Washington — Peace Corps volunteer Matthew Boddie of Sparta, North Carolina, has been working with students in his Ugandan community on a hammock business to teach them life skills and help raise money for them for school fees.
Boddie and his Ugandan counterpart founded Ngora Parish Harmack Company in February 2011 to teach business skills and the fundamentals of microfinance to local youth. As the business has grown, Boddie has been teaching practical business skills by having the youth manage the company's profits.
"Our first hammock was made out of three grain sacks sewn together, with goat rope as harnesses at the end," said Boddie, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Just this past week, we sold 37 hammocks to a retail store, a parish priest, and directly through word-of-mouth contacts."
Not only are they running a profitable business, Boddie's students are also meeting a need in the community for affordable beds, especially for children under the age of 5. Children who sleep on a floor without a bed and a mosquito net are at especially high risk for malaria and other illnesses. Ngora Parish Harmack Company uses excess material to make hammocks with built-in mosquito nets and sells them at a reduced price.
They also sell the hammocks to local clinics that face bed shortages. In two years they have sold almost 500 hammocks, sending seven young people off to a full year's education, and one student was even able to purchase a laptop for his college education. "Seeing these kids who I have worked with develop their own hammocks and their own labels is one of the greatest feelings I have ever experienced. I'm bursting with pride over the success of these kids," said Boddie.
More than 1,220 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Uganda since the program was established in 1964. Currently, 143 volunteers serve in the country. Volunteers work in the areas of health, education and community economic development. They are trained and work in 10 languages: Ateso, Dhopadhola, Luganda, Lugwere, Lumasaaba, Lusoga, Runyakore, Runyole, Runyoro-Rutoro and Uhopadhola.