I reconnected with Flavia, who beamed with pride as she took me to her thriving seamstress shop, where she now makes a livable wage and trains other women with skills for their own seamstress. I remember the first day I met Flavia, she had been in prison wrongfully convicted for a crime and came to 31 Bits with nothing. I sensed her perseverance and knew if we gave her a chance she would work incredibly hard and likely thrive. To see her succeeding 8 years later was beautiful, still grateful for that chance and opportunity I gave her years back.
Unfortunately not all of the stories can be positive; there was pain and heartbreak as I reconnected with a friend, Stella, in the village. I recall her laughter and smile when she used to come to work, and her incredible strength as she overcame a challenging domestic violence situation. It broke my heart to see her current situation and sadness, as she lamented over the lack of funds to provide for her kids and family. It was disheartening to see her strength and determination to grow and persevere from 8 years ago, had now waned from the weariness of her situation.
The bittersweet reality is that these few stories I shared above are similar to what we experience at Ground Up on a daily basis. Some graduates flourish for years to come after their time at Ground Up—and the joy that comes from the call 3 years later sharing that they’ve been promoted, got custody of their children again or just a thank you for the opportunity is truly magical. On the other hand, it breaks my heart when I hear from someone else who calls because they are really struggling, whether because they lost their job or housing. One of the greatest challenges of running Ground Up (and of overseeing production at 31 Bits) is coming to terms with the fact that there is only so much we can do to support someone, and that sometimes outside circumstances get in the way.
As I reflect back on my time in Uganda and the 7.5 years I’ve been running Ground Up through blood, sweat, laughter, joy and tears (with my co-founder and our team), I sit here today and say it’s worth it. The bitter days are harder and hurt my heart, but the sweeter days bring me joy and fuel me with the motivation and energy to continue. We work hard and strive each day to create a space where women can thrive and feel empowered—a space where they’re best equipped to get one step closer to achieving their goals. To change one life in a lifetime is a gift, to touch and cross paths with many lives in a lifetime is an honor. To have each of our customers and supporters with us on the journey making this possible, I (we) thank you.
I will continue to be motivated and inspired by Flavia and the women who taught me perseverance and strength through their life experiences every day. I hope it is not another 8 years before I return again to the Pearl of Africa, but in the meantime I’m committed to the work of empowering women through Ground Up and hope to find ways to continue to empower my friends in Uganda.
Building Ground Up has required countless hours, energy and perseverance in the moments where we nearly closed the doors as we hit challenging roadblocks. In those challenging times, I transport myself back to Uganda in my mind. I am reminded of the women I witnessed persevere and show up every day with grit and positivity despite the challenges they were facing. They continue to be a source of inspiration and motivation for what we’ve built at Ground Up. As I stand in our 5,200sf warehouse and reflect upon the 75+ women who have walked through our doors to date, I could not be prouder—and I know my friends in Uganda would agree.