The journey to Rose’s house is not your average drive. You RARELY rock up in a town or village and find the person you’re looking for IMMEDIATELY. It takes work.

Darn it. The morning we set off to find Rose, it had rained, which meant that the mission of travelling deep into her remote village in Lwengo District would be a little more treacherous. We slip and glide over track roads, succumbing to the shaky wheels of our packed car, squinting through the muddy windscreen, weaving up and down hills through vast, wild banana forests. Our driver, Silage, is a pro.

We drive like this for two hours.

It’s a bumpy but jaw-droppingly beautiful drive. I’m sat in the car, holding tight, even more stunned by the lengths we go to when seeking people out.

MADIPHA does this. This is what they do. All the time. Often it’s just to visit one person for 30mins before they turn around and make the same journey all the way back. It’s half a day’s work, sometimes more…but without this visit, how does Rose get the support she needs?

When we say we work in remote places, we actually mean it.

With no road signs, how does one even remember where they’re going? Well, they have a clever system. Household names. We stop periodically, asking villagers on the way enquiring after the name. After a few points and hand gestures, we continue. We have with us one of MADIPHA’s district leaders for people with disabilities. His name is Bashir - he is equivalent to a watcher, a seeker, who knows these hills far better than anyone and helps to guide us.

How did they even come to know that Rose exists HERE? 

I’m awestruck. Richard, head of MADIPHA, tells me that they use a peer-to-peer network. Bashir leads the network in Rose’s region. When they hear about someone who needs support, a series of texts, WhatsApp messages and a lot of wheel power gets them there.

We finally arrive in Rose's tiny village, no more than a cluster of earth and clay houses. Already I can smell liquor in the air…and the tension. I don’t know what went down just before we arrived but it was clear that we had come at an awkward time. Rose is standing by her door with her walking stick, a fiery look in her eyes, then when she sees us and beams the most adorable, warming smile. “You are most welcome” she says in her local language.

With no time to waste (since we see thunder clouds looming), we get straight down to why we’re there: To talk business.

This is my second visit to Rose. I first met her last year when we were sussing out and identifying small businesses to support. She gets by with a little bit of farming, weaving and other bits of hustling. In all honesty I left her last year not really sure where we go from there but I’m keen to get her ideas now. 

What is clear to me is that she has an intention and a strong will to thrive. And those eyes…almond shaped and marbled from household smoke - they sparkle and glow. She holds a glare that is captivating and right now I wish more than ever that I could speak her language because she’s telling me so much with her eyes that I’m craving to understand.

Even if it means keeping a roof over her head to support her mum and two children, then so be it. We’ll do that.

Rose wants to be more mobile - it’s possibly the best way she can get her products to market, we all debate. She can ride on the back of a motorbike taxi, which would be her only mode of transport because while her legs don’t work in the conventional way, she has strong arms and a ball of core strength! 

We help her to work out what materials she already has that she can use to fashion more more crafts. We discuss mats first, then looking around I notice that she has a lot of rice sacks lying around - the kind that has become uber trendy in the upcycling era of today. She coyly brings out a basket she’s made using a mix of banana leaf, palm leaf and rice sack. Woman got skills! 

We’re not doing charity here. Rose wants to work.

So what do we do? I guess the easy part is that Rose can make stuff. The harder part is how we get it out there when she lives so deep. We start with a commission because we’re not doing charity here, Rose has to - and wants to - work for her living. 

The baskets we bought gave her a little acceleration income. It would’ve been easy to give her Shillings but we try to avoid that. Regular orders set her up in a way that is more sustainable…so we will initially sell her wares on her behalf and with the profits she can can create a marketplace more locally.

Our bigger challenge, as ever, remains transport, access and visibility for small business owners like Rose. However, I believe that with a combination of MADIPHA’s tireless efforts and Bashir - our seeker, we can open up channels for her to lead a more independent way of life. Our work continues.

One thing for sure though. Rose has a bundle of baskets…and an even bigger bundle of Nerve.


While her stock isn’t quite ready yet, you can support Rose when they do become available. We’ll let you know when they are. In the meantime, you can sign up for our news and updates here.

Esther Kwaku