“Liz Forkin Bohannon is the founder of Sseko Designs. She is passionate about social justice and believes that the empowerment of women is a fundamental piece of working towards a more just and powerful world.”
Organization/Issue: Sseko \say-ko\ Designs is a not-just-for profit sandal company that provides employment and thus opportunities for women in Uganda to afford university.
Brief Background: Graduated from the University of Missouri with a Master’s degree in Journalism in 2008. She now lives in Portland, Oregon with husband Ben where they run Sseko U.S.
I first met Liz on October 30th, 2012, and since then she has become my role model. From her not only did I draw my first true inspiration for female empowerment, but also a new vivacity and fearlessness for life.
At the small lecture she gave to a handful of young women like myself, Liz told us about Sseko and her journey in creating it. Liz told us she was passionate about global issues, specifically poverty and women’s rights, but upon graduating college, she realized she had not experienced the effects of poverty first hand. So, of course, she did the typical. . . She went somewhere completely unfamiliar, and where she knew no one. Uganda. But hey, at least they spoke English!
The plan, she said, was to use her communication skills to help a youth development organization in Kampala. But then she made some friends. She learned their stories. She made some stories of her own with her new friends. And she knew she had to take action.
You see, Uganda has something called a “nine month gap year” in between high school and university in which students are to raise enough money to pay for tuition. The problem is university in Uganda costs around $2000-$5000 a year. To us, this would be a dream come true–the Holy Grail of colleges. However, when the typical Ugandan woman makes $2/day, roughly $60/month, this is no way, shape, or form could possibly allow them to accomplish their dream of attending university. Oh, and by the way, this is even if the women can get a job. In a male dominated society, most women have no chance in obtaining a job, let alone raising enough money to pay for tuition.
All because of their sex.
Just think about that for a moment.
Complete bull, right?
Well that’s what Liz thought too. So she put her passion into action and created Sseko Designs. The young Ugandan women hand-make the leather sandals and their interchangeable fabric straps.
In the first year of Sseko, Liz sold the sandals out of the back of her car, only wearing Ssekos, and telling everyone she met about the women behind the sandals. She put three women through university. THREE WOMEN! By selling sandals out of the back of her car! I cannot emphasize enough how much this amazed me. All I could think was, You go, Liz. You go!
But the story doesn’t stop there. Nope. Like I said before, Liz opened up my eyes and taught me to see the world in a new, beautiful, fearless way. (And all of this was in under one hour, by the way.)
From Liz I learned to embrace the awkward moments, rejoice in the unknown, and welcome the failures. Because you know what? It’s nice to be comfortable, to be knowledgeable, to be successful. But what are we learning from it? Absolutely nothing. It’s from our failures that we learn the most about ourselves. When we break, we mend, and when we mend, we grow.
So instead of fearing failure, welcome it! Don’t be afraid to be optimistic when everyone around you is telling you to be pessimistic. Life is what you make of it, and if you mess up enough times, it can be a truly amazing thing.
Liz, if you’re reading this, I’d like to thank you.
Thank you for the bravery you’ve given me.
For the confidence you’ve instilled in me.
For the empowerment you’ve empowered me with.
For the wisdom, the laughter, the love, the adventure that I now know is awaiting me. You unlocked a passion for empowerment in me that I doubt I could live without.