Trading More than Produce

Creating Jobs as well as a New Paradigm for Health

A store tells you what options you have, and consciously or unconsciously persuades your spending towards one product over another. I will never forget one summer I spent in Uganda. The choo (aka hole in the ground, aka toilet) where we were staying was filled with cockroaches. They were the worst at night, and they were huge. The girls on my team began using the “male” restroom because for some reason, the roaches weren’t as prevalent in there. Until we were caught. Our leader asked us, “Why are you doing that? Why are you ignoring the problem? Do you think the women here like going to a toilet full of roaches? Are they that different than you? Don’t ignore the problem, do something about it.”

When we began to investigate what could be done about it, we got one answer: RAID. Followed by one problem: Unaffordable. [It’s also chocked full of chemicals you don’t necessarily want to spray your village with.] Upon further inquiry, we found that they used to “smoke out” the choo by lowering a burning rope of banana leaves down into the choo followed by a hole plug. This smoke choked the bugs, and they could no longer survive. Why would they stop using this method? Oddly enough, because the store told them they needed RAID. But then told them that they couldn’t afford it. The stores had this power. The products they sold implicitly taught values to the surrounding community, for better or for worse.

Now, we have our own store. This begs the question: what values will we promote?

We have a few aims. If we do introduce new things, they need to be good for their health. If we do keep the typical Ugandan store items, our pricing must reflect our value system. It’s still commerce, but it is commerce that encourages people to be good neighbors to one another.

Our signage and business cards already tell part of our story on the face: bring what you have, we will take it and give you trade credit to be used for other goods. This is already trading out a value system where cash is king, to one that invites neighborly relationships, where trust is again a commodity, and it’s possible to do things without the big city banks.

But there’s more to be traded. The name has more implications than one might realize. We are trading cash for credit, a “no” for a “yes,” a possibility for an impossibility.

But we are also learning how to make all of that happen. What makes Ugandans want to buy a certain product? What mindsets do they have regarding hygiene that we still have to understand? What about it makes a “bargain”? It can be quite surprising how much culture differentiates what we often think is just a “natural” response.

Recently, a team sat through yet another meeting about dental hygiene and responsibility. They then surveyed our friends in regards to how much soda they had been drinking. We came to find out that soda and water cost exactly the same amount. One is great for your health, the other is terrible. But when it’s hot and that sweet flavor is calling your name, what can you do? So, we won’t sell sodas at all right? Wrong. We will, but they are going to be twice as much as water. They cost your health twice as much, and we learned that Ugandans love a bargain. If they realize they can get two waters for the cost of one coke, they just might do it. Follow that up with a pamphlet on how much sugar is in coke, and how bad it is for your body, and we just might have a revolution against the coke giant!

We have other ideas on the horizon as well. Like packaging toothpaste, floss and mouthwash together, the same price as just toothpaste. Something that started out as “a bargain,” now might become commonplace. Our team on the ground is currently doing product testing. Meaning, they are giving things away and taking note of how people respond. This is a normal thing to do on our side of the globe. But there, even though smoking the choo might have worked, as soon as they see that America sent RAID to their shelves, they forego the former method.

Proverbs 16:11 says “Honest balances and scales are the Lord’s; all the weights in the bag are his work.” With the trade, we are trying our best to create an honest balance, and make it work for the poor. This is “his work,” and we have made it our work. The trade is more than a store. It’s an educational endeavor that considers the health of a surrounding community.

We need your help to make it happen! You can help trade out bad habits for good ones, restore sustainable solutions for dealing with their environment, and make it possible for parents to get what they need for their children to grow and be educated. Create an honest scale with us--balanced in consideration of the poor.