Dorah Nalunga Sseruwagi received an e-mail from non-governmental organisations who promotes entrepreneurship development, requesting her to nominate a woman who was making a difference in her community, she did not have to think twice about whom to choose. It was Benedicta Nanyonga.
“She has uplifted the standard of life in the Kinawataka slum area by teaching the community how to clean up their environment and also use locally available materials like used drinking straws to make handicrafts, which they in turn sell to earn a living. This has created employment for many low income earners who had previously been redundant,” Sseruwagi wrote.
“This is inspiring to the many unemployed folk in the communities where we live. It also inspires me not to look down on any job because from this humble straw-making, madam Benedicta has been recognised nationally and internationally for her innovation,” she added.
Ms Nanyonga heads the Kinawataka Women’s Initiatives (KWI), a community-based organisation she founded in 1998 to organise and empower women in her community who had no means of economic sustenance through environmentally conscious economic projects.
KWI is mostly known for its assortment of woven products made out of used drinking straws.
Such are the inspiring stories behind two books, Footmarks by Gorettie B. Bamwanga and CEDA’s The Inspirational Women of Uganda, that tell the story of and celebrate high achieving Ugandan women, shining a light on 127 Ugandan women who have triumphed over personal, political, societal and cultural obstacles to better themselves and those around them.
The stories of Nanyonga, together with that of Maria Baryamujura, an expert in community tourism; Rev. Diana M. Nkesiga, the vicar of All Saints’ Cathedral; and Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, the pioneering conservation veterinarian, feature in the two publications.
Footmarks is an ambitious compilation, that profiles 87 women from diverse backgrounds and professions who are either pioneers in their fields or have left a mark in their chosen fields. The majority are public figures and household names in Uganda, making the 500-page coffee table book read like a “who’s who” of Ugandan women.
Think of First Lady Janet Museveni, Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, Queen of Buganda Sylvia Nagginda Luswata, musician Joanita Kawalya, or activist Miria Matembe.
Others are chief revenue collector Allen Kagina, Kampala City boss Jennifer Musisi, Mbarara University deputy vice chancellor Prof. Pamela Mbabazi, HIV/Aids activist Lydia Mungherera, or Tereza Mbiire, a pioneering female entrepreneur who has been immortalised in song.
On the other hand, The Organizations of Inspirational Women of Uganda, largely focuses on ordinary women, the “unsung” heroines as it calls them, who are more grassroots oriented, where, in the absence of multiple national and international networks available to their “celebrity” counterparts, their impact has come through sheer relentless effort powered by dogged belief that within their means they could make a difference, however small, in their communities.
The sum total of what is tangible that these women have achieved, is marked by the number of orphans they have put through school, and the various economic empowerment initiatives through which the less fortunate have boosted their self-belief, reduced dependence on their partners and, in effect, gained economic freedom.
It is in what is intangible, however, where the full extent of these women’s achievements can might be found. How, for instance, do you measure the effect of counselling of thousands of individuals and couples and, subsequently, the stability derived from it? How about the mental and psychological impact these women have had on those who look up to them?
Ms Bamwanga, who founded and co-ordinates Mentors’ Team Africa, a counselling and mentorship business, tells the story of a young and restless socialite, who adored Susan K. Muhwezi, one of the profiled women, because of her looks, fashion and poise.
Ms Muhwezi is a senior advisor to Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni on trade and Agoa, among the many hats she wears.