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Charcoal paying for education
– by Gloria Laker Aciro
For over 20 years, Filder Awor has been selling charcoal in Banda, a suburb of Uganda’s capital Kampala. She is known for her good customer care.
Filder became a widow at the age of 47 years, when her husband was killed in a rebel ambush. This left her as the sole breadwinner for her six children. Through her charcoal business, Filder managed to meet her family’s basic needs. She even managed to pay school fees for four of her children up to university. They have graduated with bachelor’s degrees in different fields. Graduating from college is a rare achievement among low-income groups Uganda.
Filder is a gifted business woman. She made enough money from charcoal selling to invest in other areas. She now has a commercial building, and she is investing in a home in her native region where she wants to live after retiring.
Many Ugandans consider charcoal a dirty business. Many women prefer to keep their fingernails and hair clean. Filder is not so fussy. Thanks to her work, she has become an inspiration.
Charcoal is a dirty business in a wider sense too: it is environmentally destructive. There has been excessive felling of trees to provide wood for charcoal production. The Ugandan government has come up with measures to protect forests. Traders now need a licence, and they must also pay taxes. Many traders complain that licensing delays their business and that the tax is too high. Every week, trucks with charcoal are confiscated by police, local governments and other authorities because various regulations were breached.
Massive deforestation is evident in northern Uganda. Some warn that the current government policies will not do. Local leaders want charcoal traders to be obliged to plant trees. Permits to fell trees should be linked to afforestation measures. Filder Awor supports this proposal. Otherwise, she says, a time will come “when there will be no trees left to burn”.
Gloria Laker Aciro is a former war reporter and now heads the Peace Journalism Foundation of East Africa. She lives in Uganda.
National Forest Authority Uganda: