Life at Sseko, News, Uganda

{ …the lightbulb moment…}

{this is also from my time in Uganda}

Alright. So, the time has come. This post has been like a little bug in my ear (which is serious symbolism when you live in Africa and often wake up to…well, bugs in your ears…) for weeks now.

But this is coming from the girl, who in a single twenty-four hour period is convinced she is going to: go to law school, become a mid-wife, start an ad agency, do voice-overs for cartoons and move to Switzerland to become an ice-climbing instructor. Needless to say, I have a lot of ideas, and they don’t always come to fruition. So I got nervous about this one. I felt like I needed to hit that magic (is it 12 weeks?) mark before you can tell everyone about your bun in the oven. So here is my bun in the oven:

I’ve spoken a lot in the past months about socially proactive businesses (again, i’ve written about this before, so I am not going to go into detail). And talking about it is pretty fun. On a lot of different levels I am drawn to this business model. But no one likes a big blogger who doesn’t actually do anything 🙂 So, that is where I tell you that I am starting a business. A socially proactive business. And golly, I am pretty excited about.

There will be more to come, but I will give you the real-quick low down. The organization I am affiliated with has started a Leadership Academy for young women around the country. They receive over 900 applicants a year, and only choose 25. They come from villages and tribes and clans across the nation, and purposefully recruit young women from tribes and clans that have a history of conflict. Not only is this school a great education, the main focus is leadership training and character development. They teach principles of reconciliation, commitment, servant leadership, integrity and virtue. The Leadership Academies are the cornerstone (no pun intended) of Cornerstone (the organization I am with). The vision of Cornerstone is very focused on developing the next generation of leaders in this country and these schools are one way in which that is being done.

Since coming to Uganda, I have had the privilege of spending some time out at the school.

I (woops) kept some girls up a little late, sitting in a hut, teaching each other songs, talking about how to change the world.

I listened to their stories, heard about their families, their childhoods, their dreams.

Many have lost one or both parents from things including the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels and AIDS.

Many come from dire poverty.

But all have shown a will and desire to rise above their circumstances.

I had a great conversation with one young women who wants to be the first neurosurgeon in the country. Others who want to pursue a career in politics, education, entrepreneurship and the arts.

These are the women who will change this country.

If there is one thing I have learned while being on this trip, it is that I cannot change a country in 3 months. I have little to offer. But what I can do is support those who are going to change this place. To do whatever I can to enable them to change their world, their country.

So, these girls graduate from the Cornerstone Leadership Academy in December and will not begin University until the fall. This nine-moth gap is intended to give students time to work and start saving money for college. However, this is a lot more complicated than it sounds.

Many cannot even afford to go back home to their villages. And every penny that they did make, if they could go back, would go directly back to their families who are in desperate need of money.

And finding fair work, where they are paid a fair wage and treated with dignity and respect, is difficult for a young woman in Uganda.

Every single one of these women has the ability to go to University and the propensity to become the leaders of this nation. However, at the end of the day, the only way that is going to happen is if they come up with the money to continue their education.

So. This is where I tell you that the best solution I could come up with was to start a business to employ these girls for this nine month period before they go to University. So, that is what I am doing. This post is already ridiculously long, so the details will come later.

But I will tell you…

It turns out that starting a business is hard. Starting a business in a third-world country is…well, sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I have spent entire days, wandering in the rain through the Oweno market, only to emerge more lost than when I started.

I have made a lot of mistakes.

I have come to have a new appreciation for the wonders of Excel (I desperately need an accountant if any are willing to offer their services 🙂 I throw-up in my mouth a little when I try to figure out taxes and tariffs and imports and exports, mostly just trying not to do anything that is going to land me in jail.

I have had violent urges to punch Ugandan business men who try to take advantage of the fact that I am a young, idealistic, mzungu (white) woman.

I have been really close to throwing up my hands and throwing in the towel.

But at the end of the day, my desire to empower these women so that one day they are not taken advantage of simply because they are women outweighs my frustration. My desire to see these women start their own businesses and write their own plays and teach the children of their nation is stronger (albeit slightly) than my desire to punch someone in the nose.

So we beat on, boats against the current…” F. Scott Fitzgerald

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