Sarah's Path to Independence
Standing in the shade on the side of her grandmother’s house near Jinja, Uganda, Sarah flips through the collection of brightly colored kitenge fabric that she will soon shape into dresses, purses, and shirts. Proudly, she holds up each of her tailored pieces, grinning as she describes the intricate designs and how her ability to speak Kiswahili landed her a good deal with a fabric supplier in Tanzania. But Sarah’s path to get to where she is today — a confident young entrepreneur and provider for her family — has not been an easy one.
In 2015, Sarah was excelling in her studies at secondary school and exercising leadership as the Speaker of the Educate! Student Business Club. The following year, she and her peers at Lira Town College in Northern Uganda took home the top prize at Educate!’s National Student Business Competitions, a major recognition of their effort and innovation in launching real, income-generating enterprises while still in school. Inspired by the Club’s success and equipped with the necessary skills, Sarah launched her own small enterprises outside of school, baking pastries and cakes, making soap, and tailoring.
As Sarah entered her final year of secondary school and worked to build her business, her family experienced great tragedy when her father suddenly passed away. Her mother, an agricultural day laborer, was unable to provide school fees for Sarah and her eight siblings. Grieving the loss of her father but still determined to finish school, Sarah scraped together the school fees by working odd jobs cleaning homes and washing clothes alongside her other business projects. Through her hard work and perseverance, Sarah graduated, more determined than ever to build her business and achieve financial security for herself and her family.
Sarah looked to her community for inspiration, utilizing the business and soft skills she had learned such as networking, communication, and market research to determine what products might prove successful. She identified market gaps – like the fact that people in her hometown were traveling over 6 hours to the capital of Kampala to buy new shoes – and honed her product offerings, establishing strong relationships with suppliers and customers. She also became an Educate! Mentor, sharing her real-world business experience with the next generation of Educate! Scholars.
Today, Sarah runs two enterprises: her kitenge fabric and tailoring business in Jinja, and a business selling shoes in Lira. While her businesses are still small, they have already enabled Sarah to help her family: Sarah’s earnings buy food for the household, and she employs her grandmother at her tailoring business. Sarah is also paying for her youngest sister to attend primary school, an educational opportunity that Sarah’s other siblings didn’t have after their father’s death.
Despite her young age, Sarah’s hard-earned experience and the skills she’s gained help her face the future confidently. “I’m the one taking care of most of my family members. It makes me happy because it means I’m responsible. If anything comes up in the future, I’m ready to deal with it.” Her greatest dreams for the future are to put herself through university and to someday start an orphanage:
“I’ve seen how hard it is for children to survive when their parents cannot support [them]… I can teach them skills so that one day they are in the position to start up something of their own, without other people, just like I have.”
By persevering through the challenges she has faced to create the future she wants, Sarah’s success has extended beyond herself and created exponential impact for her family.