On 19 April 2012 Christine joined our tailoring training in Gulu Women’s Prison. Three years later she runs her own business. Her story makes us sad, proud and extremely happy, all at the same time. And, above all, we admire her courage and determination.
Last week we visited Christine (a participant in our reintegration programme) at her house in Gulu to see how she is doing. She talked about the reasons for being arrested, her first months after release, achievements, challenges and new plans for the future.
“I bought something that was stolen. The thief was arrested and told the police who he had sold the goods to. The police came to my house and I told them: ‘if they are stolen, you take them’. But the victim said that not everything was there. The thief had sold it to more people. The victim took back all her stuff, including some of my things. I was then taken to prison. I spend two months in remand before I was convicted to two years in prison for possession of stolen property.”
Time in prison and first months after release
In prison Christine joined POP’s tailoring program. With no skills, it can be hard for women that come out of prison to look after themselves and their children. Tailoring skills can help the women to make a living after release to support their families. POP trains young women in tailoring skills in the prison with the help of prison staff members.
After her release from prison in September 2013, Christine moved in with her sister and helped her in her restaurant. Her sister had 6 children and was pregnant with her seventh child. Her sister’s husband was an alcoholic and abused and used to harass Christine for the money that they made in the restaurant. She therefore had to move out and moved into her grandmother’s house, where her two children were also staying. Neither of them had work, so they were dependent on an uncle to provide them with money for food.
Christine’s dream on 18 March 2014
On 18 March 2014 Christine started in our tailoring centre in Gulu town. In this centre, funded by The Foundation, POP offers temporary employment to released participants of our project in Prison to ease their transition back to the community. We pay them for their work, support their reintegration and prepare them for setting up their own (home based) income generating activities.
When she started we asked Christine about her plans for the future and she told us that she would like to purchase a sewing machine and get a room somewhere to start her own tailoring work….
27 May 2015: visit to Christine’s own business
One year later this dream has become reality. Two weeks ago POP provided Christine with a new tailoring machine in a rent-to-own arrangement. If paid on time (no interest is charged) Christine will own the machine after 12 months. With the money she earned in the tailoring centre, Christine has also been able to buy her own plot of land and build her own house, where she welcomed us with a home cooked lunch.
This all sounds good, but Christine tells us that at first she was not happy about leaving the tailoring centre: “At the start it was not good, my heart was not happy. I did not know how to find customers. I had just come (moved) her recently. I thought: ‘How am I going to find a customer?’ But then they started giving me repair work and I sew clothes well. They started knowing that I do the work well. Other tailors don’t know how to cut. I know how to cut, how to sew and my finishing is good, so that’s why they come to me. Some days I make nothing, other days I make UGX 20,000, but it’s enough for me.”
The community has responded well to Christine’s return and her new business: “They didn’t know me well, but they like me. I tell them honestly that I’ve been in prison. My case is not a bad case. Prison taught me how to talk to people.”
Christine tells us that prison changed her: “Everything has turned out better. I wasn’t a good person. I was partying all the time, every day from 10pm to 4am. I left my children at home. During the daytime I worked at a hotel. I drank and smoked and chewed qat. Prison changed me. I don’t want my old friends anymore. I don’t want to go dancing anymore. I have my work now. I learnt English in the reintegration (tailoring) centre. In June, I got paid and I kept all the money and bought a second-hand sewing machine. I didn’t eat my money. I entered into a cash round (rotating saving scheme) and in October the money was paid to me. I saved the money to buy land. In February, I received money again. With that money I build my house in February in two weeks time. Last month I bought the furniture. I also used my salary to pay the school fees of my children. When I came from prison I had learnt how to make a bag and shorts, but in Gulu Plaza I learnt how to cut and how to make better things from Grace.”
Christine’s dream of having a sewing machine and her own tailoring business has been realised. But she has new dreams: “My plan for the future is to learn better English and to learn better tailoring skills. I also want my children to continue to learn. I’m going to rent a space in July or August and buy material. I want to open my own tailoring shop and employ other people and I will teach them. Lots of people are already asking me to teach them.”