Located 300 Km East of Kampala city in a little unknown sub-county of Ateta in Serere District is Ms. Irene Akol’s workshop. Akol, a mother of one, a 9-year old boy is a beneficiary of a training programme on Cottage Industry, Sewing and Embroidery initiated by Uganda National Commission for UNESCO (UNATCOM) in January 2018 and supported by Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural organization (ISESCO).
Between September 2017 and February 2018, Uganda National Commission for UNESCO organized 2 sets of training which targeted to empower underprivileged women living in rural communities in Uganda to increase their opportunities in income-generating projects so as to contribute to their social development, enhancing their economic capacities and help them in fighting poverty hunger and illiteracy in line with the Sustainable Development.
More than 30 rural women from the 4 regions of Uganda benefit from the first set of training which sought to empower them on the skills of soap making (bar and liquid soap, hand gel), confectioneries as well as marketing and branding skills among others.
Akol was however among the second bunch of 20 rural women trained on the skills of sewing and embroidery. The 2 weeks training introduced Akol and many of her colleagues to the operations of the new electric machines used for knitting clothes which to many of the participants, was a new technology unknown to them, Akol inclusive despite of the fact that she had already acquired early trainings in the tailoring school.
Particularly, this trainings intended to empower female workforce in Uganda to foster job creation opportunities, improve livelihoods and contribute to national development by enhancing rural economy and cutting poverty through production of quality products and promoting entrepreneurship.
How did she get here?
Born 30 years ago to Mr. John Elau and Immaculate Aguda of Pokore Village, Kamusala Parish, Ateta Sub-county, Serere District, Akol’s life story has been a remarkable journey which gives a lot of optimism to the many young girls still living in absolute poverty in rural communities in the country side.
“My parents bore 10 of us, 6 girls and 4 boys. I am the 5th born.” Akol narrates that she went to Kamusula Primary School from where she sat her primary leaving education and later joined Kyere Secondary School for secondary education, unfortunately she would not go on to complete S.4. While in S.3 in 2008 Akol recalls dropping out of school due to lack of school fees because her Mr. Elau couldn’t afford because.
After sitting home for a while Akol narrates that a new vocational and training school was opening up at a nearby Ocapa trading center, St. John Vocational and Training Institute. To Akol this presented a great opportunity to learn specialized skills and in 2010 she enrolled for tailoring course and would go on to graduate after completing the 2-year training programme in Tailoring and Garment Cutting in 2012.
Upon graduation, Akol had no capital to start her own business, she would then join millions of other graduates in this country in search of the dream opportunity to present itself that she hoped would later transform her life for the better. This search however, never yielded much fruit and instead of remaining frustrated, Akol decided to join farming, in order to lend a helping hand to her elderly peasant parents who are still strong and energetic despite the visibility of age taking its toll over them.
Akol’s farming family has for many years been producing mainly rice, cassava, millet, sweet potatoes, ‘amukeke’, ground nuts locally known as ‘amaido’ in the local dialect of Ateso, the language widely spoken in the region, among many other food and cash crops, with the latter sold in the nearby ‘Brooks Corner’ market to generate some money for the family to use to meet the other basic needs.
The breakthrough moment
In January 2018, Akol together with 20 other rural women from the 4 regions of Uganda were trained on the skills of sewing and embroidery where participants were equipped with the different methods and techniques of knitting from the 21st January to 1st February, 2018 at an event host in Kitante Primary school Kampala.
Several well established professional trainers in the field were at hand to offer specialized instructions and skills to the learners. At the end of the 2-weeks training programme, Akol had acquired the specific skills of embroidery which she demonstrated by coming up with creative and innovative designs for clothes as samples work while still at the camp.
Akol together with her classmates were awarded certificates upon completion of the training by Hon. Minister of State for Higher Education, Chrysostom Muyingo who presided as the chief guest at the closer of the training. Each participant went away with a package which included, an electric sewing machine and 1 million Uganda shillings as startup capital their new business venture.
On return to Serere, with support and good will of her elder brother Patrick Otim who sacrificed his living room to Akol to use as her workshop.
Her efforts are starting to pay-off as she narrates. With the help of her assistants, Akol is able to make 10 pieces of kitengi dresses everyday charging each piece at 40,000/= plus extra 10,000/= for labor. Through the savings realized from this business, Akol is able to single handedly pay school fees for her 9-year old son on top paying for medical bills when need arises plus other small household items.
On top of this, Akol has moved ahead to purchase 3 new sewing machine which she uses to train her students.
These projects on cottage industry and embroidery are also part of the priority educational projects earmarked for the 2016-2018 period which among others include a developmental project on literacy and non-formal education and development of technical and vocational education to strengthen youth’s and women’s employment opportunities.
Atim now expects that, with a steady increase in her income she can relocate her business to the nearby trading center of ‘Brooks Corner’ into a more spacious facility where electricity is available.