Rogers Kasirye is touching and changing the lives of young people through a programme that seeks to turn prostitutes and drug addicts round to earn a living and have decent lives. Norman Katende writes
At the age of 11, Charity lost her mother to AIDS. She did not know where to go or who would take care of her since her mother was a single parent, enstranged from her relatives. They had lived in a rented house in Nakulabye Kiyaaye zone for years.She ended up sharing a house with sex workers who initiated her into drug use and alcohol consumption. By age 13, she had become a sex worker.
She was lucky not to have contracted HIV/AIDS before she was saved from the street. Thirteen years down the road, Charity is armed with a degree in social sciences and a dream to save other children from the street.Charity’s story is similar to that of hundreds of young people who have come through Uganda Youth Development Link (UYDL). Some share their stories, while others just want to bury their past and move on.
Listening to their numerous experiences, you cannot help but shed a tear.“I was a prostitute doing commercial sex at Kimombasa (a famous slum in Bwaise). It was too risky and I used drugs to be able to satisfy the many customers. I was just lucky that I did not get infected with HIV,” says one Brenda, who now works in one of the salons in Natete.
Like most rescued girls, Brenda got training from the organisation before relocating to another place to start a new life.
“At times, I get flashes of my past life, but I have chosen to move on. I rent my own house and can buy my food. I plan to start a business in the next 12 months,” she proudly says.
Girls learning to plait hair
According to Rogers Kasirye, the executive director and founder of the Uganda Youth Development Link, it has not been easy, but the restless urge to do something for these children, has pushed him on. “We did not want to do what other people were doing — giving hand-outs — as we believed that these were not viable. We looked at having the best alternative for them — acquiring basic knowledge and skills and then re-integrate them into the community as people of value,” says Kasirye of a project that has seen over 1,000 youth re-integrated into the community. The re-integration ratio of female to male is 733 to , according to their 2012 statistics.
“It is not a simple job to reintegrate them as they have different needs and factors that led them to the street. We have learnt that what we call a better situation is just an option for them,” Kasirye adds. He has also watched many promising children drop out of the programme. Although Kasirye has been at the forefront of the programme, he insists that changing the youth is not basically a fruit of UYDL alone, but relatives, the community and local leaders.
“It is not easy. I believe I would have wasted all my life to drugs,” says Moses Ssegaluma, who joined the programme at a time when he was abusing drugs and keeping bad company. He is now a design and beauty teacher. Centres have been set up in different slum areas that including Kiyaaye (Nakulabye), Kifambwa (Kamwokya), Beirut (Natete), Bokasa (Makindye) and Kimombasa (Bwaise). These are catchment areas for youth struggling to make ends meet, and resorting to drugs. “We give them multiple vocational skills, attach them to places where they can be able to improve on these skills and then help them set up businesses,” says Rogers Mutaawe, who works with the programme.
A beneficiary of the youth programme in her shop
The females mostly do hair-dressing courses and combine it with jewellery-making and catering. Males acquire skills in electronics repair and motor vehicle mechanics and motor cycle repair, as well as plumbing. “But mostly, we look at what they are interested in doing. We also teach them how to save, start up a business and make it grow,” adds Mutaawe. By the time the youth leave the institution, they have undergone so much counselling and shared talks with different personalities from every class. This helps them understand that there is life out there, as long as you can manage it well.
“We teach them to become self-employed and self-reliant. Some of them who were sexually abused do not want to go back to their homes, while others want to start the business at home. We encourage those who want to continue with education to do so,” said Kasirye. “These centres help us to identify those that need help and start on their behavioural change programme, before we teach them vocational skills,” says Edith Nakasolya, a social worker in charge of the resettlement of female commercial sex workers.
She says others do not need to go to the vocational institute. They get basic business education in the different centres. Nakasolya is herself a product of the institution. She was taken in at 10 years and shaped into who she is today.Currently, the centre boasts of large numbers of artisans in Kampala and young motorcycle mechanics, who have easily fitted into the society.