By Frieda Park
Four weeks in Uganda, wow! Time has flown by as we have tried to balance our time between working and exploring the country, getting to know its people, its animals, and its beauty. Every step of the way we are reminded of the adversity people face in their everyday lives. Our work with Solar Sister involves not only coming up with ways for the people of Uganda to overcome the adversity they are faced with, but also to empower them to progress, and hopefully slowly change, a system that has been created not only by Uganda itself, but also by foreigners who have come before us with a similar mission in mind.
As we work to create solutions to empower the Solar Sister Entrepreneur, we are constantly faced with the legacy of aid and the expectations it has created in the lives of Ugandans; those of freebies, handouts and a giver who will not always be there to support them. A legacy in which many organizations have come into Uganda over the years to offer free, but limited, support not only to the government, but also directly to its citizens. The history of aid in Uganda has been one of handouts that have had trouble sustaining themselves, and it is only recently that there has been a switch to sustainable development that provides skills and not just free handouts.
This new emergence of sustainable development builds on an old (and slightly modified) proverb, “Give a woman a fish and you feed her for a day, teach a woman to fish and you feed her and her family for a lifetime”. For example, in one Solar Sister community we recently found out from the Entrepreneurs in the community that a foreign aid organization is giving away similar lights to what they are trying to sell. This is significantly cutting into their potential profits, which would put food on their tables and provide support to their families, as well as light to their community. This juxtaposition between aid and social enterprise reminds us that we are here in Uganda not only to create a sustainable business but also to help provide solutions to help women improve and empower their lives using not only their own hands, but their minds as well.