Tumewapa majina ya ajabu ajabu , je ni wangapi tunawalipa on time au kuwawezesha kujitegemea? au ndo cheap labor in action...under Human Right perspective, I call it exploitation From housegirl to self employment Maria Kugonza Kugonza was a timid young girl when she left her village in 1996 to work as a housegirl. She started with a meagre domestic servant salary and now owns a salon and divides her time between balancing books, paying taxes to KCC and attending beauty seminars... BY SUSAN MUYIYI For a long time, Maria Kugonza never understood why almost all her bosses never paid her on time. In some cases she gave up on being paid. While moving from one home to another, she wondered when, if ever, she would be financially independent. As a housemaid, Kugonza had her share of stinging experiences which made her resolve to own a business. One of my bosses threw my toothbrush out of the tin where the family kept theirs. I felt bad. She would have told me not to put it there. After a painstaking 10 years of saving and reinventing the wheel, in 2007 2 Sisters Salon opened in Bugolobi. The once timid girl, who left her village in 1996, can balance books, pays taxes to KCC and attend beauty seminars, contrasting sharply with the days she divided between the kitchen and bathroom doing household chores. She is the third of a family of 13, whose parents, Teopista Najjuma and Agapito Majwara, struggled with the little resources at their disposal to educate Kugonza and her siblings. The future seemed bleak. With only a primary education, the best her parents could offer was a Home Economics and Tailoring course in the village where she was born and raised 28 years ago. I hated it. We were exploited. I wanted to learn how to plait hair. With big dreams and no financial help her mother is a housewife who sells tonto (a local beer) while her father is retired Kugonza longed for an opportunity to go to Kampala. Get married and settle down, some relatives advised her. I refused to get married and spend my life digging and having babies, she says. Like lady luck would have it, Kugonzas cousin found her a place to work in the Buganda Road flats. She doubled as a housekeeper and babysitter. Kugonzas sh20,000 salary couldnt take care of her siblings school fees and her own needs. By the end of the month, I barely had any money left, so I had to improvise ways of making extra. I started making chair backs which I sold to my boss friends. I also supplied the nearby shops with chapatis and mandazis, Kugonza narrates. Her search for capital saw her work for five families in a space of 10 years. But it was members of the family of the late Simon Matovu of Rubaga who pushed her to save and later invest. They helped me open an account with Centenary Bank where I kept a good portion of my salary. After doing her chores, Kugonza would practise and later mastered the art of plaiting hair. The last family she worked for didnt want to let her go but the time had come for her to quit. I knew there were challenges ahead. I would have to pay rent and buy food. I realised that there was never going to be a better time to move out. She moved in with a friend in Bugolobi and trained for three years to perfect her hair-plaiting skills at Touch of Class Salon in Nakawa. It cost her sh30,000 a month in fees with no salary. Fortunately, she was given a job. She was paid according to the amount of money she made in a day. Later, even with the hardships she faced at the time, Kugonza went ahead and scouted for salon space. I was discouraged. Not only was it expensive, they needed rent for six months and there were many taxes to pay. I didnt want a wooden structure because it could have easily been stolen. I attended seminars on hair care organised by Dark and Lovely and realised that I could become a successful hairdresser. All I had to do was believe that it was possible. God answered her prayers through one of her sisters that she had paid fees for. I couldnt believe it when she gave me sh500,000 as a reward. I combined the money with what I had in the bank and my sister and I secured space in Bugolobi market. Getting customers was not easy. I started with the girls from MUBS who came to my room to have their hair plaited before the salon opened. It didnt matter that there were many challenges like a long wait before we could make profit. Life now is different: While she was assured of shelter and food when working as a domestic servant, she now has to pay rent for her home and the salon space. She has also developed expensive tastes. She shapes her eyebrows, changes hairstyles, wears nice clothes and buys magazines like Hello, African Woman and Bride and Groom to cater for her sophisticated customers. The gloomy days are by gone. After a year in business, life can only get better for Kugonza. On a good day she makes sh100,000 the amount she made as a maid in one month. Life is different while staying in someones house, Kugonza couldnt accumulate property. Now she buys most of what she feels like and has no regrets for having taken that leap of faith.