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Meet the team pushing for the kaweke movement in Uganda

Once upon a time, a Ugandan (or rather black) woman’s only option for wigs were silky straight weaves that mimicked European and “Brazilian” hair. But as the booming natural hair movement like Kinks and Kurls Expo sees more Ugandan women trading in chemical relaxers in favor of their own hair texture, kinky and coily hair extensions have exploded onto the market. We talked to one of the people promoting natural hair in Uganda.

How the movement started

“It started out as a general discussion amongst our peers about 3 years ago, on how to care for our natural hair. It evolved into making small batch skin and hair products that were not readily available to us in that community then.” Charlene Noble, one of the Co-Founders of the Kaweke Movement, explains.

When they came back to Uganda, they wanted to continue with the conversation, and thought to bring awareness to it using apparel/accessories that Ugandans could relate to.

Choosing the name ‘Kaweke’

‘Kaweke’ generally has a negative connotation to it, implying that people with kaweke have ‘bad hair’.

“What we want to do is take back that word and use it in a positive light, so choosing it as a headline for our accessories was a no-brainer for us. Plus, it has a rhythmic sound to it. As creatives, it speaks to us and that led to the birth of Kaweke Movement.” She says.

In short, “Kaweke movement” is a drive for people (especially girls and women, since the topic of hair is most sensitive to us) to embrace their natural hair in all its forms, shapes and colors.

Some of the products by Rhanika

Kaweke Movement’s lines of production

The movement’s main line of production is Rhanika which can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Rhanika is a series of hair and body butters, oils and scrubs and all these can be found in Shop EZN F3, Kisakye Mall (next to the big Tusky’s in Ntinda). They do arrange for deliveries as well.

“So far, with the ‘kaweke movement’ line, we’ve pushed out a line of tee-shirts. We are anticipating launching more in 2018. We’ve also partnered with Natural Hair Uganda to organize the Kinks and Kurls Expo – Uganda’s first natural hair and lifestyle expo – a festival where naturalistas and natural lifestyle enthusiasts gather to learn from each other and the classes we put together, share in some fun activities and engage with other businesses that are also in the natural cosmetic & lifestyle industry.” Amelia, another Co-Founder says.

Inspirations and lessons the team has learnt.

The greatest inspiration for the team at Kaweke Movement, has the general reception towards our stuff, which has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We’ve had requests from outside the country to send our tee-shirts; it’s also been a teaching moment not just to the people who buy them, but to us as well – and a constant reminder of the beauty of our kaweke. We’ve seen gorgeous heads of hair in and around Uganda, and we know for sure that people are starting to realize that too, and take better care of the hair that grows out of their scalps.” Charlene notes.

A few other products and tshirts promoting Kaweke Movement

The challenges experienced.

Attempting to grow a business in Uganda is very challenging, and this is common to all start ups and emerging entrepreneurs in any country.

“Our greatest challenge has been finding reliable sources for the raw materials we use, or to make the things we want to our specifications. On some occasions, we’ve been told by some of the people we’ve contracted that “our standards and expectations are too high”, and on other occasions, our timelines have not been met, with no explanations.” Explains Amelia.

Given what they have seen, and knowing that Ugandan soils are home to incredible plants, fruits and spices, they is an urge for the need for industrialization.

“A lot of things that we get from other countries and continents can be produced here with even better quality, we believe.” she states.

But despite the challenges, the Kaweke Movement is expanding to stock at 2 other outlets; their range is growing; and they have seen the Kinks and Kurls Expo grow quite a bit as well.

All this has been possible due to working with people that see the vision. “We’ve met a lot of people along the way that have been keen to help and we’ve latched onto that. We are also keen on collaboration and partnering with others.” Charlene explains.

Advice to young and emerging entrepreneurs

“ stop learning (and reading). Look for ways to collaborate or partner with others. You can go far alone, but you can go even further with others (that are like-minded and passionate too). This is cliché but don’t hold back from starting, however small.” she says.

“Uganda has the best shea butter in the world. Fun fact, but true.” Charlene concludes.

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Unsung Heroes

Being HIV Positive, Diagnosed with Cancer & Tuberculosis Has not stopped this Superwoman From Looking After 150 Kids in Slums

“A strong woman doesn’t give up even though her heart may feel heavy. She courageously takes one more step, then another and then another.” –Anonymous

Stella Airoldi first met Susan laker in 2009 when she first came to Uganda while doing research about post war victims and witnesses.

“I visited her house, where she was living with her 3 teenage kids. Back then I was 24 years old and Susan 26 years, so just two years older than me.  But her kids were already 9,10 and 13 years old.” Stella says.

Because Susan got pregnant for the first time when she was only 13, her kids didn’t go to school and neither did she. A soldier was responsible for her first pregnancy while she was living in a military barracks which by then, was the only safe place for her to go to escape the insurgency caused by the Lords Resistance Army in Northern Uganda.

“Getting pregnant when I was 13 years old was so traumatizing. I lost my childhood life. I wasn’t able to go to school which made me lost my hope for living a good future. I hated my parents for forcing me in to early marriage, my growth was totally destroyed and I segregated myself from people because I felt inferior.”- Susan notes.

Susan with some of the beneficiaries of 22STARS. (Photo credit: Stella Airoldi)

When Susan was 15 years old, she conceived again but got a miscarriage when she received a message notifying her that her uncles, nieces, a brother and sister had been mutilated and killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels.

“I was shocked and lost the pregnancy. After a few months, I conceived again and gave birth to a second child at the age of 16 and when the baby was 6 months, the father died and since I had nowhere to get financial help from, I was forced to  remarry another soldier from the barracks to get protection and when I was 19 I gave birth to the third child.” Susan says

In 2007, her husband was deployed to Somalia on a peacekeeping and never returned, a thing that left Susan very frustrated. It was shortly after that, that she found out that she was HIV positive, had cancer and Tuberculosis (TB). It was not until an organization called Reach Out Mbuya came to her rescue that she was able to start cancer chemotherapy and TB drugs for six months and now am on ARVs treatment for life.

She then fled with all her children to Kampala which were (and still remain) her main reason and motivation to keep going in life. Her kids were tested negative and she wanted them to go to school. She started making jewellery, which initially her kids would sell in the streets.

Susan and some of her children (Photo credit: Stella Airoldi)

“It was then my pastor introduced me to Stella. I was making paper beads jewellery and Stella decided to buy me jewellery on a yearly basis. At the end of 2012 when she came back to Uganda to see how I was doing, she was surprised to learn that I was going back to school by myself and I had improved.” Susan notes.

Susan has been able to buy land and built a bigger house for her family. She completed high school and did a couple of short courses to improve her skills and knowledge for example a  certificate in Clearing, Forwarding and Shipping management, Certificate in Electronics, Certificate in Counseling People Living with HIV/AIDS.

“At first, all my friends and family thought I was completely crazy starting with women who cannot read and write and I cannot even communicate with. So true, things didn’t go that smooth the first 2 years. So end of 2014 I came back to Kampala and since 2015 I am here myself 2 to 3 times a year and things improved a lot.”- Stella says.

Stella (left) and Susan during one of the jewellery making sessions (Photo credit: Stella Airoldi)

Susan is now managing the whole team of at 22STARS jewellery that comprises of over 20 women and supporting 150 children in slums. Thanks to recurring monthly donations, she (Susan) has been cooking in Acholi Quarter every Sunday since October 2016 ( so more than 14 months!) with the help of other 22STARS group members. The group started back then to cook for 50 kids and that is now 150. They get a hot meal with either fish or meat.

22STARS is a team of artisans made up by strong women living in the slums of Kampala and Jinja in Uganda making jewellery for a living. The platform is giving women in slum areas like Susan to sell their jewellery on the international market and earn a living, and in addition war running small social programs on the ground.

“Our choice for environmentally friendly products is a very conscious one. By using 100% recycled paper, the jewellery you wear does not only look good, but it also feels good. Our beads are hand made from paper and varnished with natural products.  This makes each peace uniquely different, lightweight and waterproof.” Stella says.

Some of the 22STARS women that make jewellery (Photo credit: Stella Airoldi)

22STARS also uses education and entrepreneurship to empower children and their families to rise above poverty by creating long-term sponsorships for children in Uganda, and also run several community development initiatives including a nutrition program, basic needs program, small business training and micro loans program and our holistic educational program with extra-curricular activities.

“Without the help of Susan this all would not have been possible. As she knows how it feels like to sit in the stone quarry with your kids, crashing stones all day, not being able to send them to school, she is pushing very hard to help all the families over there to send their kids to school. She is so amazing how she is managing everything. Susan is a true superstar and really the strongest woman I ever met.” Stella concludes.

Stella and Susan at the 22STARS office. (Photo credit: Stella Airoldi)

Like this story or have something to share? Write to us: info@thisisuganda.org, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Collective Good

This Social Enterprise is on its Way to Providing 1000 Solar Lamps For Refugees in Northern Uganda

When Esteeri Kabonero got back to Uganda after being raised in the United States and working in Rwanda, her focus was on energy access for under served communities. She did not realize how badly refugees, especially from South Sudan had been living.

“Headlines throughout the world had been talking about how Bidi Bidi refugee settlement, one of the largest settlement in the world located in northern Uganda, was at a breaking point.” Esteeri says.

Bidi Bidi refugee settlement is home to thousands of refugees with 64% being children under 18 and 86% women and children benefiting from Uganda’s open refugee receiving policy that has seen her become one of the leading countries in the world with high number of refugees.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees by the end of May 2017, Uganda was home to 1,233,966 refugees, originating from South Sudan (947,427), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (204,413), Burundi (34,241), Somalia (25,321), Rwanda (13,907), Eritrea (4,310), Sudan (2,549) and Ethiopia (1,798).  Still, by the end of 2016, Uganda had the fifth-largest refugee population after Turkey (2.9 million), Pakistan (1.4 million), Lebanon (1million) and Islamic Republic of Iran (979,400).

Esteeri during one of her recent visits to Bidi Bidi Refugee settlement

“Even when Uganda is one of the most hospitable countries for refugees, we do not have enough resources to provide to them. Families in Bidi Bidi for example live in huts or UNCHR tents and many are living in darkness, school children, that found a little bit of home in school, can’t study, hospitals are left in darkness. Thus, this is where I knew we wanted to start.” Esteeri explains.

This led to the founding of Powah, a last mile distribution and community development company with a mission to provide access to products and services that will better energy, education, health, and entrepreneurial activities in refugee settlements in Uganda focusing on Bidi Bidi.

“We went to Bidi Bidi Refugee settlement to understand how refugees live. I had told people I wanted to help the refugee crisis in northern Uganda, but how could I help if I had never been there. I think sometimes we hear about crisis but do not understand it. After visiting and seeing poor energy connection we came up with the PowahAll campaign.” She says.

The social enterprise is providing solar lights to school children in Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement, one the largest settlement in the world. This is being done through raising funds via crowd funding and a social media campaign (using the hashtag #PowahAll).

“The campaign aims to power 1000 refugees in Bidi Bidi refugee settlement giving them solar lamps. We have just launched our crowd funding campaign whereby anybody around the world can donate using mobile money or Credit cards at akabbo.ug/campaigns/powah/. “ Esteeri explains.

So far, the social enterprise has managed to raise 300 solar lamps out of the 1000 target that it seeks to deliver to the Refugee settlement in Northern Uganda.

But it has not been an easy ride for the team. The biggest challenge Esteeri and team has faced, is finding people that also have that motivation and vision, who are also looking to make an impact in the community.

“You can have the best idea in the world but if you do not have a good team to do it, it will never reach fruition. So, while I might have been the founder I have had a team behind me as well.” She notes.

Financing the project also remains a big challenge- which many entrepreneurs have face. Esteeri notes that many grants and funding opportunities are based in western countries, until Uganda can create funding opportunities and angel investing a lot of entrepreneurs will never see growth.

But despite the challenges, Esteeri has a vision, which is a message she wants every young person to know and believe in.

“What discourages people (especially young people) is a short term focus. If you have a vision or purpose, an end vision you want to achieve, you can create mini goals to get to that vision. If you have a purpose even when things go wrong those failures just teach you to take a different road or strategy.” She says.

Powah believes in an access to renewable energy for all. (Photo credit: Powah)

Esteeri also believes in the need to have many more female entrepreneurs to change the narrative- the few numbers of women in business. According to her, its hard being an entrepreneur in general, but when you are in the minority it’s even harder. Entrepreneurs solve problems in our communities, if we do not have females solving problems we miss out on innovations, new ideas, women centered problems that men may never realize need to be solved.

“Uganda has supported refugees from all over the world, its time the world supports Uganda. How? We must engage and support those that are making an impact and changing the face of the country.” Esteeri concludes.

Like this story or have something to share? Write to us: info@thisisuganda.org, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Uganda Innovates

Athieno Mary Lucinda is changing girls’ lives one sanitary pad at a time

She stood up in class, her classmates laughed at her. The boys said that she had slaughtered a chicken. They made fun of her for a long time. She couldn’t afford sanitary towels, the anxiety of the monthly period coupled with the embarrassment she had faced which would have destroyed her self-esteem as a young girl instead stirred her resolve.

Meet Athieno Mary Lucinda a YALI fellow, the founder of Eco-Pads a social enterprise dedicated to the production and distribution of reusable pads and environmentally friendly to girls in Uganda.

“That experience kept me wondering what I would ever do to save a girl the embarrassment I had gone through. While at university, I went to volunteer with Kadama Widows Association where I am the Executive Director now and as I interacted with the girls, they had similar challenges. I then started saving part of my stipend to make the pads and that was my aha moment.” Lucinda says.

The sanitary pads are distributed to young women in rural Uganda. These Eco-pads are Menstrual Kits that are made from very high performance fabric and provide comfort and supper protection for a period up to 12 months.

“The Eco-pads project started in 2008 as a local thing trying to just help girls in the community. In 2014 we realized we can improve on quality and start selling for sustainability and we have been growing daily from just the local community to many parts of the country with over 20 full time  and 35 part time employees.”

“I am most proud of last year when we reached 50,000 girls with Eco-Pads, the feedback from the girls attending school daily is heart-filling. The involvement of parents and the whole community in the cause is great. We have reached over 75,000 community members on Menstruation being an issue and how they support. Mentored over 10,000 girls” Lucinda says.

There are challenges that are still to be overcome. Being a local product, Lucinda’s biggest challenge has been in marketing and getting the product to be known, convincing the clients that it is a good product since it is new. The very first money that they used was grant money that they used to buy equipment and set up and buy some few materials.

Despite the challenges, she has mentors that encourage her when things are going down hill. my “Atuki Turner the ED of Mifumi, Tracey the founder of glad rags U.S, Mary Mosinghi the ED of KwaAfrica. They remaind me that I need to remain a learner and humble in whatever I do.”

At the heart of this project is the desire by Eco pads that every girl child remains in school. Eco-pads give affordable sanitary pads for girls, because many miss out of school during their menstruation. They are competing against appalling statistics 80% of Girls in Uganda are absent from school during their periods. 70% of female students reported difficulty of attending class attentively due to menstrual related problems. 90% of the poor women and girls do not use (off-the-shelf) sanitary pads, but instead improvise with unsanitary materials. Prior to their first period only 51% of girls had knowledge of menstruation and its management

“We educate girls on MHM, conduct mentorship sessions and educate the parents and teachers on the need to support girl child. We shall continue to do something regardless of the tide. One sanitary pad at a time.” Lucinda says

lucinda-1 lucinda

 

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