UCU student balances job opportunity and studies

By Irene Best Nyapendi
It began with a simple stroll around the bazaar grounds at Uganda Christian University (UCU) Derrick Matovu, a School of Business student, was there to see the latest trends within the exhibitors. That casual trip to the bazaar last year provided Matovu an unexpected opportunity.

He was especially drawn to a stall that belonged to Stabex International, a fuel and gas company in Uganda. Little did he know that his inquisitive demeanor attracted the attention of the stall owners. Before he knew it, the exhibitors asked if he was interested in being an ambassador for their Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) gas cylinders, which are largely used for cooking. And for that role, he would earn a commission of sh5,000 (about $1.3) for every gas cylinder sold to a buyer.

Matovu serves as a fuel pump attendant during the night shift at the fuel station.
Matovu serves as a fuel pump attendant during the night shift at the fuel station.

Matovu saw the opportunity as a godsend. At the time, he was a class leader, and was sure of leveraging that position to market the cylinders to his classmates. As the class leader, Matovu was the link between students in his class and the university administration, often helping to pass on to the students any communication from the university authorities, and vice versa. Matovu took advantage of the free time he had during the two weeks of the bazaar to market the gas cylinders at the event. He also took advantage of the class Whatsapp groups to market the cylinders.

That marketing activity in essence ushered Matovu into the practical side of the course that he is pursuing at UCU — Bachelor of Business Administration. And that was not even his initial program choice. The 29-year-old had wanted to pursue a science-related course. However, his father, a businessman, knew the benefits that his son would accrue as a business professional. He thus encouraged Matovu to pursue his current course.

For his internship, Matovu’s father secured for his son a placement at the country’s forestry agency, the National Forestry Authority. Again, this was against the wishes of Matovu who wanted to use the opportunity to further cement his relationship with Stabex International. He had secured an internship placement, but had to go with his father’s choice.

Matovu at his job
Matovu at his job

Matovu eventually formalized his relationship with Stabex International in November last year, getting employed as a fuel pump attendant. He underwent a two-week training at Stabex International fuel station branch in Mukono, but was employed at the Seeta branch, located 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away from UCU. 

“I chose to work to reduce the burden I was heaping on my sister and father who were providing the money,” Matovu, the second-born of three siblings, said. “I also knew that it was not possible to entirely depend on my family for upkeep.”

At Stabex, Matovu’s schedule is for night shift while at UCU, his classes take place during the day. He balances work and studies. 

His night shift as a fuel pump begins at 4:50 p.m. and ends at 6:50 a.m. Fortunately, he only has two lectures that start at 8 a.m. and on such days, he makes sure to be at his hostel by 7:20 a.m. to be able to prepare for class. 

On days when his classes start later in the day, he takes advantage of that to first catch some sleep, before he heads to the university for lectures.  

Balancing the demands of work and school, coupled with transportation expenses, has tested Matovu’s resolve. 

At his workplace, pump attendants are given allowance for meals, which he uses for his transport. Matovu spends sh6,000 ($1.6) on transport every day, which is beyond the amount they are given for lunch. To cater for the shortfall, on many days, he walks part of the distance. On other days, he may choose to forego lunch, so he saves some money for transport. On the few days he gets tips from customers, that serves as his transport top-up.