There's a baby in the corner, and her mom wants a job.
Before workers arrived for the morning, a line had formed. Living Goods announced that their branch in Tula, Uganda would be hiring more health care promoters.
200 women showed up last Friday. Sixty will be selected.
If they pass the written portion they stay for the interview. Some women labored for an hour on their test; 20 questions had never been more important.
With tests piling up, I volunteered to help grade.
I don't think I've done arithmetic without a calculator since the 4th grade -- the same year I received the only D+ of my life, ironically (and embarrassingly), in math.
I start each paper by reading their name. Florence. Betty. Agnes. I know it sounds terribly nerdy, but as I grade I silently cheer them on.
Outside I can hear women conducting mock interviews with each other. "Be confident,” one encourages.
“Tell them you are good at selling things,” says another.
I double-check my grading. Ok, sometimes triple.
Suddenly, a baby appears in the corner, smiling all alone as she lays bundled on top of a piece of cardboard.
Christine, the baby’s mom, is one of the 200 women applying. She tells me she longs for this job because she likes the items so much and buys them for her five children. She purchases fortified cereal for her kids and loves her new stove. Her husband works in the market, but doesn’t have much income.
I ask, “What is your biggest hope if you get hired?"
She responds before I can finish the question, “To send all of my children to school.”
I know I'm supposed to be an unbiased proctor, but I secretly pray she makes it.
The questions are short and to the point. Health Care Promoters need to know enough math to make change and read well enough to prescribe basic medicines. The rest can be taught during the training, where they will hopefully pass the official government licensing test, giving them the ability to prescribe malaria medicine. Then they receive commission for what they sell, earning a living.
Every minute, three children die in the developing world because they lack access to basic medicines - treatments that cost less than a cup of coffee. These health care promoters walk into their communities armed with over 60 health products. If they just treat diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria in their villages - they will be tackling 65% of the total disease burden - each keeping hundreds of children healthy.
Halfway through the day we learned some women applying didn’t live nearby - they had traveled at dawn on a bus from Entebbe, over an hour south. They had to be turned away. Living Goods has eight health branches in Uganda and wants to expand to 25 in the next four years. The goal is to reach more people, where they live. I begin to brainstorm how I could do more.
By late afternoon the crowd of applicants had thinned to the final round.
I couldn’t see Christine. I must admit I felt a twinge of sadness. I stuck my head in the office and looked down.
“Yes,” I secretly sighed. Baby is still in the corner.
Despite my profession, it's so easy for me to live with obscurity. I say phrases like, “people need jobs” and “children are dying.” But the border is broken when you see them sitting outside your door, dressed in their Sunday best, looking at you with reserved calm and wringing their hands with the nervousness of the potential future.
After all, this is an opportunity with so much potential, you bring your baby to an interview.
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