It is a hot Thursday afternoon as our car turns from Entebbe Road to Nakiwogo Close, just below State House, Entebbe. In a solitary building, not far from the Ministry of Works premises, women are engrossed in weaving, cutting, and rolling of paper. In the display room, an assortment of well-designed artifacts made from paper beads welcome us.
Welcome to Mama Kazi, a project that is building hope and transforming lives in Uganda’s army. Established two years ago, Mama Kazi has grown from a source of craft skills to an empowerment force turning around the lives of army wives.
Joan Kahunde, the project’s chief accountant, says the idea was conceived following the need to empower the army officers’ wives who were relying on their husbands as the family’s sole bread winner. The founders believed that if army wives were mobilized to work together, they could help solve the social and economic challenges they face. The first idea that came to mind was to start a recycled paper bead project with the help of Gateja Sanaa, a master at the craft
Mama Kazi Administrator Harriet Kantu (left) and Accountant Joan Kahunde recieve paper from Peter Taremwa, the Vision Group Head of Printing. Photo by Enock kakande
In recognition of this noble community service and in accordance to its strategy of advancing the society, Vision Group is partnering with Mama Kazi to provide paper that is needed to make the beads. The intervention is a gesture through which Vision Group gives back to the community and supports matters that improves the welfare of the common person.
Vision Group’s legal Manager, Rita Kabatunzi describes Mama Kazi project as ‘a great example of hard work in our community.’
“We see this not just as an opportunity to contribute to their income but also to cheer them on,” she says. Kabatunzi believes that highlighting the story of Mama Kazi will motivate other women to acquire skills and be self-reliant.
With its two wings made of paper beads and determination, Mama Kazi is set to soar, soar and soar.
Sanaa’s role was be to train women to produce quality paper beads that could be transformed into jewelry, handbags, hats, album covers and a host of other products. The training commenced on July 15, 2009 and by September 2009 154 women had trained a further 46 women to become quality bead makers. The number has since grown to over 200.
From a distance, this blue- roofed structure looks isolated. With the words ‘Mama Kazi’ (meaning working woman) inscribed on the front, it is beehive of activity in which handmade eco-friendly products like jewelry, accessories and décor are produced.
A chat with the women unlocks heart touching testimonies of how this two- year old project has turned their lives around. It is fun. It is fulfilling and empowering. While their husbands fight in the front line with bullets, the army wives are fighting a different battle back home. They are shooting poverty using beads as their bullets!
Using money earned from Mama Kazi, Judith Nabaasa, a mother of two, has a farm of 30 goats and is opening up a poultry farm.
‘I no longer wait for my husband’s salary. I am able to take care of the family expenses like food, households needs and even pay school fees for our children,’ says Nabaasa.
For Christine Wekesa who holds a diploma in Secretarial Studies, Mama Kazi is an answered prayer.
‘I was employed as a secretary for six months, but had nothing to show. After being in Mama Kazi for two years I have purchased a plot in Kawuku. I can take care of the family even when my husband is not around,’ she says.
Kahunde says the journey has not been all smooth for Mama Kazi. Glossy paper, which is their main raw material, has been a challenge to come by. The project sustains itself through the sale of their products. Securing market locally and abroad remains an uphill task.
HOW IT WORKS
The beads are made out of recycled paper which the women hand roll at home and deliver to the collection center. Here the beads are sorted and turned into eco-friendly artifacts by the army wives stationed at the center. The women are paid as soon as their beads are delivered and sorted for quality control. The ladies that turn the beads into the finished product are also paid per finished item.
MAMA KAZI products are to be sold locally and in foreign markets through agents. The profits made from MAMA KAZI products are re-invested into the association to cover administrative and training costs for other army wives.