Oliva Kishero is a proud mama to her seven children, and a proud farmer
to the coffee trees that she tends to with care on the fertile volcanic soils of Uganda's Mount Elgon, straddling the
border with Kenya.
Oliva used to walk for miles from her farm in the town of Buginyanya to the city market with a 110lb sack of coffee on her back. Sometimes she would find a buyer, and sometimes she wouldn't – meaning she would have to carry the coffee back up the mountain until someone came along offering a low price. "I had no choice but to accept and this made me bitter about growing coffee," she recalls.
Then one day she met with people from a Fair Trade cooperative who told her about a new way they were helping farmers work together. The co-op was called "Gumutindo," which means "excellent coffee" in Lugisu, the local language. "When Gumutindo came and showed interest in our coffee, I joined hands with other farmers to start a new co-operative society at Buginyanya," she recalls.
The co-op helps Oliva in so many ways. Instead of carrying sacks of coffee in the hopes of finding a buyer, the co-op sends a truck to collect the coffee from her home, and always pays high prices. The co-op also works with all its farmers to help them grow the highest quality coffee and use only organic farming methods.
When the co-op started, there were no women members. But Oliva was a farmer and saw no reason why she shouldn't join. Everyone quickly saw that she was both a skilled farmer as well as a natural organizer. She also began encouraging other women farmers to join her, thinking "if me, why not them?" When Oliva's husband was working, she would attend the co-op meetings. "I liked the meetings so much," she says. "I was elected treasurer. I then was interested in becoming a Board member," she says, and she soon became the first woman on the Board. "I wanted to be an example for other women," she says. "I used to be just a farmer, but now I am a businesswoman."
Oliva knows that education is critical for her children to have a better future. "As a girl, I wanted to be a teacher," she says, "but my mother died and I had to leave school to look after my younger brothers and sisters." The regional boarding school is the best chance her children have to get a good education. But paying for tuition, uniforms, boarding, and supplies is too expensive for the average farming family. Now that she makes a good income from her coffee Oliva can afford to send her children there. Even so, when they come home on vacation, she makes sure that they understand the work she does. "I teach my children what I'm doing. They are involved in every activity at home. I want them to be educated at school, but also to know how to do things on the farm."
Oliva is a proud mama to her seven children, a proud leader, and a proud businesswoman. And as they learn from her example and thrive because of the opportunities she has provided them, her children are proud of her too.
Honoring proud mothers and families everywhere.
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