In figuratively stating that "If you could influence the young, it would turn the earth into Heaven", famous British novelist and poet, Katherine Hinkson, left a quote that has aptly resonated for ages especially in countries where young people are seen as invaluable for a nation's future success.
In Uganda, notwithstanding some progress, the status quo still remains adverse for most young people. Unemployment is a pickle, which has hit hard. As a result, many youth are disillusioned and feel unappreciated.
In many ways that runs counter to what Hinkson said.
Tables are turning in many places across the country and that Hickson treatment is put into execution.
One of those places is Kawempe, a boisterous Kampala city suburb. Kawempe which in many ways is a hotspot for youth disillusionment and crime in Kampala witnessed the launch of a groundbreaking youth empowerment project called SmartUp recently.
The project which is under the auspices of Plan International, a global child rights organisation is breaking the mould in as far as training and skilling Kawempe's underprivileged youth.
Roland Angerer launches the SmartUp project in Kawempe. He is the Plan International regional director for eastern and southern Africa. (Credit: Richard Wetaya)
Under the project, Kawempe's youth will enjoy a new lease of life in the way they carry themselves, learn social entrepreneurial skills and explore ideas.
For Kawempe division, a place which has the lowest income per capita of the city's five divisions and the largest city population, over 265,000, this is a welcome development.
At the Hub, youth are engaged in innovation activities such as making handicraft materials, jewelries, graphic animations and designs, amongst other apprenticeships.
"The SmartUp project which has attracted 20 youth (youth champions) aims at creating an enabling environment for young people aged 17-26 to explore, innovate and come up with social entrepreneurial ideas, learn skills, share experiences, transform themselves economically and address issues affecting their lives.
Over the course of three years, the project will reach out to over 10,000 young women and men with skills training, coaching, mentorship skills, social entrepreneurial skills and leadership. The project has affiliate satellite innovation hubs in three programme areas of Tororo, Lira and Gulu," Patrick Ssebowa, the Business Development specialist at Plan international said.
Here, Angerer speaks at the launch. (Credit: Richard Wetaya)
The SmartUp initiative is an innovation hub, a friendly space for young marginalized young men and women to empower themselves. It is a 3 year pilot initiative, initially working with 20 selected youth (10 men and 10 women) who will be trained and mentored and grow to become champions of the project, recruiting more youth as the project Factory develops.
"This pilot project seeks to establish an innovation centre in Kampala's poorest district that will provide a safe space for mentoring, training, and empowering young men and women to become problem solvers in their communities. In the hub, young men and women will be enabled to develop innovations with the ultimate goal of positively transforming society," Ssebowa added.
Speaking at the launch of the project, Roland Angerer, the Plan international Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa said the launch of the "SmartUp" project is part of Plan International's global ambition of youth economic empowerment.
"This project aims to support Ugandan youth to become self-employed, to create opportunities for them to link with the government and to take up leadership spaces. This initiative supports government policies and initiatives to address high youth unemployment in line with the National development Plan 2015/16-2019/20.
With an investment of 300, 000 Euros through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, we aim to increase the provision of safe, inclusive, gender sensitive youth employment opportunities especially for girls. We would like this project to become an institutionalized center for Ugandan youth to think and innovate with their fellow youth," he noted.
Angerer explained that the project will supplement the "Skilling Uganda" government initiative, which seeks to improve the quality and inclusion aspects of education and training systems and to make them responsive to the labour market.
"This cooperation will allow for project activities to be easily taken up by the government. As part of Plan International's wider programme in Uganda, learning from the project will be shared among the government networks and Plan will lobby for the scale up of successful initiatives. The project will also seek to connect young women and men with the Youth Livelihood Programme (YLP), and Community Driven Development (CDD) Fund, which will help finance their business initiatives," Angerer noted.
A young woman showcases bags she makes at the SmartUp hub in Kampala. (Credit: Richard Wetaya)
Youth learning computer graphic animations and designs at smartUp. (Credit: Richard Wetaya)
WHAT THEY SAY
Ochieng George, 25: Since I joined the SmartUp project, I have enhanced on my self esteem and social entrepreneurial skills. I did not know how to use a computer when I got here but I can now and Iam making progress in learning computer graphics. Iam going to start my own business in graphics design after here.
Herod Rubaramira, 19: I am learning computer graphic animations and designs. I want to start up my own graphics and I.T business when I finish up here.
Henry Ssegawa, 23: I am a product of Kawempe and if it was not for this project, I would be going down the destructive path. Since I came here, I have learnt video editing and graphics and I have also brainstormed with other young people about business ideas.
I plan on starting my own video editing and recording business when I leave.
Senkunda Ali, 20: As youths, we are often distracted and deluded into doing counterproductive things. Since I came here, I have learnt how to set my personal goals for the future. I have learnt how to design graphics and how to write proposals.
I want to go back in my community and help other youth to discover themselves inwardly.
Edith Nakitende, 22: My mindset changed when I came here. I now think more constructively especially when it comes to do with plans for the future. Before I came here, I had no skills, but I have now learnt some skills in graphic animations and designs, string arts and making handicraft materials.
Joseline Kusima, 24: Since I joined SmartUp, I have acquired skills in proposal and CV writing, catering and string arts. I have shared my experiences with other young people and Iam hopeful with the skills, I have learnt, I will be able to start up my own business.
Margaret Namutebi, 24: I have developed skills in public speaking since I joined SmartUp. My self esteem has also improved greatly. I have also improved my computer skills, business plan and concept writing skills. I want to be a motivational speaker in the future. I want to mentor and inspire other youth into positivity and advice them on how they can market themselves. For now, I welcome all youth within the age bracket of 16-26 to join us at the hub for a life changing experience.