By Jamie Stuart
It was three years ago today that Ella, Kevin and I finally secured one very gorgeous, slightly swampy plot of land and one official Ugandan NGO registration certificate.
It all started just a week earlier, when the three of us were driving through Gulu. Back when the roads were still unpaved, dusty red dirt. When there were still empty lots, crumbling buildings and undeveloped properties dotting every city block.
Gulu was already beginning to develop so quickly that the sense of anticipation in the air was almost tangible. As we wondered how it was possible that any of these lots were still empty, available even, an idea grew between us.
“We should entrepreneur something.” I said, a hypothetical statement that could only be said with confidence if the person saying it was someone older, more experienced, somehow better-equipped than myself.
“We really should.” Ella responded enthusiastically, her unstoppable attitude turning my suggestion into a viable idea.
“You know, you really should do something. There is so much that the community still really needs here.” Said Kevin from the front seat, forever confident, fearless, and ready to do whatever it takes to empower her community.
Together we brought this idea into reality, developing a concept that required extensive research, a thoroughly-mapped business plan and a full week of navigating the tricky Ugandan bureaucracy. We were determined to provide Gulu with what it needed most: access to education, family services and a safe space for those who had none.
Ella and I emptied our savings to buy an empty property in one of the poorest communities in Gulu. Paychecks from five years of running between restaurant tables, three summers lifeguarding, and countless fake smiles given to catty customers: it was not without second thought that I handed this cash over, investing everything I had in one completely undeveloped, swampy piece of land.
I remember doing the math and asking myself, “what am I saving for anyways?” How could anything we had been saving for be more important, more rewarding or a better investment than this?
The money we invested in that little plot of land provided the foundation for HCU: an organisation which now reaches over 300 youth in Gulu directly through free arts, literacy, computer science classes. Our Girl Power Gulu program empowers hundreds of young women with menstrual and reproductive health education and sanitary pad distributions, so they can contribute their maximum potential to their communities. We reach over 3,000 more people through Uplift, our microfinance loan and business training program. Our weekly radio show, Lutino Waa, reached hundreds of thousands of people all across Northern Uganda with educational weekly talk shows. Our most tangible asset is the newly-constructed House of Hope, complete with a computer lab, office and classroom.
I can’t say I studied business, but I think that sounds like a pretty good return on investment for just three short years.