A Salon, Candles, and Leadership

Today I visited with some ladies from two of our Co-Op groups in Kampala. My first stop was to see Mariam, who is a member of a poultry group that launched in the spring of 2017. In addition to working with the group poultry project, Mariam has opened her own hair salon with a loan that she took out from the group’s VSLA fund.

Prior to the launch of her Co-Op group, Mariam had the knowledge and skill necessary to open a hair salon, but she didn’t have the financial ability. The poultry business and the VSLA fund have allowed Mariam to realize her dream and own her own salon. Mariam spoke with great pride about owning her business and the dreams that she has for even bigger things. With her earnings she has purchase a small plot of land where she will soon be raising animals and crops as an addition to her hair salon. Like so many of the women in our Co-Op groups, Mariam has no shortage of ideas. I have no doubt that Mariam will continue to grow her business(es) and become more and more financially stable.

And as exciting as it was to hear of Mariam’s success, it wasn’t really the best part of the visit, in my opinion. You see, Mariam has also trained three other women from the group and they now work for her in the salon. Each of them spoke with great affection and praise for Mariam and how she has impacted their lives.

They said she always dreams big and encourages others to do the same.

 To them, she has become their sister and someone they can lean on when times are tough. Gertrude is planning to buy a machine to make peanut butter (a staple of the diets in her community). Millie bought beds for her children, and now has a bank account to keep her savings safe. Helen, who said she was very lonely before joining the Co-Op said working with Mariam has given her confidence and a belief in herself. She has also purchased a plot of land.

Miriam, Millie, Gertrude, Helen, a client and some of their children

The second group I visited today was one that makes candles. They make brightly colored candles with nice aromas, but because many people in Uganda don’t have power in their homes, they also make very utilitarian candles to provide light in the night. One of the group members, Peace, knew how to make candles before the group started, but like Mariam, lacked the financial resources to do anything with her skill. With the launch of the Co-Op, she taught the others how to make the candles, and like Mariam, serves as a leader an encourager in her group. The women spoke of the joy that they have in working and earning to support their families, and shared their big dream of one day operating a factory where many more workers would produce many more candles.

They let me make candles too!

One of the foundational ideas of our Co-Op program is that the businesses that are created won’t just change the lives of the group members and their children, but that over time, they will also impact the larger communities around them. Today I saw so clearly that God is raising up leaders in the groups that will do just that.