Four years ago, the lives of a section of persons with disabilities in Luweero District pointed to a bleak future as many lived a life of begging, despite the hidden potential in the crafts industry that only required skills training and exposure.
Under the Luweero Women with Disability Association (LUWODA), the members now live a happier life after grasping the art of earning a living through crafts projects that they individually make and sell to earn a living.
The members are quick to attribute their respective success story to the skilling programme that was rolled out in 2016, when the National Association of Women Organisations in Uganda (NAWOU), together with the Association of Uganda Women Lawyers (FIDA), offered a training opportunity in life skills for money-generating projects funded by a Norwegian NGO, Forum for Women in Development (FOKUS).
“The LUWODA members are now able to supply orders for school bags, mats, wallets, table clothes, liquid soap, necklaces, among other items for their respective customers. We are a strong group and are able to add value to the lives of our respective families. We are no longer a begging group but people who have projects,” Milly Nambalirwa, a LUWODA member, says.
Agnes Nakato, another member of LUWODA, is happy that she lives a changed life after opening up a savings bank account at one of the commercial banks where she deposits the money generated from her crafts projects.
“I had been abandoned by my own relatives and friends and lived a wasted life. Nobody could come to my rescue as a disabled person. I didn’t believe I could ever start up a project for myself because I did not have the idea. When we underwent the training, I discovered that I had the ability to use my natural talent to live a better life that the begging condition. I now make hand bags, table clothes, liquid soap, school bags and necklaces, among other items for my customers. The customers like my products and trust me with their money once they make the orders. I have saved some money to take my child to school,” Nakato explains.
Like with many other LUWODA members, Nakato says one of her biggest challenges is the limited capital to invest in her crafts business.
“I cannot take on the many opportunities that come my way for the big order supplies because of lack of capital to make the project bigger. Some customers, including schools, want me to use my own money to do the work before they pay. That presents a big challenge,” Nakato adds.
Milly Kyazike, the LUWODA chairperson, says the members engage in different projects where they each generate daily income.
“The crafts projects have greatly impacted on the lives of some of members who underwent the skills training opportunity offered by NAWOU and FIDA, with funding from FOKUS. We also have members who engage in piggery and poultry keeping. The group has had the opportunity to be exposed to exchange visits and have been facilitated to go and exhibit some of their respective items at the different trade fairs,” Kyazike says.
The hard work by the group members, who are now able to fend for their respective families, is a big eye opener to our communities. I believe that the negative perception among a section of the public that has not seen the fruits from these groups, will surely change. They are better off than many able-bodied people, Joseph Muwonge, the Luweero District gender officer, says.
Gro Lindstad, the executive director of FOKUS, urges the groups to explore the opportunity of being able to make a difference in life through the different projects.
“Back at home in Norway, FOKUS identified NAWOU and FIDA to implement a four-year programme meant to see the women grow through projects that are realistic and can positively impact on their lives. We are also impressed that when we visited the women groups at Nyimbwa Sub-county, the testimonies were encouraging. The women testified that they can help their respective husbands to meet some of the family needs, thus reducing cases of domestic violence each day because their respective husbands appreciate their contribution to the family welfare” she says.
Monica Emiru Enyou, the executive director of NAWOU, says since 2015, FOKUS through NAWOU and FIDA, have been implementing general agro business trainings, improved farming, value-addition, cooperatives and marketing, governance and decision-making, financial literacy, among other programmes.
“FIDA is helping the women organisations to address the economic injustices against the women through enhanced strengthening of women’s participation in business and rights,” she says.
The Luweero chief administrative officer, Godfrey Kuruhiira, is optimistic that organised groups have the potential to help their respective members benefit from the different funding opportunities availed by both government, development partners and through their own initiatives.
“We should help these groups to realise that women economic empowerment involves building business ideas based on self-motivation and sacrifice. The women should drop the old mentality of thinking that there is a special place for women, including money. The notion that this is ‘a woman’s money and should be handled in a special way may not help the women ready to engage in serious business. We need a mindset change for the women,” he says.
He adds that for Luweero, the leaders are already in touch with commercial banks that are ready to engage the women groups for possible business financing after undergoing training.
“We thank our funders, FOKUS, NAWOU and FIDA for the efforts so far made to make these groups realise their respective potential. The potential that we are witnessing among these groups is very encouraging,” Kuruhiira adds.