A short business course and a start up grant. It was our lead social worker Adam’s idea. Until now, Annah has been barely making ends meet through illegally catching and selling fish. She is smart, tough, and determined. A little bit of formal training and some startup capital is what she needs to launch a new and improved way of life for her and the children.
Over the course of a week, Adam has been sitting with Annah, talking, listening, and walking her through the steps of running a legitimate small business: writing a business plan, making a budget, tracking expenses, setting prices, reinvesting profits. Though she has had several great ideas, Annah has decided to use her previous fish selling experience by establishing a legal fish business. She knows several fisherman and she knows the market well. She plans to buy directly from the fishermen and sell to the vendors, turning a nice profit along the way.
Meanwhile, the nurses, Teddy and Prossy, have been assessing the children’s hands and feet every day for new or missed jiggers, and applying bandages to the sores as they heal. Sole Hope’s lead educator, Matthew, has been teaching the children how to stay Jigger free when they return home.
Finally, after crafting a business plan and a week of training, Annah passes a verbally administered post test. Sole Hope gives Annah a micro grant to start her business. Our medical team declares the family jigger free and healthy. They are ready to go home.
The wooden fishing boat slowly motors out through Lake Victoria, leaving Jinja behind. The closer she gets to home, the more excited Annah becomes. Usually reserved and dignified, she can’t suppress a wide smile as she waves toward the shoreline, pointing out important landmarks.
The kids alternate between laughing and joking and quietly watching the shoreline pass.
As the boat approaches the village, a small crowd of onlookers begins to gather. We land on the beach and exit the boat.
As Annah and the kids pile out of the boat friends and acquaintances call out and share smiles. Women kneel in traditional greeting. A teacher from the local school calls out a compliment on the shoes as we walk past: “Ah, you are looking so smart and you are walking so well!”
Peter, a Sole Hope social worker, goes to work right away. He identifies the local chairperson and the woman who heads the village’s savings circle–a group of businesswomen who pool resources and help each other in business. Annah explains her business plan to both of these women and they sign a document agreeing to support her and keep her accountable to using the grant as described.
The children have returned home with fresh feet and new clothes. They have all the tools they need to stay jigger free: hand crafted Sole Hope shoes, soap and basins for washing their feet, safety pins and knowledge about how to safely remove any new jiggers they might discover before they become a problem. The children are given a roll of stickers as a reward for all their hard work and patience.
As they approach their house, Gloria pulls out her own roll of stickers and begins applying them to the foreheads, cheeks and arms of all her friends and neighbors as they gather around her. Her smile stretches wider and wider; she can’t contain her joy as she gives until she has nothing left. She then grabs her baby sister, lifts her in her arms and dances around the small dirt yard.
Not only has the young family returned home healthy and jigger free, but additionally Annah has a business plan, startup capital, and community support. She is armed with new knowledge and is resolved to build a happier and healthier life for herself and her children.
This family was with us at our outreach house for nearly three weeks. Getting to know them was a pleasure and an honor. Business training and micro grants are relatively new territory for Sole Hope, but job creation fits right in with our mission:
Offering HOPE, healthier lives, and freedom from foot-related diseases through education, jobs, and medical relief.
We plan to monitor Annah’s progress over the coming months and evaluate the effectiveness of this new endeavor. Our social work team is excitedly discussing and planning possible ways to evaluate and grow what we have done so future families who come to be treated in our outreach house may also be provided with new life skills and an opportunity for a better future.