I have been friends with Natasha, the founder of Voice International, since she moved back to the UK from Uganda in 2015 and became the manager of the pharmacy I was working in. Since then, I have seen her hard work develop Voice into an impactful social enterprise that empowers women through creative employment, namely hand-crafting jewellery.
The story of Voice International began during Natasha’s first trip to Uganda in 2013 with Every Life, a charity dedicated to supporting people trapped in poverty. Alongside working in the slum communities to bring aid and show love, Natasha sought to encourage creativity. One of her projects involved giving four people from the community a disposable camera each and asking them to take one photo a day for 28 days, the only brief being to take the photographs when they felt inspired. The reaction they had to seeing the result of their own creative work affirmed for Natasha that empowering people through creativity was what she wanted to do, and so Voice was born.
The vision that began in 2013 remains the same today, and earlier this year I had the opportunity to see it in action. Along with a friend, Amy, I travelled to Kampala to meet Natasha and the four incredible women who currently make up the Voice team: Cathy, Fedy, Regina, and Scovia.
Every woman employed by Voice has the opportunity to write down their dreams for the future, and these dreams are then locked in the Dream Box that lives in the office in Bweyogerere, Uganda. In July 2017 Cathy, Fedy, Regina and Scovia all had two dreams in common: to be earning enough money to guarantee food on the table, and to be able to save for school fees for their children. So what had changed when we visited in 2020?
The conversations we had with the Voice artisans, and the hospitality we received, demonstrated that having enough money to put food on the table was no longer a dream, but a reality. Now the women pray they continue to be able to send their children to good schools and dream of saving enough money to buy a plot of land to build their own homes, and even to start their own independent businesses. Cathy wants to run her own retail business, Fedy a salad-making business, and Regina has passion for both cooking, and hairdressing. Now that food and school fees are well within her reach, Regina can pursue bigger dreams, and encourage her daughters to do the same. She told us that her “first priority was to see my girls educated: now my girls have dreams too.”
Beyond material provision, being financially stable empowers independence and self-worth, as does the type of work the women do. Thanks to Voice, they are trained to become true artisans: skilled workers who create beautiful products by hand. Above all of this, Voice supports its artisans in developing their dreams beyond Voice, which is the real fruit of this creative social enterprise.
Natasha, Amy and I also shared our dreams, and what struck me was that despite the massive difference in our circumstances, the dreams we shared with the team were, in their purest form, the same. We all want to own our own homes, have a happy, healthy family and be able to earn a living by doing something we love and feel empowered in what we do.
Finding joy and purpose in what you do every day is a privilege, but not one that should only be open to the privileged. One of my biggest takeaways from the time I spent in Uganda is that what the team has because of Voice is so much more than employment. It’s a release to have bigger dreams than they previously thought possible, supported by an empowerment cycle designed to make those dreams a reality.