By Paul Ndiho
Our next story is about a fascinating Ugandan – American woman who turned her frustration in search for African dolls and children’s books with themed African characters into a business.
Yvonne Senkandwa is a budding Ugandan entrepreneur, writer and author of children’s books, in Pasadena, California. She is creating a niche for herself with the introduction of her brand of dolls and children’s books into the market about the royalty of the Buganda Kingdom in Uganda.
“The books were first published in 2014, they are for children, and they introduce Kingada culture to children who live in the diaspora as well as to comic book collectors and others who are interested in the Buganda Kingdom and comic books.”
With a keen interest in creative writing, Yvonne grew frustrated in her search for children’s books about African royalty. She turned her frustration into a challenge, writing a series of books that are teaching children the principles of integrity, kindness, and love. For example, she authored the African adventure of Ugandan Princesses Nkinzi and Mamikka
“It’s my heritage, and it’s where I’m from, and it’s something that I was familiar with, and I thought that I could generate interest in that area. I’m also working in collaboration with other princesses and royalty in Uganda and around the world cause there’s royalty everywhere.”
Her passion triggered her to write a second book in the series, before branching into retailing; launching a series of dolls based on the characters in her books.
“I didn’t immediately go into manufacturing toys but I wrote the children’s series, I started writing the series. And from the series, that led into manufacturing the dolls.”
“Now these are the dolls that I’ve made. This is Nkinzi she is the one dressed in pink. And then we have Namikka, and she is dressed in purple. We’ve got crowned Prince Wassaja, dressed in blue. And lastly, we have Princess Lily their friend who they met at the farmer’s market. So that’s the doll collection
Getting her product sales up has been difficult, so she resorted to doing book fairs and festivals to generate interest, as well as working with toy shows. Despite these hurdles, she has a very positive attitude.
“One of the challenges is to get retailers to be interested in carrying the product. When you’re new, the big question is “Why your product?” and trying to generate a lot of publicity into why the dolls are marketable, doing interviews, book festivals, book fairs, and also working with other retailers that are interested in carrying the books. But that is the challenge. Because it’s a relatively new product.”
Senkandwa’s dolls have become a hit among the Uganda Diaspora and are also gaining popularity beyond the Ugandan community, as she has begun receiving orders to export them to schools in Uganda and to individuals in the United States and other African countries. Due to the high cost of production in the U.S, the dolls are manufactured in China, after which the parts are shipped to the U.S and Uganda and re-packaged for sale. Yvonne says that her book teaches Luganda words, promote, encourage and preserve the Kiganda Culture in the Diaspora, and most importantly her characters teach life skills.