Family roots + UCU applied learning = graduation

 By Collin Wambete

In addition to sickness and death, the COVID-19 pandemic reaped loss of employment and gaps in education around the world. Youth in Uganda have been discouraged and even more hard pressed to make money, including acquisition of funds to go to school.

Amidst the storm, Cherop Lillian found an answer to her personal situation. That answer – potatoes with an occasional onion, fruit and other edibles – enabled her to graduate on 18th December 2020 with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science and Entrepreneurship at Uganda Christian University (UCU) with financial security.

She brought Irish potatoes from her home in Kapchorwa District, which is roughly 266 kilometers (165 miles) away from the UCU campus Mukono District.  Starting in February 2020, she set up a retail business 50 meters (164 feet) away from UCU’s main gate. First, raw potatoes, onions and fried potatoes were sold. Ready-to-eat, fresh fruits followed.

Cherop Lillian at her December 2020 graduation from UCU
Cherop Lillian at her December 2020 graduation from UCU

For Lillian, the lockdown that started in March and the subsequent loss of customers posed a threat to the survival of her business. She’d make fries from potatoes and sell to the students that were on campus. Her target market predominantly being students, the lockdown threw a wrench in her plans.

Who would she sell to? With transportation being shut down for 32 days, what would she sell?

 

She cut down her usual trade of six-to-seven 100kg (220 pounds) bags of potatoes to two bags. For most of 2020, no one was around to buy ready-to-eat fries. Lockdown measures eventually eased up and UCU, under Standard Operating Procedure guidance from the Ministry of Health, was permitted to let finalists return to campus and complete their studies. These final-year student customers returned on October 15th when UCU re-opened.

Food was the obvious product for sale.  History told her so. The earliest business venture she can remember is selling vegetables on her veranda. On holidays, she fried cassava chips in senior six and senior four.

“It is a must for everybody to eat food, so this is a viable business.” She said.

Logistics was part of the survival. Since her produce comes from Kapchorwa, her business depends on the stability of crop prices there. Transport costs shooting up all over the country due to curfew and new road restrictions was an added obstacle. 

 “I spend 75,000 Uganda shillings ($20.50) to transport five bags of Irish potatoes and this is too high for me,” she said. “I wish I could buy my own van; it could be much cheaper.” 

Lillian’s business survived. On January 1, 2021, it was stationed 100 meters (328 feet) from the main UCU gate. Most days, she was at her stall by 7 a.m. She employed five staff. In addition to potatoes, sometimes they sell homemade passion juice. 

“At my age (24) I am trying as much as possible to find my destiny, and the mistakes I make today become very big lessons to me especially in business,” she said. “I do not ask for money from people and my parents are glad that as a girl child, I am independent and able to cater for my basic needs”

 

She advised fellow youth to venture into business, have self-drive, and aim at growing business instead of focusing on profits at the beginning. These skills, she acknowledged, were largely learned in her program of study at UCU.

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