Antoinette Furaha – from child refugee to teenage entrepreneur

Furaha. Photo: Anzisha Prize

Antoinetter Furaha, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is an entrepreneur who started a sugarcane vending enterprise and a women’s microfinance scheme at her refugee camp in Uganda.

Antoinette Furaha was only six, in 1997, when a civil war in her country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, forced her family to flee to the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement in western Uganda. The war had claimed her father’s life, so it was just her siblings and their mother.

A child breadwinner

At the refugee camp, Furaha lost two of her siblings to hunger and disease and, despite being a gifted student, her education was stalled for a time. At the age of eight, she resumed schooling at a primary school about two kilometres from the camp. She encouraged her siblings to enrol in school as well. Because their mother was ill and unable to work to provide for the family, Furaha had to work to keep herself and her siblings in school.

“So I would go and dig and earn Shs200. I would use that money to buy a 32 page book and a pencil,” she said. “I would tear pages out of the book and cut the pencil into four pieces then distribute them amongst the four of us.”

Despite her efforts, school attendance was erratic as she was compelled to drop out often to take on menial jobs — cleaning houses and gardening. She realised that the method was not sustainable.

Furaha. Photo: The Habari Network
Furaha. Photo: The Habari Network

The budding entrepreneur

Furaha invested $1 in a sugarcane vending business and within a month, she had saved $10 which she reinvested in her business. Within a year, she had saved $170 and expanded her enterprise to include trading in maize and beans. This system enabled her to continue her education steadily: while she went to school, her mother looked after her business. Beyond furthering her education, she was able to take care of her family.


Before long, Furaha was selling a variety of items, from foodstuff to livestock and even employed salespersons. Soon, she was training other girls to achieve their academic ambitions through entrepreneurship and providing them with micro-credit. A visitor to the refugee camp gave her start-up money to launch the Kyangwali Women’s Micro Credit, an initiative that provides small loans to girls and women, particularly widows and orphans, to help them start their own enterprises.  It was for this initiative that she won the second position in the 2011 Anzisha Prize for young African social entrepreneurs.

In less than two decades, Furaha has gone from child refugee to entrepreneur and philanthropist. In the next ten years, she hopes to own a bank.

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