It all started with a pink slip. After 10 years in commercial real estate development, my career took a drastic turn at the end of 2008 when the recession hit. Coincidentally, it was also around the time I graduated from business school but no one was hiring. Finding myself already restless and unfulfilled in my job, I used this transitional period as an opportunity to springboard towards a more inspiring direction. A few phone calls later and real honest “What the hell are you doing??” moment, I found myself leaving the palm tree lined streets of Southern California for a rural village lushly lined with banana trees in Uganda, East Africa where I’d live in a mud hut with a flimsy tin roof for a summer.
Every afternoon, my path home led me along a well-traveled two lane highway that was the main artery from Kampala, Uganda’s capital, to Mombasa, the nearest ferry port in neighboring Kenya. Each day I was out when the sun was at its highest; the blistering black asphalt melting my Rainbow sandals until they met relief with the dark red dirt path that led to my temporary home in Walukuba Village. One late afternoon I heard the scampering of small feet from a young girl, probably 13 years old, closely following me. Hesitant at first, it took her a few minutes until she mustered up the courage to say something. She ran up beside me, her pearly whites gleaming and said breathlessly, “Let us enjoy the journey together.”
As we walked to her home together, she excitedly shared how she learned to feed cattle at school that day. Though she remains forever nameless, I will never forget her courage, her warmth and her glowing, contagious smile. I continued down the red dirt path after I left her with her mom and watched them eagerly wave goodbye from their doorstep.
The meandering path crossed into bordering Rwanda, lovingly known as the land of a thousand hills. The tiny, land-locked country with a tropical climate, blanketed with lush green banana trees is where I started to work with skilled artisans, like the women of Twiyubake (pictured below). I discovered my purpose and passion for creating opportunities for economic independence for under-resourced women in Africa. Witnessing the artisans transform into confident, skilled women who are proud of what they make by their own hands is enormously rewarding. From pink slips to endless red dirt roads, I am exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.