UCU student lights future with candles

Maria Aloyo poses with one of her products.
Maria Aloyo poses with one of her products.

Story and Photos by Eriah Lule
Sometimes, ideas that end up transforming communities are borne out of ordinary incidents. Take the example of Maria Aloyo. Who would have thought a burning candle during a Catholic Mass would send business ideas into anyone’s mind? It did to Aloyo, in 2019. 

She was at Mass. She sat on the pew near the altar. When she smelled the scent from one of the burning candles at the altar, she thought of an opportunity – making candles. 

One of Maria Aloyo’s customers poses with her purchase.
One of Maria Aloyo’s customers poses with her purchase.

Two years down the road, the 23-year-old has not just created a job for herself, but also for Martin Asiimwe, a motorcycle rider, who distributes Aloyo’s products to her customers. Having hired a distributor gives Aloyo the opportunity to concentrate on making candles and attending to class work. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Communication course in her third year at Uganda Christian University (UCU).

Aloyo makes scented, artistically decorated candles that, she says, leave her customers no choice but to dip their hands into their pockets. In addition to candles, she makes car fragrances, reed diffusers, mosquito repellents, oil perfumes, heat diffusers and several others. 

She said she started making candles during the 2020 lockdown that was instituted in Uganda to reduce the rate of the spread of the coronavirus. During the lockdown, schools were closed for more than seven months. The initial opening, in October 2020, was only for the benefit of final-year learners. Since then, many more classes have been allowed to resume school, with the opening done in a staggered manner. 

Born to Annet and Akwello Muto of Entebbe in Wakiso district, central Uganda, Aloyo worked at her mother’s store during school vacations. It is from there that she raised her first capital of about sh1million (about $277). 

“I used my savings to stock what I needed to start the business,” she said. 

When one of her aunts, Lydia Aluka, was travelling abroad, Aloyo gave her the money to buy for her what she needed for making the scented candles. 

Enrolling for an undergraduate degree at UCU has been a blessing for Aloyo, whose web of clients and support base is largely people from the university. However, over time she says she has made inroads in other communities outside the university. 

“I hope to give back to UCU by teaching other students what I do, so they are able to earn a living,” she says.

Making candles is not the first business enterprise that Aloyo has engaged in. 

In 2017, as a 19-year-old, Aloyo saved sh500,000 (about $138) and used it as capital to stock belts, wallets, jewelry and African print cloth, which she would sell. However, she says the business was not fulfilling for her, since she was trading in finished products. She yearned to make signature items, which she hoped people would know her for.

Aloyo is organizing an event, Magic fingers – Color Series, intended to provide a platform for creative youth to not only showcase their works of art, but also to network once the second covid-related lockdown ends. She hopes to hold the event in August 2021. 

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