ISEE Solutions

Investing in Sustainability, Education and Empowerment Solutions

ISEE Solutions - Investing in Sustainability, Education and Empowerment Solutions

June 20 update

Rovence with her Purifaaya

{ed. note: This will be the last normal update for a while now. Uganda has just announced a 42-day shelter-in-place lockdown. All civilian travel via vehicle is completely banned, unless for the purpose of transporting sick people to or from hospital. Movement between districts is completely banned as well. Andrew has stockpiled food for the period and he has a new water purification system (see details below) so he says he’ll be fine. Uganda is being hit with the variants that we are but unlike us they don’t have access to large stores of vaccines so the disease is running rampant. We have offered Andrew support for this time and please rest assured that we will never do anything which would jeopardize his life. We will keep you abreast of the situation but likely the internet will be the best place to search for updates. Andrew will still be writing reports but they will of necessity be different than they are now. We hope you understand and bear with us. We wish the best for the people we serve.

We would like to sincerely thank Jane K from the US who generously donated about 15m of PUL and 30m of flannel for our period packs. She shipped them to us from the US via FedEx and it was like Christmas when we received the HUGE box full of fabric. Thanks so much, Jane! Hope to see you again some time soon. Jane also told us about the Purifaaya water purification system which both Andrew and Rovence are using to such great effect. -ed.}

Greetings to you all dear friends and family,

I hope that you are all doing well. I know that we are all in tough times but we have to dare to dream that things will get better someday. My little world Uganda is doing “Uganda” as always. It is a country that keeps giving endlessly. Sometimes the things that happen here shock us and sometimes they don’t and that is why we say, “Uganda Zaabu” which tragically translates as, “Uganda is Gold”. I would really love to meet the person who invented this quote because he/she must have been shocked to the core. We now casually use it as sarcasm when something happens in our circles of daily lives.

The first being that, this week the police arrested people who stole the Covid 19 AstraZeneca vaccine. The country has reportedly run out of the vaccine as the statistics got worse in the last few weeks. We have recorded numbers into the 1000+ in a single day. The country recently bought just under 900,000 vaccines which account less than 1% of the total population and yet there are a bunch of incompetent people stealing the vaccines. It is reported that the police recovered just under 1000 vaccines from pharmacies and clinics that were hiding vaccines in their stores. I for one was happy that they were caught and the police hopefully did their job.

The other reason why we are Gold is that anything can sell, anything is an opportunity for us to make money. Forget about the money, Ugandans have released more than 1000 concoctions in the last few months, with all sorts of herbs being introduced as remedies by various herbalists. These remedies range from pineapple juice, oranges, lemon, ginger, tamarinds, garlic, turmeric and many others. Every household is on some kind of juice mix including myself. I have blended pineapple and mixed it with ginger and tamarind. We are trying to improve and boost our immunity as we prepare our bodies for the fight of our lives. Before this second wave people were living so recklessly, no one ever wore masks and washing hands was for show. I hate to say it but I am so glad that everyone I asked to wear masks now wears them voluntarily.

The third highlight is politics which I am not a big fan of but I am glad most of the political prisoners that were arrested during and before the January 2021 elections have been released. They were released on 14th June 2021 after many months in prison cells without bail. They were only granted bail today. The celebration for me here comes from the fact that these were young people and they had families and family members they were taking care of. Many of the family members had been struggling, going to the Central Police Station and court almost daily seeking some kind of justice. Finally a big number of them were released and that for me, it is worth celebrating. 

Between 8th to 14th June 2021, I visited the following Mamas; Rovence N, Florence A, Annet C, Asia B, Lorna K, Catherine N, Amina A, Francoise L and Harriet. I also reached a few by phone who included  Dorah A, Geoffrey O, Gertrude N, Jane N and Angel.

I will start with Rovence’s visit which basically was to deliver a Purifaaya water purifier for her business. This week we wanted to test how effective these purifiers are so we could maybe buy one for each Mama who owns a restaurant. We believe in improved livelihoods, but also clean water is one of the biggest contributors to good health. To this end, we investigated Purifaaya Water Purifiers. They are made in Uganda by a small business. We bought two ceramic water purifiers, one for me and the other for Rovence as a test of concept. I am proud to inform you that the purifier is a hit already. I went to see Rovence and the customers were already making comments, saying that Rovence had advanced and really upped her game. They wanted to know who her witch was, haha, because whatever the witch was doing for Rovence seemed to be working. Earlier they were pleased with the furniture and now she has the water purifier. They were really happy for her.

I am glad we were able to make available for Rovence these advancements because they seem to have improved the outlook on the business for her and her customers are enjoying it too.

Francoise L is still undertaking treatment for her TB infection, malaria and typhoid. I was glad to visit her and go to the clinic to help clear her medical bill for the treatment. In Uganda the majority of the people don’t have or even can’t afford medical insurance so we always pay our medical bills using cash. The hospital was kind enough to give her first aid and treatment for malaria on credit and because of this gesture I asked that we help her pay this bill and I am glad we did. Since the medication for TB is quite strong, we decided to get Francoise a meal at Rovence’s restaurant for the next 14 days. We believe that this will help her body cope with the medication. Francoise has been out of work for a couple of weeks now and her eating has been non-existent so making this available for her will give her peace of mind and strength of body as she begins to heal.

Florence (r) with a customer

I made a quick visit to Florence’s salon. Everything has to be fast these days because of curfew and the fact that we are trying to reduce the risk of infection.{note: this was written pre-lockdown when they had a 6PM curfew; this has since been supplanted with total lockdown. -ed.} I am happy to report that Florence is doing incredibly well especially with her chips business. She has bought an electric deep fryer for herself to help make the cooking faster, helping reduce the use of charcoal and firewood. Florence said it fries the chips much faster and leaves them less oily. This is what most customers like so this is a good thing.

Florence

The salon is doing okay but she is worried about this second wave of infection which may result in the  closure of salon business yet again. She was happy that the chips had picked up and the snacks like popcorn plus other deep fried goodies are doing well. She was glad that she had opened up this segment of the business. She had space in front of her salon which was being rented by someone who was not even paying his rent, so she took it over and took on the opportunity. 

Annet with students

I took my last opportunity to travel beyond Kampala to go see Annet C. She is doing really well and she has for the first time enrolled more than 5 students to her salon training hairdressing. The students are many for her to handle all by herself and she decided to teach them in two segments. She has been training them for just over 3 weeks now and she says they are picking up well. They are day scholars so that makes it easy for her to handle them given the new restriction.

Annet with some of the shoes she sells as a side shuffle

My only disappointing part was that when I visited none of them was wearing a mask on their faces. I warned and encouraged them to wear their masks because all of them come from different families and homes. I told them that it is important that they learn this new skill but also be responsible enough to stay safe. I was really also happy that Annet is empowering young girls with a skill that would probably be the answer to their future goals and ambitions.

Asia with her daughter

Asia B. is doing really well with her business lately. It looks like everything is starting to work out well for her. The shop looks busier and she has now hired her front space to another person to transact mobile money. She is now also receiving rent from the lady using the front. She has also trained her young daughter to sell in the shop and she actually brings all her girls in turns each week. They help to pack water, juice, clean and also wash bottles and cups which are used in packaging the banana juice.

Her wrapping bag business is also picking up and she says each week it is getting better because people are starting to know about this addition to the shop. The sales from the wrapping or packing bags are improving and some of the packages are starting to deplete and she is soon restocking.

I am always excited when business picks up for Mamas like Asia who are trying hard to keep their businesses afloat. I am so glad that we gave her a boost to buy these bags.

Catherine cooking fries

Lorna K and her daughter Catherine started really well early this year but it looks like things have changed. They have lost most of the cups to theft from customers who order tea and porridge from outside the restaurant. The worst part comes from the fact that some of them don’t even pay for what they have eaten. It was really sad when she told me that she has been forced to stop cooking for more than a week now because some of them would come in and eat and say we don’t have money, we will pay later, but of course they never return. 

The same thing is happening to Catherine who fries and sells samosa in front of the restaurant entrance. Neighbors come to the restaurant and order samosas but after the samosas are handed to them they just walk away telling Catherine to pick the money in the afternoon as she passes their houses. Another challenge as I investigated showed that the other siblings too eat the samosas and this has greatly affected Catherine’s sales.

Lorna

I therefore asked Lorna to ensure that she spoke to the other kids not to eat samosas, especially after Catherine had counted them and put them in the display box. She promised to speak to the rest of the children to stop this because Catherine might lose her business entirely because of this.

Amina with chickens

Amina A. has temporarily closed her banana stall to try and raise chickens for 6 weeks now. The last time I visited her, I was not able to meet her because she had gone for a burial. This time we met and she showed me her chicks and explained to me why she did what she did. I told her of course not to worry as long as she was happy with what she was doing. Unfortunately she doesn’t like the experience because it is expensive to raise birds because they eat a lot and also the fact that they don’t bring money daily like the bananas. Amina’s home can only run effectively if it has cash coming in daily and that is why I encouraged her to get this kind of business.

Amina has decided that this will be her first and last try to raise chickens and she will go back to her bananas immediately she has traded the chickens.

Otherwise she is doing okay. She is healthy, she actually asked me to send regards to her dentist because she has not had any pain ever since her dental appointments.

We can only wish Amina the best during this time of the chicken. I am glad she has lost none and we hope she doesn’t lose any until she sells them off. The chickens are only broilers so she is not getting eggs even.

Lilly

We had a light moment with Lilly when I visited her tailoring shop. She has been having a hard time with her shop in the recent weeks, having no orders for sewing in more than 2 weeks. This week she was lucky to get an order to sew 3 dozen tablecloths so she was happy and really laughed about it. It was wonderful to see her smile again because the last time I visited her shop, she was all bundled up in wraps because of the cold plus the fact that she wasn’t sewing made it worse. 

Otherwise she is doing well. All the kids she sent to school a week ago are all back home and she is a bit disappointed after taking out loans to pay school fees. Some or even most of the Mama’s, especially lately that schools have increased fees, can’t afford to pay cash so they take out loans and then repay them slowly. Lilly, like the others, also took out a loan and was disappointed to see the kids back only after a week.

I am glad she now has some work to do and I hope she can now pick up from there and become busy for the next half of the year.

Harriet

I also visited Harriet L. our tailor who is still searching for a shop. Unfortunately, there is no progress at the moment. She has not found a place to locate her shop. She told me that she has been looking slowly but has not found anything interesting for her.

I usually visit people like these to push them harder because I realized that some of our Mamas really need constant follow up and encouragement. I will keep looking out for her until we get a breakthrough.

Lastly, I followed up the following via phone and it looks like most of it for the next one month will be via phone because a lot of restrictions have been put on transportation due to the spread of the virus. 

Jane, our water tank Mama is still fighting for her land and when we spoke the negotiations were still going on with the husband on sharing the money. Jane, as most of you might now know, has been separated for more than 7 years and the man moved on to start another family. Jane has been single handedly raising the kids and paying school fees for them alone. The property on which they live is under the interest of developers and they want to buy them out but the man wants them to split equally. The interesting thing is that almost 90% of the investment on this property was made by Jane. She wants to get the bigger share to be able to construct another home for her grandchildren who she is currently living with. The developers have given them more time to discuss the sharing yet again but they have not yet reached a conclusion. Lets wait to hear from the next meeting that is scheduled in about 2 weeks.

I spoke to Dorah who suspected that she caught the virus and she is doing better now. She won’t open the restaurant for a few more weeks as she regains her strength. She said that her reopening will depend on how fast she recovers and also the fact that she has to wash the whole restaurant. I am glad that she is stronger and can talk better.

I was disappointed that Geoffrey O has fallen back in the habit of not picking up my calls. I thought that since the schools have been closed he would be more available but nothing to hear from him. 

Getrude is in a mess after having spent money on furniture only to reopen business to a closed university. The government closed all schools and institutions due to the second wave of the virus that has affected many schools hence closure. They will reopen after 42 days and during this time all teachers are to be vaccinated. I wonder how this will happen since we do not have any vaccines left.

Please keep us in your thoughts because the virus has spread wider and faster than we thought. I fear for the Mama’s that we serve because of the kinds of communities they live in. I have bought myself a box of masks and sanitizer because of the movements I have to make. I have also extracted juices that I travel with and I sip on them to try and boost my immunity. As you may remember, I had a bit of a season a few weeks back but I feel better and I am sure my immunity is now good. 

Thank you for supporting us endlessly and we hope you continue to do so because it is times like these that your support is needed more than ever.

Please continue to stay safe, maintain social distancing and also sanitize but remember to stay sociable. The world is in pain and suffering, we could use some loving and kindness.

Thank you.

Yours,

Andrew Echel

Director of Programs, Uganda

ISEE Solutions Society.

Update June 13

A typical market in Uganda

Greetings to you all,

I hope you have been well.

I will start with the good news of the week: Betty N. one of our Mamas who does tailoring, and also teaches it to students, just gave birth to a healthy baby girl. She called me on 4th June 2021 telling me that she had been admitted in the maternity ward at her local hospital. She had gone for her regular visits but the doctor insisted she stayed because he felt she was due. He admitted her for 2 days and scheduled a C-section for her the next day. Betty has had two children already and both of them came through C-section, so the doctor advised Betty to deliver on time because of the nature of birth she has been undertaking. I am glad that all went well; she called me a day after to let me know that she is okay. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t go to visit her because of the pandemic. We wish her the best.

The pandemic has gotten worse here and the President has readjusted the way of life again because the numbers have really shot up in the last few weeks. The President delivered a state of the nation address on 6/05/2021 issuing lockdowns on schools, transport, social events and gatherings. Many other businesses, like bars, have been completely closed, and even churches are now off limits.

They have limited all social gatherings, including weddings and funerals, to 20 people. Private transport has been restricted to only 3 people maximum per car and public transport has been limited to district level. We can’t move from one district to another. This is going to hinder a lot of business and movement especially for me when it comes to the few Mamas that are outside Kampala in places like Mukono and Wakiso districts.

This week I traveled to Njeru to see Peter of React Now, Rehema N, Rashida S, Rovence N, Gertrude N, Sarah N, Francoise L, Irene Lamaro and Jennifer N. 

Sarah’s son cutting grass for the goats

I will start with Sarah N who keeps goats. It was unfortunate that we could not meet in person because she had gone for mass prayers at her local church. This week commemorates Martyrs Day Celebrations and as Catholics, this is one of their major events every year. Between 1885 to about 1887 the Kabaka (King) of the Buganda Kingdom, Kabaka Mwanga II, ordered the killing of 45 people in religious and political conflicts as missionaries tried to spread Christianity. These 45 people included both Anglican and Catholic converts. Sarah went to pay her tribute to her faith. 

Sarah’s goats

Anyways I still managed to visit her house and see the goats with the company of her kids. Most of her kids had returned home because they had just gotten holidays. When the kids get holidays they are in charge of taking care of the goats and are assigned chores like cutting grass for the goats, cleaning the goat house and gardening. This helps Sarah especially because of her mobility issues as her legs and back have not fully recovered from a previous illness. The goats and the house really look nice. The goats have recovered from a previous disease outbreak and have not fallen sick again.

Sarah’s goat pen

I like traveling to see Sarah because I get the opportunity to buy cocoa pods from an elderly couple that sells them by the road side. For the last several visits, I have stopped at a local wooden stall and have had lovely chats with them as they picked out the best pods for me. 

cocoa pods (r) and bananas
Gertrude and daughter

My search for Getrude N. became successful this week and I managed to meet her at her home. She told me that the reason that she was lost was her brother asked her to get better furniture for her section. Being a salon the brother was worried about her dilapidated furniture from her previous shop making the salon look disorganized. Gertrude had to look for money to make a new glass and metal table to display and store her stationeries plus hold her computer. 

At the time of my visit she was seated home with her daughter, cleaning and preparing dinner for the kids. The kids are not in school because their section of school is not yet open. They stay home and look after each other as she goes daily to work.

Rashida (r) and daughter

Rashida S. is doing well. I found her in her stall resting while her eldest daughter worked. She had returned home from school break and it is usually Rashida’s way of teaching her children to work because for her it is important for her kids to learn how to work. Rashida usually goes to the market very early in the morning to buy vegetables for her stall. She sometimes carries all the merchandise in a basket on top of her head walking about 5-7kms to her home but sometimes she hires a motorcycle to transport the goods. This particular day of my visit, she had carried the goods on her head so she had taken a nap to refresh.

Rashida with some of her produce

She said the business is doing well although the sun has affected supply of vegetables and caused a lot of scarcity especially things like tomatoes and onions. This scarcity has caused an increase in prices for most vegetables so she has been trying to balance her demand and supply. I told her this was a very good practice for her business to know how to balance and manage these two forces. It is unfortunate that Rashida almost has no education at all but she has taken on the important task of relentlessly educating all her children — especially her girls. She has sent all the boys to vocations because they seem to have been more interested. She is one of the many Mamas who have continued to fight and put their kids in school against all odds. Their zeal and passion for education inspire me every day.

Rehema hanging clothes

Rehema N. is also doing well. Rehema is one of our snack-making Mamas and she lost her first business due to a dispute between her landlords who eventually evicted all the tenants on their property. One of the tenants was Rehema who was renting rooms for both her home and business. She had to move to another district and was lucky to eventually get a housekeeping job where she does not have to pay rent. The problem is that since the move she has not been able to get a business started. All the attempts have been disastrous on all occasions. 

Rehema and son Reagan

Fortunately, she recently started doing laundry for people around her community and it seems that it is working out well for her. She goes door-to-door asking if anyone needs her services and if so she will either wash them at the clients home or take them to hers. Usually it is easier for her to take them to her house because then she can cook for her kids and grandchildren. There is something about this Mama that bothers me or concerns me a lot, I surely don’t know which is more appropriate to use but a lot concerns me. She has so much on her plate as a mother and a woman at large, to feed more than 7 kids without any form of income. This compels me to check up on her every now and then to see how she is doing. I am glad she has figured out something for herself and I hope it works out for the family too.

I met her with one of her sons called Reagan who is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in International Business at one of the local Universities in Kampala. He is doing well so far for the semester and he seems to enjoy the course. I wished him well in his studies because he really loves his mother and wants to graduate to be able to help her and the family. This is the spirit I would love to see the kids of our Mamas have because I see what these incredible women go through every single day to raise the school fees.

Irene in front of her salon

Irene L. the salonist is doing well. She was happy during my visit as she was having a meal. It is unfortunate that schools closed again just after parents had sent the kids back to school so they had to pick them up in just under a week. People like Irene who took loans to supplement fees, it becomes a bit difficult for them because they don’t get value for money. Educating children for people like Irene is very hard because it is almost impossible for them to send their kids to school without loans. Most of them depend on these loans to educate their children and also depend on their business to service the loans. This is why for me also it is important that their businesses survive and function because a lot depends on this.

Otherwise she is really doing well and she is happy with her business so far. I am delighted when I see a Mama happy with her business, it gives me a sense that the business will be given enough attention to thrive. If the business fails, at least it is not due to lack of passion or drive from the Mama.

Now the other interesting story from this visit came from a meal she was eating during my visit. Irene was eating chicken feet. She told me it is called “coco finger” because coco is another term used to refer to chicken and then fingers is used because they look like fingers. Many families here especially in the slums eat this because they can not afford real chicken.

Rovence in front of her restaurant

Rovence N. is doing wonderful. She got her power connection back so the fridge is working again. The connection faulted because the line that feeds her restaurant broke at one of the points in the ceiling. She has been managing her consumption by switching off the power during the night and having it run during the day when her customers are around.

Rovence discussing her business

Her tables and benches are holding up and also looking good at the moment. She keeps them clean and organized all the time. I really like it when Mamas take care of the stuff they have. It ensures that the business looks good and attractive to their clients, another way to sustain a business.

Jennifer surrounded by bales of shoes

Jennifer the second-hand shoe dealer has been enjoying good business these last few months, especially because the school-going students are going back in intervals. This ensures that her customers are spread round the year instead of having them flock in only three times a year. Here the different classes of students come at intervals to when they are expected to report. They have been smaller batches but this is effective for the business. She is opening between 10-15 bales of shoes twice per week. This a very large number of shoes. She has also been lucky that the shipment has been coming at all because the government has been prioritizing these imports and also helping sellers clear taxes easily. 

She is happy that her son finished primary seven and will soon join secondary school. Her middle daughter has also since joined primary seven and this makes her really excited.

Jennifer’s husband died almost 7-8 years ago when these kids had not even started school. I think only the boy had started school. Jennifer had no form of employment at that time but she had to step up because now the whole responsibility was resting on her shoulder. Fortunately she stepped up to the and has done well. She started selling shoes from outside the shop she is in now and within a few months she became a co-renter of the shop. Yes the business has been hard sometimes but she has been determined to keep it afloat. It is therefore worth celebrating and being happy for how much she has achieved given her story. Well done Jennifer.

Francoise

Francoise L. has been really ill the last few days. It was unfortunate that she tested positive for TB but has been undergoing treatment. She must have contracted it from one of her nieces that caught it a few months ago. It seems that her body tried to fight it for a long time but eventually failed. 

Francoise and Jolly

It all started with a slight headache and then a slight cough. She left her food stall and asked her daughter to continue with the sales. She went to rest and a few minutes later she started coughing blood so she asked her daughter Jolly to get her medication but this did not work. She was taken to the hospital and tested but they only found a heavy infection of malaria of which she was treated but she got worse. Jolly decided to call Francoise’s doctor who advised them to rush her to the hospital where she gets her medication. Francoise was tested and they found out that she also had TB. 

She was given medication to help her treat the TB. She was advised to also wear a mask at all times to protect the children. The challenge is that her children had not been working for days and after buying the medication she had no money left for food and so she was not eating well. I decided that I would give them money to buy food for the following few days as they figured out something for themselves. It was important for her to eat as she was taking very strong medication. I will keep calling and checking on how she is doing.

Her business has picked up but now she is back at square one again. She had bought herself an umbrella, table and bench for the business. She had been struggling  a lot with space for her customers to sit. She had also bought a kettle to make tea for her customers but all her savings are now all gone because the treatment is expensive. I encouraged her to always save something and advised her to imagine if she hadn’t saved and what would have happened in this case.

Peter and one of his cows

My last story comes from my long trip to see Peter K of React Now Save Young Mothers. I needed to find out some information from him so I had to take a long trip to Eastern Uganda to see him. Peter heads a wonderful local organization that started out as a women empowerment organization but has since evolved to include boys too. Peter was requesting financial help and we needed more information about his sustainability so the visit was imminent. 

Peter with a land agreement for the future site of his foundation

The visit went well and I found out some good details from my visit including their cattle project that is dedicated towards helping them create sustainability for the school. Peter’s vocational school was closed during lockdown and they have never been able to reopen so they have been strategizing to come back and serve the unending need of educating teenage girls and mothers. We will have more to come on his issues and challenges in a future post.

Thank you for following our endeavors this week. We are always excited to post you these blogs and reports so that we all stay in touch with you. The next few weeks will be hard because of the new regulations at hand but we will do our best to keep you all posted. It is important to remember that we should always keep safe, remember to sanitize and continuously wear your mask. I have since bought myself another box of masks to ensure that I stay protected but also protect our Mamas too.

In service

Andrew Echel

Director of Programs, Uganda

ISEE Solutions Society