In Uganda, young people are acquiring skills and tapping into new opportunities to fight against the global pandemic collectively. Businge Godliver reports

This is the thirty-fourth in the series of stories from Voices from the Frontline initiative by ICCCAD and CDKN.

Kabulasoke is a sub-county in Gomba District, Central Uganda. The people living here are mostly peasants and pastoralists. Like other areas across East Africa, Kabulasoke has struggled with relentless environmental hazards and the most common among them is drought.

The global pandemic has been challenging for many people in Uganda, but in my opinion, the situation is hardest for young people. With youth unemployment standing 64% to 70% in Uganda, about 30% of the youth who are institutionally qualified, are unable to find jobs. The situation is even worse for the semi-skilled and unskilled youths.

Twehayo Naume, aged 23, can’t forget the day her father was laid off from work as a result of COVID-19. Her father was the sole breadwinner of the household, providing food, medication and other necessities. “Life became hard with my father’s loss of job, domestic violence towards my mother started whenever she asked my father to provide food. The family was at the verge of breaking up,” she shares.

Construction: a practical job route

Being the eldest child in the family, Naume chose to work at construction sites in order to be able to feed her family. “I am so grateful for being part of Women Climate Center’s International (WCCI), a one stop centre that equipped me with skills in construction,says Naume.

Naume is very passionate and enthusiastic when it comes to her work. This enabled her to acquire practical skills for construction of safely managed sanitation technologies, such as ecological toilets, lined Ventilated Pit Latrines (VIP) and double leach toilets.

Young people in Uganda are unable to market their skills and present themselves as viable employees, partly due to a lack of self-esteem and their negative attitudes. This was not the case for Naume, having acquired the practical skills, she started boldly looking for work in the communities. “Local communities have a lot of trust in women. Many people gave me work to construct for them improved toilets. I was overwhelmed with so many job opportunities but was struggling to meet the market demand individually,” she adds.

In order to help as many families as possible, Naume mobilised her fellow youth groups (male and female) from her county and trained them in practical skills. She hopes to expand this initiative all over Kabulasoke.

To maintain prescribed hygiene protocols, Naume and her fellow youth group trained the targeted communities, by promoting proper hand washing and wearing masks. For every constructed toilet, a functional hand washing facility was installed. They also promoted a safe water chain by encouraging communities to clean their jerry cans before fetching and storing water and they constructed racks for drying the cans.

As Naume built up this initiative, she ensured that they followed the government standard operating procedures (SOP) to ensure that everyone is safe while on site.

Organising people to pool their resources for sanitation’s sake

To make investment easier for all segments of communities, Naume encouraged households to make a cluster of 10 households and support each other; the “Mayumbakumi principle” (Mayumbakumi is a local phrase which refers to a cost sharing method among ten households to combine efforts for collective gain). These are supported by Village Health Team (VHTs) members who guide the households with appropriate sanitation designs and connect them to the available trained masons.

Households that need a sanitation loan are also connected to “Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLAs)” for financial support. “I made sure that I helped every household because I knew the problems in my home due to Covid were affecting everyone and wanted everyone to be happy. This virus is deadly and so scary for many of us. Actually my grandmother refused to even eat food for a week saying why she should waste the little food we have and yet Covid will kill her soon, says Naume.

The formation of clusters of 10 households facilitated joint resource mobilisation, without leaving anyone behind. Once resources are mobilised, the cluster is connected to a mason that fulfils their sanitation needs. Later on, follow ups are done to check that the work has been done to high standard and provided value for money.

Building young people’s confidence, while keeping communities safe

As a result,  groups that were initially socially excluded have now been brought into the scheme, and  they have built their capacity and confidence. Through this initiative, people have been able to construct and use sanitation facilities with functional hand washing provision – which is important, since hand washing is mandatory during this Covid crisis.

Jobs have been created for women and youth entrepreneurs. They started making soap for hand washing, selling sanitary facilities, brick laying for toilet construction, and constructing hand washing facilities among others.

Naume has so far trained and directly worked with 24 young people. These activities have increased the human resource base, offered skills and jobs to many unemployed young people. As a result, there has been timely delivery of services to the clients and all the employed youth were able to feed their families during this Covid crisis.

Interviewer’s Perspective

While the pandemic gave ample opportunities to generate employment opportunities for young people, there is still a lot to happen. There is a need for attitude change among youth to inspire entrepreneurial energy and appreciate a culture of personal savings and long term financial growth. Increased access to loans for youth and a shift in youth attitude to focus on  pursuing secure, decent jobs in rural communities rather than looking for white collar jobs is needed in rural communities. The existing policies have failed to offer young people with better employment opportunities. So the government should also take it as a challenge to spur productive policies that create avenues for different groups of unemployed youth .

About the interviewer

Godliver Businge is an agile, double trained officer with training as a technician (civil works) and community development worker. She is a passionate “Water Sanitation and Hygiene” champion with over 7 years’ experience of working with rural grassroots communities in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. She is affiliated with Global Women’s Water Initiative (GWWI) and Uganda Women’s Water Initiative (UWWI). She is currently focusing on VIP (double) toilets, bio sand filters for clean water, eco sans and composting toilets, energy saving stoves, rainwater harvesting tanks, vermi-culture and bio digesters which tap into a circular economy for sustainable access.

About the interviewee

Twehayo Naume is a 23-year-old girl living in Kabulasoke sub-county under Gomba district, Uganda. She is awarded with a certificate in bricklaying and concrete practice from Kisomoro Technical Training Institute in Bunyangabu district. As a technician, Naume has participated in WASH technology training organised by Women Climate Center’s International (WCCI), particularly in construction of “eco sanitary toilets”. She is a passionate and hardworking woman who has broken stereotypes in her village and the surrounding villages. Her vision is to continue empowering fellow youth to be economically independent.

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