From January to December – Ugandan youth are full of complain, not at ease and talk of no job placement. This practice, however, is common with those in urban towns who are diploma and or degree holders.
While this is an annual talk, those in rural areas, formally or informally educated – are either practicing agriculture, boda-boda business or, benefiting from different government programs – Youth Livelihood Funds, among others.
Among many educated youth, Jennifer Amony Ssali – who holds a bachelor degree in Counseling and Guidance from Kampala International University [KIU], she’s exceptional!
She’s challenging her fellow youth, competing with men in making money and never regretting keeping her academic documents indoor.
Amony, 33, says she can’t stop smiling ‘every minute’ seeing her loaded wallet due to her big earnings from boda-boda riding.
She’s among the only seven female motorcycle riders in Gulu town who have stood up tall, against mockery, criticism and unwarranted “prostitute” label.
“Some customers especially women look at me and suppose that I’m so desperate. They ask me that out of all things, why did you choose an odd work like boda-boda riding,” Ms. Amony said of her critics.
“But I am fine because I get good money on a daily basis,” she adds.
According to her, some women refer to them as “prostitute”. “Most ladies assume that we (female boda-riders) are just out on street looking for men for money and neglecting our maternal responsibility at home. Never true,” she reiterates.
On a good day, the mother of two says she rides back home with Uganda shilling 40,000 or more, and even on a bad day she gets at least Uganda shilling 20,000.
Her office hours [day] start at 7am to 8pm – Monday to Saturday at Smiling Panda Club boda-boda stage within Gulu metropolitan.
“I sometimes ride out of the municipality with regular customers to far away distances like Amuru, Anaka town council in Nwoya district and Opit town council in Omoro district,” she added.
For close to a year now, since Ms. Amony started this lucrative venture, her favorite days for making money are; Monday and Saturday. But on few occasions she also makes very good money on Fridays.
Many people always throw big parties to celebrate finishing University and other career studies in the end, they end up jobless, roaming streets looking for opportunities instead of using the little they have to start life with, she explains.
Accordingly, after Amony finished her bachelors’ degree study in 2017, her husband bought for her a motorbike as a gift because of her love towards riding motorcycle but she turned it into a money making tool to support the family.
“I have been a rider on a personal level because I love it. I didn’t have job and now I have a bike and decided to use the bike to make money to support my husband,” she said with a loving gesture of affection for a man who won her heart.
Asked whether her husband’s perception is okay with her boda-boda business, and being exposed for other men species, she says: “We are happily married. We are a very happy family,” she says with mirth.
Within the 10-15 minutes of interview that Ms. Amony obliged to with our reporter on November 30th at Northern Uganda Media Club in Gulu town, she was busy picking phone calls from loyal customers, calling her to conduct errands or transport them from one place to another within town.
In a scale of preference between male boda riders and Ms. Amony who is the only female at the Smiling Panda stage, she boasts of better customer care than her stage members.
“I am customers’ favorite at the Smiling Panda stage compared to male boda- boda riders due to my customer care practice,” she says, adding that her customers are mixture of both male and females of all ages.
Ms. Amony believes that most of the domestic issues tearing families apart are as a result of over dependence by one partner on the other who earns money.
“If your husband is the sole provider, what if one day your husband is not there?” she asked. A mother – Amony advises ladies who are selective towards work to “grab any opportunity and utilize it well”.
“The little money you get plan on how to spend it wisely because it is hard to get money,” she counseled.
She said during her mid 20s she loved fantasy and luxurious lifestyle so much and that she could change expensive hair styles on a weekly basis, but she realized there were no gain but instead wastage of resources and the little money her husband provided.
Besides stigma, she says it is a ‘big challenge’ to always determine transport fares for her customers.
“At times you agree with customers on the fee, but after reaching the destinations, they give you less and this causes tension especially with men,” she notes.
Apart from the challenge of transport fares, road users do not know how to use traffic signs and lights which puts her life and those of her customers in danger.
Another challenge on the roads of Gulu town which is fighting for a city status is the constant road renovations and constructions.
“To overcome the bit of insecurity, I don’t ride during late hours (night) or beyond 8:00pm, and never go to the very hard to reach areas with strangers. However, i concedes that it is tempting and on a few occasions but with only regular customers,” security conscious businesswoman added.
Precisely, Ms. Amony is able to earn between 520,000 -1,040,000 Uganda shillings on a monthly, which is far above an average salary in Uganda today.
Achievements made and expectations.
Connecting with many calibers of people who board her motorcycle, Ms. Amony is impressed to have learnt a bunch of things from hearing and sharing life experiences and stories of people she carries.
She admits it has made a huge difference towards her maturity as a person.
As she reflects on boda-boda that brings her a lot of money, she reflects: “I have learnt a lot especially how to handle people of various calibers.” She adds: “Some people I meet are really rough but through this work and experience I have learnt better communication skills.”
Having graduated years ago from Kampala International University with Bachelors degree in Guidance and Counseling, in her part time, Amony also does research for students and NGOs in Gulu.
Today, her dream is not just to accumulate money, but to create jobs and give skills for other enterprising people who are willing to venture into any form of business.
But she also wants to expand her business: “My expectation is to buy a new motorbike by early 2019 so I can hire it to someone preferably a lady so we can overcome stereotypes.”
According to Simon Wokorach, the assistant enforcement officer at the Gulu District Boda-boda Association [GDBA], the Municipality has only seven females operating as boda-boda riders with over 10,000 male motorcyclists.
He adds that the entire district, comprising of sub-counties of Awach, Unyama, Patiko, Bungatira, Paicho, Palaro, Laliya among others have 16,000 riders.
Wokorach says out of the seven female riders, 5 operate during day time and two operate at night but there are no female riders outside the municipality.
He attributes this to stigma and the high price of purchasing a motorcycle.
However, the encouraging feat for Amony in a male dominant profession that she is one of the first female to venture into.
This venture, too, belongs to Diana Aber who in 2007 surfaced on the roads of Gulu town at a moment the LRA insurgency had just ended.
Diana was forced into boda-boda riding having conceived and consequently dropped out of school while in Primary four.
Other notable female riders in Gulu town today include; A one Rosemary who stages at Wigot in Laroo Division, and Min Jok (nickname) staging at Layibi center boda stage.
With today’s high unemployment rates across the country, Wokorach suggests that the government should give accessible motorcycle loans to women who are passionate about riding and development.
Conclusively, Amony advises youth to “Take your time to plan well, utilize your energy fully, and stop being dependent but also spend wisely.”
Are you that youth – a woman doing what men are known for? Do you want to be known, interviewed and your story heard? If yes, we are looking for you.
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