Wawoto Kacel Cooperative Society in Gulu City is helping hundreds of vulnerable women who lack access to land to regain their dignity through arts and crafts.
The beneficiaries, who include former abductees of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), women living with HIV/AIDS, people with disabilities (PWDs), orphans and single mothers are usually referred to the cooperative by Comboni Samaritan, a faith-based charitable organization in Gulu that helped form and register the cooperative.
Wawoto Kacel means “let us move together”.
The cooperative was started in 1997 by a group of women with the aim of supporting people living with HIV, disabilities, orphans, formerly abducted and single mothers.
According to Immaculate Adong, the Manager Wawoto Kacel Cooperative, most of these women are unable to engage in agriculture because they have no access to land.
In a bid to find an alternative income source, the women took to making arts and crafts for sale. Today, they mostly weave, and make tie and dye pieces such as clothing, in addition to making greeting cards, beads, knitting and embroidery.
“I am happy that the women are now able to sustain themselves through working and build back their self-esteem,” Adong said.
At the beginning, the women started by making items which they would sell to staff of Comboni Samaritan. As the business grew, they decided to register as a cooperative in order organise better and target a wider market in Italy.
In fact, a significant portion of the coop’s sales are outside the country since, members say, their products which include kitchen linen like aprons, mittens, and table runners and stylish accessories like ear rings, necklaces and shawls among others are not well appreciated by locals.
“Our people don’t value our products; that is why the greater percentage of our products are sold in foreign markets. Good Samaritans of Italy has always helped us to find market for our products,” Adong said.
Adong said the women are paid starting from Shs 100,000 up, depending on the amount of work done. Many also engage in other money making activities like petty trade to supplement their income from the arts and crafts business.
Aciro Christine, a 38-year old mother of five who was abducted at 13 years of age, says Wawoto Kacel Cooperative has enabled her to cater for her children.
“I returned from captivity in 2008 and found both my parents had died. I was forced to come to Gulu city to fend for my children because my uncles did not welcome me back,” she narrates.
Through Comboni Samaritans, Aciro said she was connected to Wawoto Kacel Cooperative Society where she was taught how to weave.
“Three of my children were born in captivity and therefore rely on me to provide for them. My dream is to one day own land where I can build a home for my children,” she said.
Kevin Lamwaka, a 27-year old mother of two who is also the cooperative’s Weaving Section leader, said that being part of the cooperative since 2016 has enabled her supplement her husband’s income.
“I am now financially independent. I don’t ask my husband for everything because I also work,” she said, adding that customers love their products like shawls and bed sheets because they are handmade.
The organization currently employs 50 women but has benefitted over 1,000 since its inception.
Wawoto Kacel provides members and their children with free health care services, and they also benefit from micro credit at 5% interest rate.