and veggies such as green peppers and tomatoes. Her income has grown from $25 a day to between $40 and $100 per day. Pretty good in a country where 90 percent of the people live on less than $2 a day!

Other Progressive Trust Group members include: Margaret Nassoziwho has set up her tailor shop just outside the school and makes beautiful uniforms for the Ladybird studentsEron Nabbagala, who is the parent of Ladybird students and supplies tomatoes, onions and potatoes to the school; and Milly Nassuna, who sells plantains to many Opportunity clients in the Kalerwe Market.

Strong Women: The Heart of Community in Kampala, Uganda

OInternational Women’s Day, let’s celebrate all the Opportunity women clients across the developing world who work incredibly long hours and are committed tostrengthening their families and making their communities better places to work and live.

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