In the time I have spent here in Uganda, I have made many very good friends. My dad had told me before I came here that I would find the most kind and generous people I have ever met, and they did not disappoint. Their lives are challenging and poverty is rife here, but every day you see people who are so happy, and are making the most of what they have. In the West I think we are very guilty of taking what we have for granted, and although Africa can learn a lot from us in terms of development, I think the West could learn just as much from Africa about how to appreciate life. There are many people who need help here and it is difficult because part of you always want to help everyone. However I have learnt that helping people in the right way is very important. This is the story of a girl called Alice, who became a very good friend of mine. It is not about farming, or the work of Agri Evolve but it has a very important message, which has helped me find the best way to change people’s lives here.
Alice is 21, and has a two year old boy, who was born unplanned when she was still at school. This meant that she was forced to leave school, in order to look after her baby. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, she has never had a chance to return to school and as such is not very well educated. I would often see her as she was part of a family that I knew well, but she was very shy and would very rarely say anything to me. I found out that she had a difficult time after leaving school, and could not find a job meaning most days were spent doing nothing apart from occasional digging on her father’s land. What was worrying is that she had no income and was not independent, meaning she relied on her family to feed her and her child. This is something that is very common here in Uganda.
I decided that I wanted to somehow help her, and I talked to the family about what she wanted to do. They said her dream was to have a business selling clothes, and one day to have her own shop. Her problem was that she and her family did not have enough money to start it. This was something I knew nothing about but I had seen many women selling clothes at the local markets. After some inquiries I found that clothes were bought from the capital, Kampala and then sold in the local markets during the week.
I proposed a plan to Alice, that I would buy her the first set of clothes to help her get going, but on a few conditions. The first was that it had to be a profitable business, and that she would have to use the money she made from the first batch to buy the second batch. The second was that I was going to teach her how to keep records and accounts. Finally the third, was that she did not have to pay me back, but that I expected her to save the same amount of money that I invested in her. With this money she would have to choose someone else that she wanted to help and invest the money in them, the same way I had in her. This was an idea I had got from a film called ‘Pay It Forward’ which tells the story of young boy who was set a challenge to ‘make the world a better place’ by his school teacher. His idea was to do three good deeds for three different people. Each of those people would in return, do three good deeds of their own for three more people, and the process continues. The idea is that by ‘paying it forward’ many more people benefit. It is of course only a story, but a very nice one!
The idea with investment is the same. By investing in someone or something, once the money has been returned it enables you to invest in another person or project. This way the money that you originally invested can have an impact on many things, rather than a one off donation. By getting Alice to pass on the same investment I made in her to someone else, more people will benefit in the long term from that money.
Alice has worked hard, and has in one month sold many clothes. She has sold enough to buy her second batch on her own, and even has some profit for her own spending. I have been giving her classes in maths, record keeping and accountancy. She can now produce balance sheets, cash flows and budgets all by hand. Both her English and maths have improved so much and the difference in her confidence is staggering. She often complains that I am a harsh teacher, but it must be working! I am keeping a close eye on what she is doing and I am confident she will be very successful. I asked her at New Year what her dream was for the coming year. She answered, ‘My dream has already come true, I have my business in selling clothes’.
I hope that the same approach and ethos will work with Agri Evolve. We will invest in good projects, work closely with them and teach them the skills they need to make them successful. Then by making the investment back when the investment is paid back, we can reinvest the money in more projects. Rather than having to continuously look for donations. By establishing profitable, sound businesses, we can fulfill our purpose.