Updated: Sep 16, 2020
As a child, Joan often suffered from malaria, causing her to feel isolated from the other children at her orphanage. Today, she is the CEO and founder of Uganics - a social business, producing affordable and natural mosquito repellent soaps and oils. Her ultimate goal is to eliminate malaria.
This is her story.
At the age of six, Joan and her younger sister are taken to an orphanage, as their mother was sick and unable to take care of them. At first, the sisters are placed together at a babies’ home, but because Joan is too old, they get separated and Joan is placed in another orphanage.
Being separated from my sister was painful, but besides that, it was a relief to arrive at the orphanage and no longer be responsible for taking care of her - hoping that someone would finally take care of me. But then, I kept getting very sick, and I remember looking out at the other kids playing, unable to participate. The caretakers at the orphanage told me to sleep in a mosquito net every night, but I didn’t understand why and I didn’t know what I was suffering from.
Laughing as she remembers, Joan explains how even as a young child, she was already experimenting with ideas on how to cure or prevent her sickness. She tried eating different herbs and even invented a mosquito net that she could wear and walk around with all the time. Taking the first small steps into her future as an entrepreneur.
Years later, Joan was accepted at the Social Innovation Academy (SINA) as a scholar, and was going through a personal development programme. One evening, she was talking to a group of women, who had grown up at the same orphanage as her, and they were sharing fun stories from their childhood. The women reminded Joan about how she was always sick and sleeping alone in a sickbed instead of in the dormitories with the rest of them. The stories brought back old painful memories, and Joan ended up leaving the conversation abruptly and in deep thoughts.
When I was living at the orphanage, often, I was only able to go to school a few days a month, because I was so sick – most days, I was just alone in the sickbed, isolated form the other children (…) One time, when I was sick, I decided to keep quiet about it, so that I wouldn’t have to stay in bed. I ended up going to the hospital.
The stories from her childhood ignited a desire to learn more about what she discovered had been malaria. Suffering from malaria as a child, had been the worst experience of her life, and she realised how many children are still suffering and dying because of this disease. “I felt really connected to the issues, and wanted to continue learning new things about malaria every day”. She started asking people in the local communities about how often their children would be sick with malaria, and for some of them it was up to three times a month. So she asked them what they would do when their children got sick. They told her, that they would either go to the hospital to get medication or give the children some local herbs. Regarding malaria prevention, many people in the local communities explained, that they have mosquito nets, but that they don’t use them. Their experience is that the nets are not very effective, and that the extra work of putting them up every night and having to wash them, means that most people eventually stops using them.
According to Joan, this is the only thing locals have been doing to deal with malaria for many years. “I’ve asked the locals how they think their children got malaria – and some of them say it’s through unboiled water or contaminated food. There’s no way that they will use mosquito nets to protect themselves, as long as they are unaware that it’s mosquito bites that are making them sick”. Seeing this lack of options for the locals to effectively protect themselves is what later inspired Joan to develop her unique product.
Joan started out conducting awareness campaigns in the local hospital, while continuing to learn about malaria. In her research, she started learning about mosquito repellents – something that she had never heard about before. “When I was in the orphanage, I saw volunteers using what I now know was repellents, but I always just thought it was some sort of perfume commonly used by white people”. Joan started to look further into how mosquito repellents work, and ways to create a natural repellent product, that locals would actually use. The idea to use the repellents in soap means that locals don’t have to change behaviour or do any extra work – they simply have to replace their normal soap with soap from Uganics.
My motivation today, is to empower the locals to do something about this problem that they are facing – If travellers are able to protect themselves when they visit Uganda, the local people should also be able to protect themselves. Not necessarily by using Uganics soap, but any measure that gives them the possibility to make the choice to protect themselves from malaria, the same way travellers do. It needs to be made accessible to all, because when you don’t have anything to protect yourself with, you have no choice but to expose yourself to the danger of malaria. So, that is my hope: that everyone has the right information about malaria and has access to preventative measures, weather it is Uganics soap or something else.
To support Joan’s work, you can purchase their products at www.uganics.org