Travel Notebook

Eradicating Poverty in East Africa, One Entrepreneur at a Time

As a child growing up in Uganda, Angela Adeke and her two sisters lacked a basic education because their parents were too poor for them to attend school. “We were the talk of the village because we begged for everything,” says Angela. “Just getting the basics in life was very difficult.” These girls weren’t the exception, in fact, the norm. According to UNESCO, Uganda has the highest school drop-out rate in East Africa, many rural girls leaving school too early, often after becoming pregnant unwillingly.

To add insult to injury, Angela’s district of Ngora still has overcrowded schools that are recovering from 2003 attacks by guerilla leader Joseph Kony’s LRA rebels. Families were split apart and forced into IDP camps, further limiting educational opportunities.

Standing strong against this sad trend is Village Enterprise, an inspiring nonprofit for whom my best friend, Lindsay, works. Their mission is to end extreme poverty in rural Africa through entrepreneurship and innovation. Through their simple, cost-effective model, they have started close to 36,000 small businesses, trained 145,000 small-business owners and impacted nearly 800,000 people since 1987. A one-year graduation program provides groups of three entrepreneurs with seed capital, training and ongoing mentoring by a local business mentor. With a nod to the African landscape, conservation training is included, ensuring that the new businesses promote environmental best practices. Among the many businesses that have been launched are livestock, farming, small retail stores and restaurants, tailoring and beekeeping.  

With the support of Village Enterprise, Angela works as a successful tailor helping mend the education gap that once affected her so deeply. The final catalyst was the humiliation experienced when a school shunned her children because Angela could not afford the school uniforms. Thanks to Village Enterprise, she was able to get business training and a small $150 grant, which she used to invest in cloth for a tailoring business. She sewed her sons’ school uniforms and they now attend an excellent school. Angela has since gone on to sew uniforms for 4,000 other children at several Ngora schools, still one of Uganda’s poorest districts.

Taking it forward, Angela has helped train more than 10 young pregnant women who were banned from attending school and many times abandoned by their parents. “These girls were at home with nothing to do and no support, and so I trained them to become tailors. It makes me feel good to help others.” It is always lovely to see Lindsay and even sweeter when I’m able to support Village Enterprise at the same time. She was recently in town for a pop-up fundraiser for the organization, granting us time to shop, sip and socialize throughout a memorable evening. Proceeds from the event will be used to help women who live on less than $1.90 per day to start small, sustainable businesses of their own – women like Angela who are providing an everyday example of independent spirit and entrepreneurship to their young daughters, including Angela’s three-year-old, Grace. For more information on Village Enterprise and how you can get involved, please visit their website.