When we started Sseko, a goal of ours was that “these women will not make sandals forever.” While that applied to the University-bound women at Sseko who would continue on to college and create change in their communities, we knew (and hoped!) that might also apply to our production team members who would continue to pursue new dreams.
We’ve had the very bittersweet opportunity to “send off” several members of our Sseko community who have been with us for many years. Each one of them has contributed to our team and culture in beautiful ways. It’s hard to imagine Sseko without Dororthy’s gregarious giggle, Joyce’s sassy jokes and Sylvia’s calming presence.
In the past almost TEN years of working at Sseko, Dora has progressed from a member of our production staff, to the leader of the “Sole Team”, to Production Manager Assistant. She has also grown her family! When Dorothy joined Sseko, she was single with no children. We’ve celebrated alongside of her as she has gotten married and had three babies! Thanks to her insurance coverage from Sseko, she had three beautiful, healthy hospital births!
Over the years, as Dorothy earned a consistent income and was able to start contributing to her family’s savings, she started to dream about two big life goals: Building and owning a home and becoming an entrepreneur. As her nest egg continued to grow, it became clear that it was time for Dorothy to take the next step in her adventure. She is currently building that dream home and has opened a grocery store! Dorothy also says she has a dream to travel the world and we are rooting her on as she builds her business and hoping that someday she “Says yes to adventure” as she explores new cultures and countries.
Joyce and Allen came to Sseko at the same time and became our “Machine Girls.” Here is a segment about them in Beginner’s Pluck.
Back in Uganda, we were finally able to afford our first machine. It was a huge milestone for us that was going to allow us to streamline our production and dramatically increase our consistency and quality. It was more money than we’d ever spent on anything and getting it to Uganda was no joke.
We actually flipped a tiny, tin can pickup truck driving over massive potholes trying to get the machine to our workshop. When we finally got it to the workshop, the entire team was ecstatic. We showed the women how it worked and explained that whoever learned how to work the machine would receive a promotion and raise. When we asked who wanted to apply for the new job, there were crickets. What we didn’t know is that some Ugandans consider working on machines to be “men’s work” and not a single woman on our team wanted to risk the social cost of being a woman doing “men’s work.” Our hearts sank. We panicked. Here we had invested so much money and time into getting this machine and we did not see this coming. We could not afford to have this machine sit unused. The next day we came back to the workshop and gathered the entire team around. We pitched our collective vision for how we wanted to see Sseko grow and the impact we could make for women in East Africa and across the globe. We painted a picture for how much better our product would be and how many women we could eventually employ and how many university scholarships we could eventually provide. But we explained that if we wanted to make a big impact, we needed to get serious about running a great business and best-in-class manufacturing facility. In a final desperate plea, we explained that we needed at least two women to step up to the plate and take on the challenge.
We had dreamed big and now we were asking for someone to fill the gap. After a terribly awkward silence, Joyce and Allen, two of the younger women on our team who came from particularly challenging backgrounds felt especially compelled towards the idea of creating more jobs for other young women in their previous circumstances. They looked at one another, nodded their heads and courageously both raised their hands. From that day on, Joyce and Allen became our beloved Machine Gals.
Since we actually had no idea how to properly use the machine, we arranged for them to go to a factory across town who had a similar machine for a few days of training. When they walked into the machine area of the factory, the room full of men erupted in laughter. Joyce and Allen were openly mocked and jeered for being there to learn “men’s work.” But nevertheless, they persisted. Within just two days, Joyce and Allen got so good on the machine that a few months later, the owner of that factory came to us and asked if Joyce and Allen could help train some of their newest workers. Joyce and Allen proudly walked back into that factory in matching Machine Gal jumpsuits to teach the men how to do their jobs better and those two became the stuff of absolute legend around these parts. We asked. They stepped in and bridged the gap.
Joyce has always had a salty, sweet, and hilarious personality. In addition to being a production team member who advances to management, she has also been a diligent saver over the years at Sseko and has purchased land and finished building a home for her, her husband, and her two children. With her savings from Sseko, she has also launched a children’s clothing boutique. Joyce’s Sseko sisters will know this has been a dream of hers that she has been working towards for many years now!
Sylvia has also crossed the decade mark, working at Sseko Designs. Sylvia is hardworking, detailed and our “jane” of all trades. She started working on straps and earned a reputation as the best and fastest with an iron. When she switched over to working on shoes, she became an expert at each step. She catches on quickly and consistently beats personal and team goals for production. She is hard-working and reliable but knows how to crack and joke and have fun in the process. She has played an integral role as a mentor and Auntie to many of the younger women who have passed through Sseko. Sylvia has also moved on from Sseko to pursue her dreams of becoming an entrepreneur but will always continue to stay in touch with the women she has mentored and worked alongside at Sseko.
While we are sad to see these long-time veterans close their Sseko chapter and move on to the next adventure, we are so grateful for the time we’ve shared together. We were able to throw them a surprise going-away party to celebrate everything they’ve contributed to Sseko and our community and we are cheering them on as they take brave steps towards pursuing their dreams.
Lastly, we had three production members chase their dreams of moving abroad! Salamah, Sandra and Milly have moved to the United Arab Emirates. All three women received promotions within just a few months of starting and attribute their success to the training and mentorship they received while at Sseko Uganda. They have kept in touch with Management in Uganda and send their best wishes to both our UG staff and our Sseko Fellows, wishing to thank everyone for their support.
Thank you to every customer, host and Fellow who contributed to the beautiful careers these women have built with Sseko and now beyond.