Victoria Namazzi, is an articulate and very driven teenager. The 19-year old dropped out of school due to lack of school fees after her grandmother, who was a tailor was arrested for failing to clear her debts.
“My grandmother was responsible for seven grandchildren whom she supported from her earnings as a tailor. Our parents used would come by the home and leave without leaving any form of assistance,” Namazzi relates.
Eventually, the little business which was the sole source of income collapsed since every shilling went to paying school fees and catering for the family’s needs.
“With time grandmother started borrowing money for our school fees but paying the money was not easy and she always found a new person to borrow from. One time, while at home, we saw loan officers and a police truck at our door and our grandmother was taken to jail. She was released on bail but since she clearly could not pay the debts, she disappeared,” recounts Namazzi.
Taking over the responsibility
The responsibility fell on Namazzi who was in her Senior Five at that time. She was forced to drop out of school and to start doing casual jobs so could get food to eat and pay some of the bills.
“The first job I got was selling roadside chips at night for which I was paid Shs2,000 every day. Because the money was not enough I started making samosas. My breakthrough came when a mother paid me Shs100,000 a month to coach her children,” Namazzi says.
With this money, Namazzi she was able to set up a snack business that sold samosas, fried cassava and chapatis which increased my income.
Namazzi eventually heard of opportunities at Brac an NGO that aims at empowering people and communities in situations of poverty, illiteracy, disease and social injustice through economic and social programmes that enable men and women to realise their potential. She started out as a volunteer and later became a mentor on the programme.
“I did not quit any of my jobs but juggled all the three since I badly needed to sustain my family. While at Brac we were asked to write proposals of what we would like to do so we could get funding. Mine was approved by Standard Chattered which helped me start my business,” she relates.
Startin her business
Namazzi was given a sewing machine as a grant so she quit her job to concentrate on setting up her start-up. One of the challenges she faced was her age.
People were relactant to trust a 17-year old girl with their clothes, doubting her skills. “I walked around looking for customers and those I got sometimes took long to pay me or would even not pay probably because of my age. This, however, was not about to stop me,” says Namazzi.
She saved whatever she could and eventually was able to afford a room at Ham Shopping Mall in Makerere, buy another machine and employ other people to help with the work.
“This move did not only increase my income but earned respect from my customers too. I have developed my skills from the basics I had learned from my grandmother but most importantly, I am able to give jobs to fellow youth who would have otherwise been jobless,” she narrates.
Namazzi has sent her two siblings back to school because she is able topay their fees.
Ayiya’s life before
Irene Ayiya runs a thriving but modest boutique in Gayaza. Before becoming self-employed, the 21 year old had lived a miserable life. At 17, her sister stopped paying her school fees, sold their house without informing her and disappeared from her life.
“The reality of life hit me when people came home claiming that she had sold the land and house to them and asked me to leave. I called her but she did not pick my calls. The new owners of the property forced me to leave. I had nowhere to go since she was the only relative I knew,” recounts Ayiya.
Abandoned, confused and afraid, Ayiya fell for the first person who showed her a glimmer of sympathy. She moved in with a man who also disappeared from her as soon as he realised she had conceived.
Coping through the pregnancy
Once again, she found herself abandoned and helpless.
“I did not know how I would get money to cater for myself and the unborn baby. I wondered where I was to go from there but the landlady was kind enough to let me stay at no cost for some months. Within those few months, I looked for a job,” relates Ayiya. She got a job at a mobile money outlet earning Shs 70,000 a month. Unfortunately she lost it at the later stages of her pregnancy. At this point, she got in touch with her erstwhile lover’s parents with whom she had cultivated a good relationship. They took over the child’s care.
“I was so grateful knowing that my son was with his relatives who took good care of him. But more importantly, I could see him whenever I had time,” she adds.
Joining the Goal project
“Even as a jobless and helpless single mother, I still played netball which I was very good at. One time my friend asked me to join their team. It was during this time that I was spotted by the Goal Project coordinators,” she recounts.
The project assistant informed her that she would need to write an application which would enable her join their training sessions.
After training she became a mentor then later a Goal coach, earning Shs55,000 a month. She saved some of this money, which she used to buy her initial stock which she hawked around town.
“The breakthrough came when we were asked to write proposals of what we want to do and luckily mine got approved and I was given Shs1,000,000 of which Shs500,000 was a grant and the other was a revolving loan,” Ayiya relates. As soon as she got the money, she drew a business plan, rented a room and went to Owino market where she did shopping for her stock.
The transition from a hawker to a shopkeeper was at first frightening for her because she was not sure customers would like her clothes enough to stop and buy.
“I decided to start making calls to my friends who supported my business and I also passed by my customers homes to inform them about my new location. With these efforts, I was able to make more money for myself, paid the loan and now I can say life is getting better,” Ayiya says.
Ayiya’s sister finally turned up at her shop with no apologies or explanations. More interestingly, relatives she never knew existed started showing up, asking for her help which she feels compelled to give.
“With the little money I am earning now I am saving so that one day I can go back to school but I am worried because it is not adding up and my boy is growing fast so with time he will need to go to school too,” she observes.