Without Uganda, Voice International wouldn’t exist. From the trip that started it all, to design inspiration and the women who make the jewellery, Uganda is central to Voice. In this series, we talk to five women about the influence of this beautiful country on Voice.
In the first post in the series, Voice’s founder and lead designer Natasha Katumba discusses her love of Uganda, the opportunity it gave her but also the limitations placed on women in the country, and how as a creative social enterprise.Voice is combating those limitations by releasing creativity through community.
Natasha first travelled to Uganda on a three month charity mission aged 18, and fell in love. Not with a person, but a people and a country. Her experience exposed her to “a new way of living, a new culture, and a nation with hugely diverse levels of poverty,” all of which convinced her there was more to her story than simply finding a job she enjoyed.
“I came back to Uganda and stayed because I fell in love with the people I worked with daily in the communities alongside Every Life,” she says. “I fell in love with my dream to see their lives change through creativity, and that initial idea scribbled down in a notebook is what continued to give me hope for their situations, courage to create a plan and boldness to put everything into action.”
For Natasha, Uganda offered an outlet where she was able to build something unique and creative for people who weren’t typically offered that.
“For women in Uganda the unemployment rate is high,” she says. “If a young girl is fortunate enough to afford higher education there would be no guarantee of being able to find a job afterwards or an employer who would abide by the terms of employment.”
It’s not uncommon for employers to neglect their worker’s payment terms and also maternity rights, making it very difficult for a woman to sustain employment in the country. “For women in the cities or villages it is easy to get tied into unreliable, unfair contract work,” says Natasha, an experience one of the artisans now employed by Voice will share later in this series.
The main types of employment available to women in the slums of Uganda are small community businesses, for example selling fruits, vegetables or charcoal.Only occasionally will you find someone trained in something more creative, such as sewing or weaving. Ultimately this lifestyle “limits family health, food provision, and schooling - three of the biggest things we have at the tip of our fingers here in the UK.”
By offering stable, creative employment to women in Uganda, Voice presents one way of removing those limitations from daily life.
“We have created opportunities which are different but reliable,” says Natasha. “Voice is a safe community where there is space to share the struggles of daily life whilst using your hands to create beautiful products. In that alone there is freedom. Being able to create something like a finished pair of earrings from a sketched design presents women with a cycle: ideas become sketches, designs become products, and dreams become realities. I believe this encourages our women that anything is possible.” And what does Natasha dream is possible for Voice and Uganda?
“My dream is to continue building a creative community in Uganda through sustainable employment. I want to see more and more women impacted through our empowerment cycle and offered training in all forms of creativity. Through our creative academy I want to build a culture which impacts the uprising generation of women and men to believe in themselves, and to believe that what makes each of them unique contributes to their lives, their family, their nation and beyond. I want to see creativity unlock purpose and dreams.”
The deep-rooted connection between Voice and Uganda began when Africa was just a place that Natasha dreamed of visiting. Ten years on, we asked her for a final word on what Uganda means to her now.
“Uganda means home and family to me now, but over the years it has also been a land of promises fulfilled, in my life and those I've journeyed with. In Uganda you will find yourself surrounded by varying levels of poverty but one thing that everyone has in common despite their circumstances is joy. If you visit, prepare to be continually encouraged. Poverty doesn't define who someone is or what they can achieve or believe is possible."