One evening after returning from a drinking joint, Edson Seno, a resident of Kamutur, Kolir Sub County in Bukedea District called all his three wives and 25 children together.
He put his hand into his pocket, pulled out Shs3,000 which was part of Shs9,000 he earned per month as a primary school teacher, then handed it to his wives to educate their children with.
Grace Akia, 46, was among the children who watched her father hand over that money in 1989.
That was the year when Akia, who had scored 23 aggregates from Bukedea Primary School, dropped out of school.
It dawned on her that this might be the end of her studies so she started helping her mother Demeteria Wenene to farm in order to raise money for the education of her younger siblings.
“In our family we didn’t have the challenge of food. It was just education which was hard to get,” Akia says.
She started vending mandazi and soya, which work her father had previously stopped her from doing.
Her mother as a way of appreciating her hard work gave her Shs200 to start her own business.
“I bought two cups of soya that I roasted with salt and I started vending in Bukedea town,” Akia says.
She managed to get a profit of Shs200. She used that money to buy groundnuts that she mixed with soya, and with the money she raised, she started making mandazi.
“I had to first get items on credit from a neighboring shop, in order to make the mandazi. Then after selling I would return what I had borrowed, and save the profit,” she says.
Years later, in 1994, Akia who was 21 settled down with Israel Okwatum. Okwatum was a former classmate at Kolir P.S where she had studied earlier on.
Her father had however earlier warned her not to get married to anyone from a poor family.
So when he heard she was planning to marry, he (Seno) went to pay a courtesy visit to Okwatum’s family and found out that the family did not match the standard he wanted his daughter to get married to.
Akia remembers that her father warned her never to get close to Okwatum again, but she refused to listen since she was in love with him. Her father retaliated in a rather humiliating way.
“Earlier after hearing of my father’s continuous warnings not to marry Okwatum (in between 1990 and 1992) I made my decision to get married to Okwatum, but my father on hearing that we were in love came and caned me together with my mother-in-law from church on Sunday,” said Akia.
She says the caning and embarrassment her father caused instead energised her to find all means necessary to stay with him.
When she realized that Okwatum had nothing to pay as bride-price, she decided to give him all her savings which amounted to Shs350,000 to buy a bull. It was later given to her parents as part of the bride price in 1994.
Akia’s parents did not know that she was paying bride price for herself. Only a few of her village mates on Okwatum’s side knew and they made fun of her for choosing a poor man.
Now settled in her own home and after giving birth to her first child, Akia constructed a pub where she sold local brew ajono.
“In 1997, I again gave my husband Shs350,000 so that he can buy a second bull as part of paying bride-price,” she said adding that that marked the full bride-price.
She says amidst all the insults that she had married a poor man, she endured.
“I did that because I loved him right from the time we were studying in the same school. I also wanted to disprove my father and let him know that he could not stop me from marrying the man of my choice,” Akia says.
Later, her aunt Bibiana Bayo called and asked her to go to Kampala and try and make some money from there.
Bayo gave her Shs200,000 which she used to buy sacks of millet to make ajono which she then sold to students at Makerere University at cost of Shs4,000 a galan (tin of paint).
In 2000, Akia decided to invest her savings and bought a plot of land in Bukedea at Shs2.5m. She then returned from Kampala after spending two years and settled in her plot where she built a house for the family.
At this point they were now working on the business as a family and were doing well, but she wanted to do even more.
In 2002 with savings from the ajono business, she bought a pickup truck at Shs11m, which she started using to sell kerosene and petrol in the village markets.
She would buy and resell a 300ml bottle of diesel at Shs2,200, petrol at Shs2,600 and kerosene at Shs2,000.
In 2009, when the family had grown and now had six children, one girl and five boys, Akia started making bricks to raise money for their education (unfortunately two children passed on).
She has maintained this business to-date.
“I make bricks after one has placed an order. And in a day we can make over 6,000 bricks, which we burn ourselves,” says Akia who has employed seven boys to work on the bricks.
Akia charges Shs800,000 for 10,000 unburnt bricks, and Shs1.1m for the same amount of burnt bricks.
She has also kept her local brew business going. The pub she owns in Bukedea town and where she sells ajono is called Takai.
She employs about 10 women mainly her relatives – wives of her brothers, and neigbours who work in the bar helping her sale ajono. At times she also gives them days to brew their own in turns so that they are able to help their families.
One of the women who work with Akia but requested anonymity praises her saying she has a generous heart and wants to uplift every one she comes across who lives in abject poverty.
“Akia sometimes tells us of her childhood hard life, and that she does not want other people to suffer like her,” she says.
Akia also buys cows from the villages then sells them in cattle markets. “I buy between six to 10 cows from Amudat, Namalu, Lolacet, and Nabilatuk in Karamoja, and sometimes in Teso then after selling with all costs removed, I get clean profit of between Shs200,000 and Shs400,000,” she says, adding that she also sells millet, cassava and sorghum for sale in Busia and Kampala.
The mother of four says her businesses have benefited her because two children Michael Osekeny and Nelson Emaasit have graduated from Kampala International University, while the other two Emmanuel Obeere, and Christine Akia Okwatum are also about to complete secondary education.
“We love our mom because she’s everything to us,” says one of the children whose name Akia requests we keep anonymous. Unfortunately despite the tough but strong beginning, Akia and Okwatum are no longer together. Akia says Okwatum left his marital home in 2018.
“Can you imagine after doing all that for a man, he leaves his home and goes to stay with another woman in Kachumbala Sub County,” a sorrowful Akia says when asked what happened.
When this reporter called Okwatum’s cell phone, he said he was in Kampala and that the issues concerning his private life should not be discussed in the media.
Akia is moving on with her businesses and in the process helping people along the way.
Justine Okwii a resident in Bukedea District says Akia has brought pride to Kolir village, Kolir Sub County in Bukedea district. “She’s a generous woman who does not want her people to live a poor life,” he said.
It is not a smooth ride for her, as can be expected of anyone doing business and Akia says the challenges she faces are the people who con her of her money, and those who borrow but do not return.
But that is not stopping her and she is focused on completing her goals.
“My plan is to continue with my business and ensure that all my children complete education,” Akia says.