Ms Judith Akiteng opens their shop at 8am every day. She then cleans it before starting to lubricate their six sweater knitting machines that are scattered all over the place. By 9am, when other members start showing up, she has already made two sweaters. In a day, Ms Akiteng alone makes on average five sweaters.
Despite making her own, she is also training two students who describe the skills they just gained from a short-term training in sweater making as transforming.
Ms Akite is the treasurer of Engaranakinos Sweater Knitting women’s group comprising 10 members. These women are seeking solutions to household poverty, and proving that women can excel in entrepreneurships once they are adequately supported.
Established in 2016, Engaranakinos is found in Kumi Municipality. The main objective of starting the group was to improve household income of its members and to bring services nearer to the people.
The group is currently being supported by the Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP) of the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.
UWEP is an initiative by the government of Uganda to improve women’s access to financial services, equip them with the skills for enterprise growth, value addition and marketing of their products and services. The women are availed with interest-free revolving credit to initiate or strengthen their enterprises.
The programme started in Kumi District in September 2017 with 16 projects worth Shs73,181,000 being funded.
Engaranakinos received Shs7 million under the programme. It was the group that got the highest amount of money in Kumi in the last financial year.
The group members are engaged in activities such as training and knitting sweaters, which they supply mainly to schools. Training of students costs Shs350,000 for about seven months.
“We picked on this enterprise of sweater making after we looked around and saw that nobody was doing it, and most schools in the area would go to buy sweaters from Mbale and Kampala,” says Ms Akiteng.
Today, Engaranakinos is supplying various schools in Kumi and the neighbouring districts of Bukedea, Amuria, Mbale and Ngora.
On average, the group makes 10 sweaters a day. Secondary schools buy each sweater at between Shs18,000 and Shs20,000, while the same is sold to primary and nursery schools at Shs18,000 and Shs15,000 respectively.
And from individual members’ testimonies, the enterprise appears rewarding.
“If I make sweaters and supply to our customers, I’m able to pay my children’s school fees and I’m also able to pay rent,” Ms Beatrice Among, the group chairperson, says.
Just like other group members, Ms Akiteng describes UWEP as a life changing intervention.
“UWEP has done a great thing in my life. Since I grew up, I had never benefited from any government programme. It’s my first time to benefit from UWEP, which has since changed my life,” she says.
Members are proud to identify themselves with the programme because their group has so far achieved a lot from the enterprise they picked on.
“It has made us to purchase more four knitting machines. The machines have enabled us to fasten our speed and supply more schools,” says the group treasurer.
Engaranakinos started with only two machines before UWEP intervention, and at the time they could only supply four schools. Today, the group supplies more than 10 schools.
“The capital has also increased and we are now able to handle more schools unlike in the past because the capital was low,” adds Ms Akiteng.
Despite the achievements, the group is also faced with challenges.
“2017 was a very bad year. Things were hard and we were unable to make a breakthrough. Because of the hard economic situation, many customers delayed to pay us for the supply we did that year,” Ms Akiteng says.
As women celebrate Women’s Day on March 8, group members are appealing to the government to increase UWEP funding so that many can access it. They also want the government to support women through more interest free loans.
In Kumi, at least 60 groups showed interest in benefiting from UWEP last financial year, but because of limited funds, only 16 groups were approved and supported.
“We really appeal to government to support women because women are the ones who shoulder all the burdens in families. A woman carries all most every burden. Some men do not perform their responsibilities such as paying for children’s school fees or buying food for the families,” adds Ms Among.
“So we want at least the government to give us more funds so that we can also come out of such burdens.”
Engaranakinos is one of the groups that are doing well in terms of paying back the money. The group uses the money realised from the sales and students’ fees to pay back the loan.
According to the programme implementers, the women in Kumi are more willing to pay back the interest-free revolving credit.
Ms Grace Ainyu, the UWEP focal person for Kumi, says many people have been left out of the programme because of limited funding.
“Sometimes they (government) are giving us problem trying to sort a few to benefit from the many that have shown interest,” she says.
She proposes that the people who have paid back the loan be rewarded by being given more money so that they grow faster.
“The government should give them, especially those ones who complete very well without any problem, more capital that will make them expand their businesses,” she says.
“Individual loans should also be given to those who are seen to be doing well.”
In rural areas, beneficiary women are said to be doing badly unlike their counterparts in urban setting. Ms Ainyu says without first of all training them, it may not be good to give money to women’s groups in rural areas.
“So may be government needs to invest some money in mentorship of these women when then they are given this money. Much as we always train them but that training is not adequate enough because it’s only one day training, and one day training is not enough for someone to learn business skills,” she explains.
“At least these ones in town they already have the skills because they are trained but those in the village they don’t have the skills, so they need to be trained for some period of time.”
Many women are also suggesting that more funds should now be transferred and given to the women because they are able to pay back.
Data from the office of production and community department confirms commitment and willingness by the beneficiary groups in Kumi to pay back the money received under UWEP.
For instance, when the implementation of the programme started in September 2017, some groups would pay more money than what was supposed to be recovered. In that month of September, Shs7, 985,000 was recovered.
“I don’t even push them, they respect the repayment schedules,” says Ms Ainyu.
In October, Shs6, 592,000 was recovered. This figure is still above recovery. In November, Shs5, 146,500 was recovered but December appeared to be a bad month since only Shs2, 513,000 was recovered from the 16 beneficiary groups. However, recovery for January shot up again to Shs3, 547,500.