unctad.org | Thomas Oloya: "When you employ people, you create peace"
Thomas Oloya: "When you employ people, you create peace"
22 February 2016
Thomas Oloya


Growing up, Thomas Oloya knew he wanted to help people through his work.

He was born in 1986 near Gulu, in northern Uganda, one year before the region became centre stage for attacks by the rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army. He lived the horrors of conflict.

"It was a time of turmoil and fear," Thomas says. "I used to sleep with my shoes on, ready to run at any moment." Abducted on three occasions by the rebels, he lost his mother and sister in 2004.

As an outstanding student in science and mathematics, Thomas had dreamed of becoming a doctor. But his studies were cut short. It was not until 2009 that 23-year-old Thomas had the chance to go back to school. His uncle offered to sponsor him for a diploma in fish farming; in return, Thomas agreed to work for free on his uncle's fish farm for two years.

While Thomas enjoyed working for his uncle, he wanted to do more and was frustrated with the lack of opportunities in northern Uganda.

Then, in 2013, he met a representative of Enterprise Uganda, the local organization that hosts Empretec - the UNCTAD Entrepreneurial Development Programme. The representative encouraged Thomas to register for a workshop being organized on how to start a business.

Thomas was sceptical at first.

"I thought you needed to be rich to start a business," he says. "But Empretec showed me that I could use what I had and turn idle resources into capital."

After completing the course, Thomas sold his motorcycle for 900,000 Uganda shillings (U Sh, about $370) and used the money to buy baby fish. That marked the beginnings of Thomas Oloya's Fisheries.

Like many entrepreneurs, Thomas had seen a gap in the market. "Every day I saw people standing in line until noon to buy fish," he says. "I also knew that many children suffered from malnutrition, and that this could be improved if fish were more accessible."

Almost as soon as he started digging, he explains, "a severe storm flooded my ponds, and I lost everything". Determined, he rebuilt the fish ponds with canals and banks for protection and bought new fish by selling bricks made from soil on his land.

The hard work paid off. In his first year, Thomas started with 1,000 tilapia and catfish and earned U Sh13 million (about $3,900). He reinvested those profits in his business, and his sales rose to more than 4,000 fish - and U Sh41 million - in 2014.

Though Thomas expects to sell over 30,000 fish and earn more than U Sh200 million (nearly $60,000) in 2015, he still started looking for opportunities to diversify his business activities. Applying what he learned through Empretec, he had realized that selling fish was seasonal, and he needed income every day. He focused on what he had and started growing flowers and raising chickens and pigs on an acre of land surrounding his ponds. He also began organizing sport fishing and boat rides on his lakes, leading to the creation of Oasis Island Gulu, which even includes a beach.

Today, Thomas has 20 employees who help him with his various business activities.

"When you employ people, you create peace. The salaries my employees earn allow them to provide for their families and support other local businesses. This is the path to lasting peace," he says.

He also gives back to his community as an Empretec trainer. Next for his community: opening a recreation centre to provide a safe place for young people in northern Uganda and encourage their interests and passions.



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