Recently, I caught up with Prof. Monica ‘Kirabo’ Swahn, an epidemiology Professor from Georgia State University about her latest social-based projects and Tugende Designs was one of the social entreprises she started to serve underprivileged communities in Uganda.

Prof. Monica 'Kirabo' Swahn

On August 28, 22:21 EAT; Tugende Design was officially launched into the mainstream market, by its enterprising founder, Prof. Monica Kirabo Swahn. This brainchild initiative is a tale of unburnt inspiration to foster sustenance and livelihood among many impoverished famillies in Uganda.

A community engagement activity
Dr. Swahn on a community visit to check on the progress of mothers and their children

Perhaps inspired by her undying dedication to fight poverty and most importantly, economic empowerment for the less privileged. The idea of Tugende Designs couldn’t have been any better and not a surprise at most.

The portfolio of Tugende Designs entails creating and selling handmade colourful jewelry, crafts and bags. However, top on the agenda of this initiative is socio-economic empowerment albeit other humanitarian concerns.

Quick facts>>
Founder: Prof. Monica Kirabo Swahn
A Research Fellow at the Fulbright Program, GSU & MUK.
A Professor of Epidemiology at the Georgia state University.

The Tugende Design initiative is born from Professor Monica  Swahn’s global health research and community projects in the slums of Kampala and elsewhere.

She has always dreamt about designing new jewelry and creating clothes and bags from colorful fabrics. Her mom taught her how to sew at an early age and she has been sewing ever since, time permitting.

As a busy professor she spends most of her time teaching classes, mentoring students and conducting research projects all over the world.The jewelry and bags she has designed are available for sale in the US in an online shop called (search for Tugende Design).

The proceeds from the sales of these products will go directly to support priority projects with clear goals and objectives. Professor Swahn travels to Uganda several times a year and will monitor each project closely to ensure that the objectives are “SMART” (i.e., specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely).

She has worked with many community organizations as part of her research and community building projects and is eager to give back to these communities in a meaningul and impactful way. She lends her expertise and commitment to these projects to ensure their success.

Professor Swahn joined the School of Public Health at Makerere University in Kampala as a Fulbright Scholar. At Georgia State University she teaches global health to students and also took a class of students to Uganda this past spring for a course on alcohol and harm. Her own research focuses on health-risk behaviors and disparities. The findings from her research is used in the development and implementation of prevention strategies in communities where she works.

Prof Swahn has been working in Uganda for the past 6 years, she loves the country, its people and she goes there all the time where she maintains an apartment in Muyenga. She frequently travels to support ongoing research and projects.

She is particularly proud of her efforts to better understand the needs of children and young adults in the slums of Kampala and work with several community based organizations such as the Uganda Youth Development Link, the Twekembe Slum Project, Somero and AFFCAD. She is very passionate about trying to reduce alcohol use among minors and improving their health.

In addition, the phrase itself is catchy since Tugende means “Let’s go” in the Luganda dialect. Tugende stands for togetherness, and pursuing an insightful vis-à-vis purposeful journey towards achieving sustainable development for the greater good.

Tugende cover.jpgTugende portrays sincere attempts at reconciliation of our differences as well as representing beautiful, healthy, interpersonal relationships and partnerships. Tugende is a true mark of harmonious co-existence.

However, do not be mistaken by the innate goodness of this cause. This Tugende initiative rewards and encourages hard work. In the same vein, it shuns laziness and poverty of ambition when it comes to individual value and responsibility.

The Tugende Designs initiative seeks to explore, create and seize existing opportunities and prospects so as to achieve it’s SMART objectives ( Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely).

In so doing, Tugende Designs welcomes all stakeholders to engage in informed dialogue to create better solutions for society’s inevitable illnesses. This is more than just charity but an experience to cherish by putting a smile on a less privileged person.

Everyone dreams about being a better someone some day. In that way, Tugende encourages others to go and follow their dreams. The Tugende Designs initiative says let’s go, let’s travel, let’s grow as humans and let’s help those in need. This inspiring attitude is great because it helps people to re-discover their purpose and re-invent their imagination towards achieving a better livelihood.

Tugende Necklaces
Lovely chunky African necklaces for women on display at the Tugende Market

This project creates and sells African crafts and fabrics so as to foster women’s emancipation from deficits such as poverty, Patriarchal stereotypes, GBV and FGM et al.
This is actually welcomed with so much enthusiasm and anticipation given that it paves way for provision of employment opportunities to mostly under privileged and marginalized women. This has been beneficial in uplifting the sustenance and livelihood of their families who are often chained to poverty.

Twekembe Slum project
Prof. Swahn in a group photo with beneficiaries of her twekembe slum project which gives the underprivileged income generating skills

So far, the products purchased for Tugende Designs has seen a gradual progression in development since it generates income for less privileged local communities.The most interesting part of the narrative is that these products are outsourced at a fair price to support the women who make them.

These products are recycled using fabric scraps and magazine pages for jewelry, small art and crafts. Inasmuch as Tugende Designs seeks to uplift livelihood, it also recognizes the need to preserve the environment through eco-friendly work methodologies

.Fundraiser initiatives.

The first fundraising initiative is to work with Twekembe slum project to build a kitchen for the orphan students. Hungry students are distracted and have low-concentration levels in school.

Availing them a nutritious lunch and breakfast boosts their growth and encourages them to be engaged pro-actively in class. To support this project, you can subscribe to the charity Bike Ride slated for 09, October.

At least enough has been said for today and indeed Tugende Designs.Org is an initiative worth the support of generous wanainchi. For the good hard work done so far, I take pride in Professor Swahn’s accomplishments.

Tugende Hand-Crafted Beads
A sample of the hand-made Tugende themed beads on display for sale at one of the outlets in Kampala, Uganda

For those in need of shopping in the Uganda and the US, please find the accessories at Design.

Follow the discussion @TugendeDesigns/Face book,www.TugendeDesigns.Org.


By Opolot Nicholas L’akwang. A passionate blogger with interest in content creation, Digital Strategy and Agri-based Development.