Sseko, an American fashion accessory brand is empowering the women of Uganda with employment and college education, the New York Daily News reports.
Operating from the Kyebando area in Kampala, Uganda’s largest city, Sseko — per its official website — “hires high potential women in Uganda to make sandals to enable them to earn money through dignified employment that will go directly towards their college educations and ensure they will continue pursuing their dreams.”
In addition to creating sandals, the women also craft scarves, leather bags, and hand-dyes totes, among other items. The brand comes at a time when Ugandan women often have limited resources and very little control over what they produce, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
“If they do find jobs, there is a lot of family pressure on these women when they start making money to send it back to their family,” said Liz Bohannon (pictured center), who founded Sseko to help the women she encountered during a 2010 visit.
“I showed up in Uganda just trying to learn about what was going on and these issues, and I was so challenged and inspired by these women,” she added. “I had just graduated from university. I had gotten two degrees. I went to a great high school. They weren’t afforded that same privilege. [Sseko] was born out of those relationships.”
In addition to providing the women with full-time work, Bohannon takes half of her college-bound employees’ paychecks and places them in to accounts they cannot access until they go to university. She also matches whatever the employees have saved by then.
One of those employees is Sofia Emechu. Currently working in Sseko’s design department, Emechu will have enough money to pay tuition and live for a year at school when she leaves the company.
The 19-year-old plans on studying hospitality and wants to open a catering business in a hotel.
“Here, hotels employ mostly women like Sseko,” she said. “If I work in a hotel, I’ll be in a position to employ other women my own age.”
Sseko has grown to include 50 employees between Uganda and America since its inception. Bohannon’s husband even left his job to assist.
Forty-seven women have gone to college through the brand’s education program. Last year, it managed to sell 17,000 pairs of sandals, making it the largest exporter of sandals on the continent.
Bohannon plans on launching a similar initiative in Ethiopia.
Above all, though, Sseko seeks to let the women know they can be self-sustaining. “I chose something different because I wanted more to life,” said Agnes Netunze, who sources and orders local material for the company.
“I don’t need a husband to survive.”
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