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'I could stay or I could leave and make a difference with my life. So I left'

BENEDICTA NANYONGA, 66

Clockwise, far left: Grace Byeitima; Gudula Basara; Santa Laker; Ayamba Annet; Benedicta Nanyonga; Anne Ntwirenabo; Brenda Shopi; Feddy Mwerinde; Regina Mugongo
Clockwise, far left: Grace Byeitima; Gudula Basara; Santa Laker; Ayamba Annet; Benedicta Nanyonga; Anne Ntwirenabo; Brenda Shopi; Feddy Mwerinde; Regina Mugongo

BENEDICTA NANYONGA, 66

NANYONGA's introduction to business was slightly unusual - the idea came to her in a dream.

The 66-year-old dreamed she was told to collect plastic straws. Then, while litter-picking in the slum area where she lives, Nanyonga spotted a pile of used straws, collected them and spent 500 Ugandan shillings (12p) on cleaning products and glue. She transformed the straws into a mat which was sold for 7000 shillings.

"When I sold my mat I told myself: 'This is your job now'. I had no training but I had a profit and I set up my business making mats, bags, jewellery, all sorts of things."

Now she employs 40 people in her company, Kinawataka Straw Bags.

REGINA MUKIIBI MUGONGO, 59

In Uganda, the responsibility for preparing the dead for burial is that of the deceased's family and clan.

Mugongo went abroad to work in her brother's travel firm and while overseas saw a gap in the market. After a year training at Salisbury College in London, she and her brother set up Uganda Funeral Services (UFS) and publicised its services in the African Great Lakes region. But getting the business off the ground was difficult due to taboos around death and burial.

"People called us all sorts of names and were full of wrath. It was such a taboo," she recalls. Now Mugongo also employs 40 staff in five branches across Uganda.

DR GUDULA NAIGA BASARA

BASARA is the chairwoman of Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association (UWEA) and the executive director of Gudie Leisure Farm. Her passion is in enabling other women to start their own businesses and become self-sufficient.

Basara, who has a PhD and studied at York University and in the US, said: "Our three main strands at UWEA are advocacy, networking and capacity-building. We take women by the hand and teach them until they have learned how to do business.

"Networking is vital. When businesswomen meet other businesswomen they share what they know; there is synergy."

SANTA JOYCE LAKER

LAKER comes from northern Uganda, an area ravaged by civil war. She is modest about her education, having never gone to university, but has taken further education courses and is vice-chairwoman of UWEA. She runs a farm and uses her experience of living in displacement camps to help women traumatised by war.

"In the civil war my grandmother was blown up by a landmine," says Laker. "I had two choices: I could stay or I could leave and make a difference with my life. So I left."

ANNE NTWIRENABO, 53

NTWIRENABO is the founder of Lanor Enterprises, which makes organic fruit juices and wine. She believes a business should have several strands so that income is always being generated. Lanor Enterprises also keeps bees to make honey, grows mushrooms, farms poultry and takes in trainees to learn about the business.

Ntwirenabo said: "I was a teacher but I saw pupils coming to class who were malnourished and I thought: 'Why is this happening when our country has so many natural resources?' So I left teaching and I set up my business."

FEDDY B MWERINDE, 60

MWERINDE left a job working for for Uganda's Ministry of Finance, to set up TIRL Consultants and the Junction Motel.

She said: "I want to train women in the financial aspects of running a business, from doing her taxes if she needs to know how to do that, to keeping a balance sheet. I had my time of training, I had my time raising children and I had my time working. It's now time to give back to others."

AYAMBA ANNET, 34

ANNET always wanted to be self-employed and create jobs specifically for women. Now her food company, Your Choice, employs 40.

She says: "Women are the mothers of the nation. Once women are employed, the economy will grow."

BRENDA SHOPI, 40

SHOPI set up two firms in 2004 - C25 Concrete Products and C25 Holdings, an estate agency. She had worked in marketing but was fed up of giving her days to someone else.

"I was tired of being employed and now I love my working life," she says. "The estate agency runs itself but for the concrete company I am everything - buyer, supplier, accountant, you name it. I wouldn't change a thing."

GRACE BYEITIMA, 35

Raised by a single mother and a single mother herself, Byeitima's mother taught her from a young age to sew and, on leaving school, her mother found her an apprenticeship with a tailor.

She said: "If you leave school and go to sew you are seen as a failure. If someone sees you hunched over a machine it is shameful. But I did a business course and that has taught me to have confidence.

In 2009, she set up Mbabazi House of Style and the likes of the Belgian ambassador are among her clients.

"Now I offer the highest-quality fabric in Uganda and I go to great lengths for my customers."

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