Arua, a bustling town in the north-west of Uganda, has one of the best fabric markets in East Africa. Shelves of colourful, fun rolls of cloth (called ‘kitenge’) lie stacked up, begging to be sewn into smart shirts and cute dresses. On the market floor, amongst the mud and dirt, lie discarded scraps of fabric, unused and unwanted.
The sounds of laughter and chatting ring out. It’s Thursday evening and we’re meeting for our card project, ‘Arua Home Crafts’. The card project was started over a decade ago by another missionary who saw a need, an opportunity and a market.
Our small card business uses the unwanted scraps of fabric and fashions them into beautiful homemade cards, with fun African animals and colourful, eye-catching designs. The card-makers stain the card with cold tea, and carefully cut round stencils to create the shape, meaning each card is unique.
There are currently six members of the card project. Two of the ladies are named Peace and Grace, which I find so apt for the heart of the project. The aim of the project is not only to provide an honest income – that the members can work in the comfort of their own homes, but also an opportunity to walk together in discipleship as we study the Bible and look at how it relates to our everyday life.
Peace is a widow with two sons, and one of them is Type 1 Diabetic. Because of the income provided to her through the card business, over the last few years, she has been able to buy a year’s supply of millet flour to send to his boarding school so that his diet is supplemented and his blood sugar levels stay healthy. In the last few years, the card project members decided to all contribute from their end of year bonus so they could afford to bulk buy essentials and then share them amongst themselves and their communities.
Grace is another widow with numerous dependents. The money she has earned through the card project has enabled her to pay their rent, pay for medicine for her epileptic daughter, pay for school fees, and for basic food. Through the encouragement of the project, Grace testifies to knowing God’s timely and personal provision.
The annual profits for the project are shared amongst the card members at the end of the year, and the card members receive a lump sum bonus, as well as being paid per card made throughout the year.
Like many businesses, we have had our past challenges, such as distrust amongst previous card members, slow markets, plagiarised designs, and maintaining quality control, but working together to overcome each challenge has helped us to grow as a team, and depend on God more.Our latest challenge has been a dwindling market due to lockdown, and Uganda’s borders being closed, which has meant none of the usual sales through tourists.
Yet we remain hopeful and prayerful that the project will continue to bless the card makers and their families, and in turn bless and bring hope to the wider communities.
As the unwanted kitenge scraps become an integral and beautiful part of each handmade card, so we pray that the project is a symbol of the good news of hope to the marginalised and down-trodden in society, that they too will become transformed into something beautiful and valuable in the Kingdom of God.