Miriam Sebulime's energy betrays the amount of work she does daily, pulling her fellow women out of the jaws of poverty.
Her soft voice soothes my ears as she extends her hand to greet me. Her gentle, but firm handshake invokes in me a special fondness for the heroine of Gombolola stage, Makindye Division in Kampala.
Such has been the charm that Sebulime, the head of Makindye United Traders Association, has used to win over the trust and respect of the residents of Gombolola stage.
Who is Sebulime?
Sebulime was born in 1971 to Edward Lukabwe, a warrior, and the late Anna Lukabwe, a peasant farmer.
Lukabwe, a Muganda, relocated to Busoga in the early 1960s. Sebulime's childhood was filled with misery because her elder sister mistreated her.
"Not even my parents could stop my sister from mistreating me. I decided to start a new life in Kampala," she recalls.
In Kampala, the S4 drop-out met a young man, Samuel Sebulime, a driving instructor, who later became her husband.
"We settled down in Kirundu zone, Makindye Division in 1986," Sebulime says, her face beaming. She started a retail shop on Makindye Hill Road. However, the business started crumbling due to insufficient capital.
This made her pick an interest in women's associations that offered small loans and taught the art of saving.
By 2004, Sebulime had amassed a lot of knowledge on saving and wanted to take a loan. Unfortunately, the associations had high interest rates on loans. If a debtor failed to clear the loan in the stipulated time, their property would be attached.
"The group leaders were greedy and rough. They had vested interests, so I decided to part ways with them," Sebulime says.
Starting Makindye United Traders Association (MUTA)
In 2008, she started MUTA with eight members. Among them were John Mary Serwaniko, the group's first chairperson, and Corsey Katende, the current chairperson. However, the association got off to a rocky start with threats of eviction from sub-county officials.
The association eventually won the battle. The eight members started saving money with the group. Initially, each member would save sh20,000 per year.
A year later, each topped up with sh80,000 per member per annum. The group members voted Sebulime as the treasurer.
The following year, the group had saved enough money to start an egg retail business. A year later, they halted the business to concentrate on the saving and loan schemes.
"In 2010, we received 30 more people and solicited sh4.5m. We decided to concentrate on giving out loans to our members since most of them had small-scale enterprises, which required capital," Sebulime says.
With just 2% interest rate on their loans and a non-refundable membership fee of sh5,000, word of MUTA spread in Kampala and the metropolitan areas.
By 2012, the group had 60 registered members, making profits of sh4.2m and creating 1,055 shares in the association. Currently, they collect over sh2m as savings per week.
The members meet weekly at Bamboo Bar and Restaurant in Kampala. This has been the home of MUTA for three years and incidentally, this area belongs to Katende.
After separating from her husband, Catherine Mukiibi became the sole breadwinner for her young son. In 2010, Mukiibi joined MUTA.
Three years down the road, she runs a retail shop and owns a piece of land. Mukiibi hopes to get a loan next month and resume with the construction of her house.
Miria Tumwijukye, 30, who joined the group in 2010, says: "Because of the skills Sebulime passed down to us, I have set up a small business and saved sh1m."
Sebulime helped Edward Lukabwe, a grade five teacher, to secure a loan from the group to buy a boda boda. From the money he earns, he pays his children's fees and saves sh50,000 every week with the association.
The association has also been teaching its members how to grow mushrooms to supplement their income.
Addressing health concerns
Due to the dire need for a public toilet, Sebulime teamed up with Katende to build a modern toilet block. They also installed a water tank. They charge sh200 for a call.
"Before the women built the toilet, people used to dump human waste all over the area and the stench was unbearable," says Silvestre Tumwesige, a health councillor and a senior member of the group.
He adds that Sebulime has taught many people, especially the unemployed youth, how to save and start small enterprises.
"He is a good example," Tumwesige says, pointing at a man in his mid- 20s. His clothes are covered in mud and his gumboots are worn out.
His name is Julius Baguma. He earns a living from washing cars. Before joining the group, he used to spend his money on gambling and hanging out in nightclubs until a friend introduced him to Sebulime.
She taught him the art of saving. Baguma has started saving sh150,000 per week with the group. He joined a year ago and hopes to raise sh5m in three years to start his own business.
Sebulime has constructed a four room house and plans to roof it mid-year. She has also set up a pen and plans to start rearing fowls soon.
She has a wholesale and retail shop and has started a video library.
The mother of seven says they lack capital to expand their enterprises and also pay tuition for their children. "I wish the authorities could tackle the high interest rates in banks. This would enable us take loans to educate our children," she suggests.
She plans to turn MUTA into a micro-finance institution.
Sebulime started Makindye United Traders Association in 2008 with eight members
Nominee: Mariam Sebulime
Innovation: Started Makindye United Traders Association in Makindye division, Kampala
Quote: "Not even my parents could stop my sister from mistreating me. I decided to start a new life in Kampala."