Gemma Munday is the stories lead at Restless Development. She recently visited our International Citizenship Service project (ICS) in Jinja, Uganda to capture Aisha’s story.
This blog is part of a series in collaboration with our corporate partners, IP Integration and Virtual1, who recently visited our projects in Uganda. Our dedicated partners continue to support Restless Development, ensuring young people can solve the biggest challenges they face. Keep an eye out for 5 more blogs in this series in the coming weeks!
Green dye melts into white liquid soap, creating mint green swirls. Aisha stirs the bucket of liquid gently, watching her product come to life. A a scent of fresh roses rises from the bucket.
“I make different scents for the soap, whatever makes them happy I will make!”
This is how Aisha earns a living; making and selling her own soap. She gets most of her income from supplying in bulk to local schools, but she also sells small bottles for personal use to people in the surrounding villages.
Aisha smiles and gestures to her face;
“It is good for the skin, if people have spots or mild skin problems they use the soap and their skin looks perfect.”
Aisha’s journey to becoming an entrepreneur hasn’t been easy. When she lost her husband in a traffic accident, her world turned upside down.
“He was a kind husband. He used to bring in an income and I looked after the home and our children. When he died, I didn’t know how to look for money for food or school fees. I came to face the reality that he was gone and I needed to do all of those things.”
Aisha’s savings meant she could grow vegetables in her garden and sell them. However her crops were very vulnerable to the weather, so there was a high risk of making a loss.
Then Aisha found out about the International Citizens Service (ICS) programme, which recruits international and national volunteers to work on community projects together for three months. Aisha signed up to be a host parent, this means she houses volunteers in her home for three months.
During this time she learnt a lot from the volunteers. One of the projects they were leading was teaching young people who can’t afford to stay in school and other people in the community to make liquid soap. Aisha saw first hand how this could be a lucrative business.
“The business has really helped. Usually I make at least four litres of soap a month, which makes me 160,000 UGX (£32). My eldest daughter has to pay 100,000 UGX (£20) each month for her studies, so it covers her fees and living costs for the family.”
During the liquid soap making sessions the ICS volunteers train people in business skills too. Aisha says;
“I have learnt how to keep my books and how to budget so I can track how much I have spent.”
The ICS volunteers have been running soap making sessions regularly, along with sanitary pad making sessions in schools.
Aisha explains how important the sanitary pad making sessions are;
“Girls and boys are now able to make sanitary pads, the out of school youth are able to make liquid soap. My girls have missed school in the past because they haven’t had a pad during their periods. After the Restless volunteers came into their school, they have learnt to make pads and haven’t missed school since.”
The volunteers haven’t stopped there. They have also set up sexual health services like testing for STIs and pregnancy tests, working with health professionals and other NGOs to provide the services. 92% of these local partners involved in ICS said their organisation is now better able to bring positive change.
The positive difference the volunteers have made is felt across the community. For Aisha, this means realising her role as an independent business woman.
“I am now looked at as a role model. People come to me not only to buy liquid soap, but for knowledge on issues like sanitary pad use and growing a business.”
As well as supporting people like Aisha with skills, the volunteers themselves also develop important life skills. 86% of the volunteers on ICS have gained professional development in education, employment or training 12 months after their participation in the programme.
Meet some of the volunteers in Ashia’s community:
“It is the most exciting thing I have done so far because it is really creating an impact. Those who can’t afford to go to school can sell soap, make a small business and even use that money to return to school.”
“People really connect to stories when you relate it to a particular individual, show how that issue has affected them and how they have positively tried to find a solution.”
“Many girls in Africa don’t have money for sanitary pads. When I was in Primary School my parents didn’t have enough money to them. If you missed school you would get strokes of the cane, so I went and stained my skirt. I couldn’t go outside for lunch and the other students didn’t want to sit near me. Teaching boys and girls to make reusable sanitary pads can mitigate school dropouts and end stigma. The boys need to know what the girls are going through mentally and physically.”