Lunch time in Ruhiira? Look no further. ‘Fang Fang’ is the place to go for yummy matooke (bananas) and beans. The woman behind this thriving micro-business is Tumushabe Boneconcila, whose entrepreneurial spirit is doing much to both improve the quality of her own life and radically shake up ideas of traditional gender roles in the community. Before the arrival of the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) in 2006, Boneconcila had begun building what would become Fang Fang and was gaining a small amount of income, but found herself up against a glass ceiling. What she lacked were the hard skills necessary to give her enterprise some vital leverage.
When the MVP offered her a chance to enroll in the Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) class, she jumped at it. ‘Before, I struggled with my business as I didn’t know how to read or write,’ remembers Boneconcila. ‘But today, I can do both! When people give me money, I can count it, keep a record, and maintain accountability. For me - and my business - that is a great achievement as now no one can cheat me!’ FAL aims to equip men and women with daily life skills: ‘FAL has taught me about school fees management and business stimulation methods,’ says Boneconcila ‘I am now more able to care for my children and pay their school fees’. This is no easy feat considering she has 9 children to support singlehandedly. ‘Before I could barely afford salt, let alone school fees. Now I can afford to support them all.’
After her husband’s passing in 2004, Boneconcila immediately got to work digging in other people’s gardens, rushing home in between jobs to prepare meals for her children before heading out again. It was from this sheer determination and sacrifice that she eventually pooled together funds to establish Fang Fang, capitalising on its geographic proximity to the village market. Business was slow at first, but with MVP in 2006 came the revival of the Ruhiira Health Center opposite her eatery, the health workers of which now constitute her biggest clientele. Whilst the boom in profits and increased business knowledge acquired through FAL provided a boost for Boneconcila’s business, a theft incident in her house which robbed her of all her profits prompted her to seek a more secure option. Enter the Ruhiira Millennium SACCO, a village bank established and managed by the women’s group RUTWA, of which Boneconcila is an active member. She banks all her profits in the SACCO daily, earning a sizable interest in the process. In a wonderful example of self-driven empowerment, she is now a beneficiary of the very bank which she and her fellow RUTWA members created with MVP’s support.
‘As a woman, I feel stigmatised for opening my own business. Sometimes I get abuse, and people refuse to believe that I did it without my husband. But look at the men; they’re just lying around all day! I believe all women here are more than capable of doing the same as me.’ True to her word, Boneconcila has done much to encourage women in Ruhiira to pursue their own ventures and gain more financial independence. Thanks to the supportive network facilitated by RUTWA, she was able to help local women, both pastorally and financially, to start up small businesses. Leading by way of example, Boneconcila is playing a pivotal role in changing attitudes towards women in the community. ‘If I could get into politics, I’d get many votes - I’m a role model,’ she laughs.
Boneconcila says she owes much of her happiness to MVP’s help, notably inputs such as provision of agricultural materials and training on best agronomic practices, which helped to expand her matooke plantation, now considered one of the biggest in the village. This plantation provides ample harvest to feed her family, her customers at Fang Fang and leave surplus for market trading. What is more, MVP’s creation of banana marketing groups has shortened the value chain and raised the average price of matooke to as much as 10,000 UGX (4.4 USD) per bunch. For Boneconcila, who remembers times when prices plummeted to 100 UGX (0.04 USD) per bunch, this is a phenomenal improvement.
Now that she is financially secure, Boneconcila’s primary concern is that her children are properly educated so that they too can build bright and secure futures. She was able to stand on her own two feet thanks to a synergy between hard work and determination, and targeted assistance from the MVP, which is what drives her to be such an outspoken advocate for womens empowerment. She is even a frequent speaker on the community radio station, Millennium Voice, encouraging women to work. ‘Thanks to increased knowledge and awareness through things such as the radio, I know we will see a big change in women here. Like me, they will gain the confidence to step out on their own - and enjoy it!’