Throughout college, I fell in love with design. It was one of those things that just fell into my lap and was met to be. When I was 18 years old and trying to decide what to do for the rest of my life, I honestly had no plan. I only took two art classes in high school and my art teacher always urged me to pursue this field. I guess I had that in the back of my head when I randomly chose graphic design during my college orientation.
Fast forward, I’m in my classes and I realize I’m pretty decent at this and I really really enjoy it. I’ve always been naturally curious and wondered about people and their perspectives. In design, this is necessary because what you are creating is for another human and you have to discover how to make your work speak to them. The one thing that bothered me was I felt my career wasn’t truly going to help anyone. I wanted to dedicate my life to a cause. Something that touched people and helped them.
Where It All Began
In 2019, I found a way to combine these two passions and it changed my life forever. I was accepted to participate in a study abroad program with my best friend. Each design student was paired with a few marketing students and throughout the fall semester we worked together in small groups to help an entrepreneur in an extremely poor community, Khayelitsha, South Africa, to start their own business.
The idea was to empower them to recreate their circumstances. Everyone has a special talent and we helped our entrepreneurs make a career out of this talent. These businesses uplift the entire community and can be passed down for generations. Khayelitsha is the largest and poorest township in South Africa. With a 70% unemployment rate, oftentimes starting a business is the only way to have a job.
As a designer, my role was to create any and all branding materials. I was able to get on the phone with my entrepreneur, Ridge, and collaborate as I created a logo, menus, signage, and promotional pieces for his start up, Ekasi Pizza. Ridge’s dedication to starting this business was one of the most inspirational experiences of my life.
During our holiday break, we visited Khayelitsha, South Africa and I finally met Ridge in person. We spent hours together in our small groups planning the future of Ekasi Pizza. I can’t begin to describe to you what this felt like. I had never experienced third-world conditions but what was the most shocking was the love and motivation that came from these people. I didn’t hear them complain once, even though I knew most of them were struggling to feed their families and had very very little.
I kept in touch with Ridge and my professor. I told her I wanted to continue to help as much as I can. Then COVID-19 struck the world and everything changed. Our entrepreneurs were barely hanging on to their businesses and my university nearly cut the program. Everything was on pause. Students lost interest in the class knowing they could no longer travel and with every student that dropped the course, that was another entrepreneur that couldn’t go through the program.
Uhambo 8286 Is Born
With an unsteady future, my two friends, professor and I decided that we needed to find a way to continue this work as an independent nonprofit. We named it Uhambo 8286, which translates to journey and is the exact mileage from Khayelitsha to Cincinnati, OH.
As we were creating the brand and working together to keep this afloat, we also raised money to give to our entrepreneurs so their businesses could survive. I gave my stimulus checks to them and asked friends and family to donate what they could.
Luckily our entrepreneurs made it out okay. We are still able to continue the class and each semester I mentor design students as they create brands for their entrepreneurs. The class size will never be the same so I fill in the gaps and continue designing for entrepreneurs. I also help make business decisions on how to raise money and hold events.
Uhambo has grown into something so much bigger than a college course. Our main growth has been in sponsoring our entrepreneur’s education through business courses with the money we raise. The college course continues as a way to provide business plans and branding. And our social media presence is slowly growing. We hope to use this to share a perspective from another part of the world and raise awareness.
Uhambo has my heart. This is the most important and rewarding thing I will ever do as a designer and a person. I pray everyday that we continue to grow and touch more lives. I can’t wait to go back to Africa someday and see my friends and their flourishing businesses. Learn more at uhambo8286.com and follow @uhambo8286 on social.