Olivia Sserabira can often be found at the Walmart in Salt Lake City on Hope Avenue, running around gathering groceries and other items for online orders.

At first glance, you'd have no idea Sserabira was different from any other grocery employee. But her Walmart paycheck funds a nonprofit that is changing the lives of hundreds of women and girls in Uganda.

Sserabira grew up in Uganda and witnessed firsthand the effects that poverty, war, disease, violence and lack of education have on communities. She volunteered with the Red Cross and other relief teams when she was younger but knew she needed to do something more to help those around her.

She saw so many young mothers suffering because they didn't receive an education. Girls in Uganda drop out of school for myriad reasons: pregnancy, sickness, a lack of resources for menstruation, not being able to afford uniforms or school supplies and not feeling safe walking to school.

"That's the situation I grew up in," Sserabira said. "I saw the problems happening. So I was touched that maybe I should start something to help out the children."

So she opened the Peace and Hope Training Center in Kampala, Uganda, in 2006. The main goal was to help teenage girls who were dropping out of school and to help women sustain themselves.

The center educates women on how to take care of and provide for themselves and their families. When it first started, it was just Sserabira and other women in her community banding together but it has expanded all across the country, helping more than 900 women.

Peace and Hope became a place women could go to get clean water and learn how to help themselves, instead of waiting for the government to help them, Sserabira said.

Women work on sewing machines at the Peace and Hope Training Center in Uganda in May. Olivia Sserabira, a Salt Lake City Walmart employee, uses her paycheck to fund the nonprofit she started in 2006.
Women work on sewing machines at the Peace and Hope Training Center in Uganda in May. Olivia Sserabira, a Salt Lake City Walmart employee, uses her paycheck to fund the nonprofit she started in 2006. | Godfrey Lufafa

Throughout the two-year program, women learn skills — such as baking, sewing and crafting — that gives them the opportunity to make money, so they can afford food and medication. These women make bags, beads, shoes, soap and reusable sanitary pads for girls and women in the community.

Many of the girls and women who get help from Peace and Hope end up staying as employees to continue the work forward. More than 150 employees divided between six enterprise teams work at the small building that makes up the center.

Ambassadors go into classrooms to teach about hygiene, give books the schools can't afford, find out what obstacles girls are facing at school and to distribute sanitary pads. Members of Peace and Hope make an effort to understand each girl in each community so they can better help them find solutions so girls can get to — and stay in — school.

"We find our way to get you back to school. ... We don't stop there, at just giving them things, but we go that extra mile," Sserabira said. Peace and Hope workers visit these schools monthly to ensure the children's needs are being taken care of.

These school outreach programs also provide opportunities for women in the community to make money, as the Peace and Hope Training Center pays women to make and distribute pads and interact with the students.

The center has provided hundreds of women with jobs and educated even more on how to make money on their own. The organization also teaches about saving money and how to budget finances.

Sserabira moved to Boston almost 10 years ago after enduring some personal struggles and experiencing some difficult medical issues. Her doctor was transferred to Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, so Sserabira followed him to Utah in August 2022.

Olivia Sserabira, from Uganda, poses for a photo during her lunch break while she works at Walmart in Salt Lake City shipping packages out to customers on May 19.
Olivia Sserabira, from Uganda, poses for a photo during her lunch break while she works at Walmart in Salt Lake City shipping packages out to customers on May 19. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Deciding to leave Uganda was difficult for Sserabira, as she felt like she was leaving her community behind, but ultimately she knows it was the best decision for her life. Her children now run the center and she is grateful she gets to continue contributing to the change the organization is making.

"Everything we place now in the hands of the Lord. Somehow the Lord provides a way," she said.

Sserabira's daughter who helps run the sanitary pads project is about to come to Brigham Young University and she is so excited she will be close to her daughter again.

Joseph Matovu, Sserabira's son, said he has seen a big impact in communities because of Peace and Hope through women applying their skills, finding jobs, and even starting their own businesses.

"We deal with single mothers who don't have husbands. We deal with those affected by HIV and AIDS ... and we give training to them to help them sustain themselves," Matovu said.

Matovu is the "overall boss" of Peace and Hope, but he gets paid last to ensure the women at the center get everything they need first, Sserabira said.

"When you teach a woman, you're teaching a whole nation," Matovu said, quoting an African proverb. Growing up, he saw how true this was through his mother and her work and said his mom taught him the importance of respecting women.

When the Peace and Hope Training Center visits schools, they also meet with the boys and teach them about menstruation. Matovu said they emphasize to the boys the importance of periods and why boys should not laugh at girls but instead support them.

A young woman holds up a reusable pad that was given to her from the Peace and Hope Training Center in Uganda. Olivia Sserabira, a Salt Lake City Walmart employee, uses her paycheck, to fund the nonprofit she started in 2006.
A young woman holds up a reusable pad that was given to her from the Peace and Hope Training Center in Uganda. Olivia Sserabira, a Salt Lake City Walmart employee, uses her paycheck, to fund the nonprofit she started in 2006. | Joseph Matovu

Matovu said he has seen improvement in how boys interact with girls and that there has been a decrease in the stigmatization of menstruation.

Women at the center sell their goods, but it isn't enough money to sustain the organization. Because of this, Sserabira lives very frugally so she can send as much as $600 from each paycheck to the organization to keep helping people.

"Every day we get new people joining and some come without anything. We have women who we employ, they are part of Peace and Hope and we have to pay them," she said.

Sserabira's money helps offset the costs of materials, utility bills, supplies, rent, employee wages and other expenses the organization has.

A place to call home

Sserabira said it is imperative they really listen to each patron, to truly understand their situation.

"They have stories which can move you. Some of the stories are so heartbreaking," she said. "When you listen, that's when you come to know that there's something wrong in the community."

Going forward, Sserabira said Peace and Hope has big plans. The organization wants to eventually build a medical clinic to treat diabetes, AIDS, arthritis and more, but Sserabira first wants to buy land and build a school where they can educate girls and provide a home for those that need it.

"We want to build a home for these children ... where they can get rest and hope," she said. A GoFundMe* page was also created by one of Sserabira's colleagues to help raise money for Peace and Hope.

Many of the women Peace and Hope helps are young mothers, between 15 and 23 years old, who have been violated, raped, defiled or left behind, Matovu said.

"They needed love from people around them, from the community. We came up with the organization so that these people, at least they may feel at home and loved," he said.

Matovu tearfully described his mother as a smart woman who works very hard.

Olivia Sserabira, from Uganda, works at Walmart in Salt Lake City shipping packages out to customers on May 19.
Olivia Sserabira, from Uganda, works at Walmart in Salt Lake City shipping packages out to customers on May 19. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

"She told me not to work anywhere else, just to help these children. I tell her, 'How will I sustain myself?'" he said. "She works very hard that things may come to pass."

Sserabira makes sure the organization always has enough funds to help every school, child or woman that needs it.

"And the hope they have from her, I just look at it and I'm like —," Matovu said, shaking his head overcome with emotion. "She makes sure that what she started doesn't just go away."

The organization is a passion for Sserabira, but it also feels like a calling.

"I do care about myself but if the community around me is not happy, there is a gap that needs to be filled up before I become happy," she said. Having been in a difficult situation before, Sserabira doesn't want anyone else to go through what she went through.

All she wants is for these people to have a home and a have a place of belonging. She works hard to make money to provide for the center so that she can help as many women as possible.

"If I get that, then my life will be fulfilled. That's what I pray."

*KSL.com does not assure that the money deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit to the account, you should consult your own advisors and otherwise proceed at your own risk.

Olivia Sserabira, from Uganda, poses for a photo during her lunch break while she works at Walmart in Salt Lake City shipping packages out to customers on Friday, May 19, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News