In 2015, I had the privilege of travelling to Uganda on a Leadership and Immersion program with The Hunger Project Australia (THPA). The program enabled me to witness THPA’s epicentre strategy, experience a bit of village life and meet some outstanding women leaders.
I went to Uganda so I could gain a deeper understanding of what it’s like to live as a woman in a third world country, especially in a rural area. I certainly gained insight into this, though more importantly, I was able to observe the epicentre strategy in action and see the difference between villages that have access to support services through an epicentre and those that don't.
Although I’d like to go into great details about the THP’s epicentre strategy, this article is about women leaders and entrepreneurs without laptops. So, I’m going to write about an inspirational woman we met named Edrita.
To me, Edrita is a true example of how life can change for a family and a community when a woman is empowered. Edrita lives in the Mbarara district, which is relatively close to a THP’s epicentre. She has several sources of income selling bananas, avocados, eggs, firewood and has recently expanding into making and decorating cakes, all of which enables her to send her four children to school and her eldest daughter to university.
Now this doesn’t sound like much to us in the West, though when you consider that most Ugandan households don't even have a functional roof over their heads, her achievements are outstanding to say the least.
But let’s go back in time and look at Edrita’s life before she had access to a THP Epicentre. Although her husband had a job as a Policeman (apparently you can earn more money working in the field than as a Policeman in Uganda), the family used to live on less than one dollar a day, which meant they were unable to afford basic requirements such as food, shelter and education. Given this circumstance, Edrita and her children had to move from the city to her husband’s village of Mbarara where living expenses would be less.
When Edrita arrived in the village, she knew no one, and had to fend for herself and her children whilst her husband remained in the city for work. Her life changed considerably when she was able to access a microloan from the Mbarara Epicentre. Edrita took a loan out to buy trees for firewood and with this income, was able to expand her business selling bananas, avocados, eggs and cakes.
As part of the tour of the Mbarara Epicentre, Edrita invited us to her humble home. Although it was a stark contrast to the mud huts and banana leaf roofs we’d previously seen, her home was still basic – bare concrete floors and walls and a kitchen consisting of firewood strategically placed in the corner of the room.
As Edrita told us her story via a translator, she demonstrated her cake making and decorating skills. Now we’re not talking a three-tier wedding cake here, it was a small cake as she used the precious ingredients so sparingly. It was a heart-warming experience to actually witness her productivity, an example of what’s brought her and her family to where they are today.
In addition to lifting her family out of the poverty cycle, she is a well-respected woman in her village and has been a shining example to many other women of how the epicentre services can benefit families.
Using her strength, status and success, she’s been able to mobilise many other women in the village to use the epicentre services.
I distinctly remember how Edrita stood tall, so proud of her achievements and as a pinnacle of her success, she is now the Chairperson of the Mbarara Epicentre.
It’s not hard to imagine where Edrita would be today if she never had access to a Hunger Project epicentre. I believe there’s many more Edrita’s out there, though without a hand-up, they’ll never been realised.
April Jorgensen is the Director of Niche Education Group a Registered Training Organisation based in Perth, (T/a The Australasian Academy of Cosmetic Dermal Science, The Australian College of Beauty Therapy, The Australian College of Massage and Myotherapy and The Australian College of Specialist Makeup). She sits on the WA Development Board for The Hunger Project Australia and is also Head of the WA Investor Consortium for the Sanar Epicentre. April is the 2009 WA Winner for the Telstra Business Women’s Awards (Innovation Category) and the 2016 WA Finalist for the Telstra Business Women’s Awards (Entrepreneur Category).