“I had to get something else to do as I waited for the schools to reopen. I was lucky I had savings from the coffee I grew in 2014 on half an acre in Masaka. I sold it off and invested in produce.”
When the coronavirus pandemic broke out in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni closed all education institutions, leaving many teachers stranded for over six months.
Many were left without income to sustain their families. Edward Mayanja, a mathematics teacher used the opportunity to try out something else.
Mayanja, from Cornerstone Junior School, Mukono, went into trading. Now that schools are set to open, Mayanja is considering keeping both ventures.
"The lockdown was unexpected so I had not prepared to spend a long time without earning. I was used to a daily routine, which was cut without notice. It took me a month to accept that the teaching job was not about to resume. My hopes of schools reopening faded with time," he said.
"When the President extended the lockdown during his address to the nation for his second time, I was forced to think outside the box.
"I had to get something else to do as I waited for the schools to reopen. I was lucky I had savings from the coffee I grew in 2014 on half an acre in Masaka. I sold it off and invested in produce." he said.
During the lockdown, there were lots of foodstuffs from villages and prices were down due to the restrictions.
Mayanja said he started buying cereals, such as beans, cowpeas, as well as maize, cassava and millet flour and wheat, which he sold to his customers at his retail shop and on wholesale in Mukono.
"It is unbelievable that while people were struggling with poverty and diminishing sources of money due to the lockdown, my business was booming. I got buyers and I would be busy throughout the day," he said.
His wife, Mary Desire Nalubega, was supportive. She joined him in the running of the shop as he went to buy commodities from Busoga, where prices were lower.
"The lockdown enabled me realise that I can actually run a retail shop alongside my teaching profession. I wondered why I always put all my eggs in one basket," he said.
"I also learned how to treat customers. It is different from a classroom, where you are the king and everybody has to listen to you.
In trading, the customer is king, so you have to be humble, wrap their goods and carry them to their preferred destinations. Ideally, any customer who offers you their attention must be retained as you look for others," he advised.
Mayanja says he is able to make between sh150,000 and sh200,000 profits a day minus expenses. Advise/ Plans "My advice to fellow teachers is that if you can, save as much as you can and start some income-generating activity. We need a side business even after schools reopen. It will keep us catered for, instead of lamenting about the little or delayed salaries," Mayanja says.
Mayanja is ready to return to class when schools re-open.
"I will go back to the classroom because I love teaching. However, I will keep my business running because it has taught me many things, especially the value of money. I now spend less and save more. With this investment culture, I expect to do thrice better than how I have been living," he said.
Nalubega says trading was a brilliant idea and that they do not plan on stopping.
"It has taught us a lot. I have gained more skills, such as customer care, profit estimation and market prediction. We have agreed with my husband that I run the shop when the schools re-open.
He will continue teaching, but I have stopped. He can join me whenever he is free.
"We have to take this business as far as it can go. My dream is to turn it into a serious wholesale business to reckon with. Thank God the number of customers is growing by the day," she said.