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Being HIV Positive, Diagnosed with Cancer & Tuberculosis Has not stopped this Superwoman From Looking After 140 Kids in Slums

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Stella Airoldi first met Susan laker in 2009 when she first came to Uganda while doing research about post war victims and witnesses.

“I visited her house, where she was living with her 3 teenage kids. Back then I was 24 years old and Susan 26 years, so just two years older than me.  But her kids were already 9,10,13 years old.” Stella says.

Because Susan got pregnant for the first time when she was only 13, her kids didn’t go to school and neither did she. She got pregnant from a soldier while living in a military barracks which by then, was the only safe place for her to go to escape the LRA in Northern Uganda.

“Getting pregnant when I was 13 years old was so traumatising. I lost my childhood life. I wasn’t able to go to school which made me lost my hope for living a good future. I hated my parents for forcing me in to early marriage, my growth was totally destroyed and I segregated myself from people because I felt inferior.”- Susan notes.

When Susan was 15 years old, she conceived again but got a miscarriage when she received a message notifying her that two uncles, 3 nieces, a brother and sister had been killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels.

Suzan with some of the children being looked after by 22Stars

“I was shocked and lost the pregnancy. After a few months, I conceived again and gave birth to a second child at the age of 16 and when the baby was 6 months, the father died and since I had nowhere to get financial help from, I was forced to  remarry another soldier from the barracks to get protection and when I was 19 I gave birth to the third child.” Susan says

In 2007, her husband was deployed to Somalia on a peacekeeping and never returned, a thing that left Susan very frustrated. It was shortly after that, that she found out that she was HIV positive, had cancer and Tuberculosis (TB). It was not until an organization called Reach Out Mbuya came to her rescue that she was able to start cancer chemotherapy and TB drugs for six months and now am on ARVs treatment for life.

She then fled with all her children to Kampala which were (and still remain) her main reason and motivation to keep going in life. Her kids were tested negative and she wanted them to go to school. She started making jewellery, which initially her kids would sell in the streets.

“It was then my pastor introduced me to Stella. I was making paper beads jewellery and Stella decided to buy me jewellery on a yearly basis. At the end of 2012 when she came back to Uganda to see how I was doing, she was surprised to learn that I was going back to school by myself and I had improved.” Susan notes.

Suzan & Stella during the painting of the 22Stars office

Susan has been able to buy land and built a bigger house for her family. She completed high school and did a couple of short courses to improve her skills and knowledge for example a  certificate in Clearing, Forwarding and Shipping management, Certificate in Electronics, Certificate in Counseling People Living with HIV/AIDS.

“At first, all my friends and family thought I was completely crazy starting with women who cannot read and write and I cannot even communicate with. So true, things didn’t go that smooth the first 2 years. So end of 2014 I came back to Kampala and since 2015 I am here myself 2 to 3 times a year and things improved a lot.”- Stella says.

Susan is now managing the whole team of the 22STARS jewellery that comprises of over 20 women and supporting 150 children in slums. Thanks to recurring monthly donations, she (Susan) has been cooking in Acholi Quarter every Sunday since October 2016 ( so more than 14 months!) with the help of other 22STARS group members. The group started back then to cook for 50 kids and that is now 150. They get a hot meal with either fish or meat.

Suzan and Stella posing at the newly repainted 22Stars office

22STARS is a team of artisans made up by strong women living in the slums of Kampala and Jinja in Uganda making jewellery for a living. The platform is giving women in slum areas like Susan to sell their jewellery on the international market and earn a living, and in addition war running small social programs on the ground.

“Our choice for environmentally friendly products is a very conscious one. By using 100% recycled paper, the jewellery you wear does not only look good, but it also feels good. Our beads are hand made from paper and varnished with natural products.  This makes each peace uniquely different, lightweight and waterproof.” Stella says.

22STARS also uses education and entrepreneurship to empower children and their families to rise above poverty by creating long-term sponsorships for children in Uganda, and also run several community development initiatives including a nutrition program, basic needs program, small business training and micro loans program and our holistic educational program with extra-curricular activities.

“Without the help of Susan this all would not have been possible. As she knows how it feels like to sit in the stone quarry with your kids, crashing stones all day, not being able to send them to school, she is pushing very hard to help all the families over there to send their kids to school. She is so amazing how she is managing everything. Susan is a true superstar and really the strongest woman I ever met.” Stella concludes.

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Unsung Heroes

How Kirabo is Empowering Youth To Turn Passion Into Professions

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Meet Noeline Kirabo, a change agent and the founder of Kyusa, a non-profit organization that seeks to empower out of school youth to become employable by developing passion driven careers through starting their own business or leveraging available jobs.

Kyusa targets vulnerable youth in urban slum communities between 15 to 25 years of age to help them discover and harness their passions and make them employable in the fast growing entrepreneurial environment of Uganda. Kyusa seeks to eradicate the issue of youth unemployment by accelerating youth employability.

“Kyusa has been in existence since 2014 and has steadily grown from its pioneer class of 12 youth just like the disciples to a growing movement of over 600 program graduates at the moment whose lives have been greatly impacted and transformed by engagement with Kyusa.We started in kampala and we have grown our reach to as far Kisoro, kabale, Ibanda, Luwero, Mpigi and will soon be heading to the northern region ” Noeline says.

Kyusa offers research-based curriculums that develop key professional skills, leadership skill, computer skills, and financial literacy while also improving their self-awareness, self-confidence and self-management. The Kyusa training is an experiential learning program that seeks to equip youth to become job creators, successful entrepreneurs and peer leaders in their communities as well as career fields.Kyusa program activities include business startup training for potential entrepreneurs, business acceleration for small and micro entrepreneurs, employability/ job readiness training for youth seeking to enter formal employment.

Noeline conducting a session at Kyusa. (Photo credit Noeline Kirabo)

Unemployment has been one of the most highlighted challenges for young people in Uganda, a great percentage being uneducated, school drop outs or ‘unemployable’ graduates who lack the skills that many employers capitalize on while hiring.

Support programs are also offered to participants including mentor matching with business icons, exposure filled visits to gather hands on skill, support to attend vocational training, apprenticeship training, apprenticeship placements, business branding and incubation.

“This rich syllabus has seen majority of the Kyusa alumni successfully running small and medium enterprises!” Noeline explains.

Kyusa graduates have started catering businesses, an Events Management Company, social enterprises, a football academy, Poultry farms, commercial farming, beauty shops, hair dressing, tailoring stalls, carpentry workshops, shoe making, craft making, crocheting businesses and electronic repair shops among other ventures. Others have secured formal employment as sales clerks, front desk personnel, teaching assistants, cashiers, administrators, data entrants and others have been informally employed on contract basis. You can follow Kyusa: https://www.facebook.com/Kyusa

‘Many of the impact stories are shared on the Facebook page where you can get to interact with more of the alumni businesses and also to support them so like and follow us.’ says Noeline.

It all started as a dream when Noeline herself was working a full time, well-paying job. She desired to do something that would leave a legacy. Having a background of not being in tertiary education herself, she wanted to offer the same hope to youth who withdrawn themselves from endless possibilities because they considered themselves unemployable because they had dropped out of school.

‘My passion derives from my experience as a former school dropout. I educated myself using online courses. When I got my first job, there was no turning back. At the height of my career, I was challenged to think about the legacy I wanted to build. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my passion was in people developing more so empowering youth to live purposeful and fruitful lives.’ Noeline said.

Noeline is a 2017 YALI Regional Leadership Center Fellow. (Photo courtesy of Noeline Kirabo

Noeline’s desire to learn and grow has landed her many opportunities to sharpen her idea and increase her influence. These include: 2018 Acumen East Africa Fellow | 2018 MIT D Lab Eco system Builders Fellow | 2017 YALI Regional Leadership Center Fellow | 2016 Community Solutions Program fellow | 2015 Cherry Blaire Foundation Mentee | 2014 Hive San Francisco fellow | 2014 Dewey Winburne Community Service Award Honoree | 2013 Kanthari fellow.

The journey has not been all rose and no thorn for Kyusa. Noeline started out with very little funding from friends and family. She had to learn to get the job done with the few available resources which is a valuable lesson up to date. But like they say, ‘Where there is a will, there’s a way!’ Overtime many people have bought into the vision and partnered with Kyusa to get to this point.

Noeline looks up to her mother who made her believe she could be anything she set her heart to. She is inspired by Pastor Moses Mukisa of Worship Harvest ministries who has coached her a lot about vision, people development, leadership and resourcing for the vision.

 

‘I invite you to be part of this mission to restore hope and dignity to vulnerable youth through livelihood. You can give financially to sponsor a youth to attend the training, offer to mentor a youth, offer job and internship placements as well offer your expertise to facilitate trainings or offer motivational talks. You can reach us at: kyusa.uganda@gmail.com or 0777200109’ says Noeline

Kyusa aspires to empower 100,000 youth to become job creators by starting growing businesses in the next ten years as a means to accelerating youth employability first in Uganda then East Africa and Africa.Youth are the leaders of today and tomorrow hence investing in them is the sure way to sustainable development.

Like this story or have something to share? Email us on info@thisisuganda.org or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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This organization is building Sustainable Infrastructure for schools in Uganda

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All We Are has a mission to solarize over 50 schools in Uganda over the next 10 years. According to the organization, this can save money and ensure more young people spend more time in schools. We caught up with Nathan Thomas, the Founder & CEO for a chat.

Let’s start with the name- “All We Are”, Why did you choose that?

I was lucky to, at a very young age, discover that the best version of yourself is the person you truly are. For many of us this journey of fulfilment is one that spans a lifetime. All We Are is the hope that by living a fulfilled life we can take our talents, passions, and all that we are to help others realize their true potential. We believe that “it starts with us.”

What inspired you to start All We Are?

The belief that if you get to a certain point of your life and decide that now is the time to start giving back, you took too much. I was a 16 year high school student living in Findlay, Ohio USA who wanted to do something to change the world. I luckily found several people who believed in me. Eight year later, I lead a platform of over twenty young professionals in America who volunteer their time to our mission, and an incredible team of employees on the ground in Uganda who implement our work.

Let’s now talk about your work. What are your focus areas?

By the end of 2017 we equipped 20 schools in Uganda with electricity through the design and installation of solar power. We are scaling a women’s empowerment project to educate and provide female personal hygiene products that allows girls to remain in school. This year we have also launched a pilot water program to provide access to clean water to these partner schools.

As young change makers, All We Are’s focus is on responsibly building infrastructure for schools in Uganda. We focus on sustainability and putting money into the local economy with an emphasis on stewardship. Every member of our USA team is a volunteer and is personally investing in All We Are’s mission, which enables us to put 100% of public donations to use on the ground in Uganda. We believe that development is only successful when it is fueled locally by the communities. We work with the Rotary Club of Nateete-Kampala to conduct needs assessments for our projects. They are the face of our projects on the ground.

Nathan Thomas the Founder of All We Are during one of the outreaches in schools

And the communities, where do you work in Uganda?

We have worked in KLA and the surrounding area in the past eight years. This year we are pushing into more rural areas where there is no access to Umeme and the existing schools’ infrastructure is much weaker. We will be working in Rakai, Luuka, and Kakumiro to name a few Districts, and hope for further expansion in the near future.

At the end of the day, what are you trying to achieve?

A world in which we all have the right to dream. A world where every child receives an education because it is the young people who are the future of our countries.

What has been All We Are’s impact in Uganda so far?

We have spent the last eight years in Uganda helping build educational program in and around the Kampala area with the hope that we are having a positive impact on the schools we partner with. We have also been able to positively impact the lives of many members of the All We Are family on the ground in Kampala through job creation and by providing them with a means to support their families.

Installation of solar panels at one of the schools

Any particular impact story you can single out?

One of my favorite stories is a spotlight we did on Nambuli Rogers, Headmaster of Mackay Memorial Primary School in Kampala.  We electrified this school in 2016 and also partner with them on our women’s empowerment project. The school’s motto is, “Temudda Nnyuma” and we believe that perfectly describes the work we trying to accomplish.

With development work comes a lot of uncertainty and questioning whether the solutions we are providing are impactful. In February 2017 we were in Kampala and visited Mackay Memorial. I will never forget getting out of the bus and walking up to the HM’s office to be greeted by a big hug from HM Rogers. It is in moments like this that we remember why we do what we do.  Here is a link to the story: allweare.org/2017/06/spotlight-on-nambuli-rogers

Where do you see All We Are 5-7 years from now?

In 2015 we set an ambitious goal of electrifying 50 schools in Uganda by 2025. At the end of 2017, just two years later, we will already have 20 schools in the All We Are family. In five to seven years it is very possible that we will have realized our planned goal of 50 partner schools. As we scale our work, we will expand our women’s empowerment program and clean water initiative. We are committed to a problem not a solution. The problems we address surround  education. As we progress as an organization, and as new technologies and opportunities become a reality, we will continue to innovate and refuse to stop challenging ourselves.

Let’s talk about personal inspiration. Which people inspire you in everything you do?

It is easy to draw inspiration from people who live fearlessly. I draw inspiration from those who fear less. From my parents who moved from the comfort of friends, family, and what was normal in India to America before my brother, sister, and I were born. To members of the All We Are team who are so passionate, and so willing, to go far beyond what society deems “millennial engagement” to be.

If someone wants to get involved in All We Are, how do they get in touch with you?

We are always looking to engage with like-minded individuals who want to be a part of the global conversation on change. Take a look at our website at www.allweare.org and our social media platforms. If what we are doing interests you, send me an email at nathan@allweare.org. Remember that the best way to start is by simply getting started.

Any last words or piece of advice to someone doing a similar initiative like you?

Share stories of success with your networks and ensure that you do so with cultural sensitivity. At All We Are we gravitate towards empowerment versus charity. You will not find images that exploit the dignity of the communities we serve, or “voluntourism” opportunities. Instead you will find a group of young people dedicated to positive change that is tangible. The key to achieving this is patience. Take the time to develop a solid foundation for your work.

Like this story or have something to share? Email us on info@thisisuganda.org or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Unsung Heroes

How Kakoma Is Creating A Generation Of Book Readers Right From The Grass Roots

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Nyana Kakoma is the founder of Sooo Many Stories, a publishing house and online platform which allows Ugandan writers to express their creativity. To date, Sooo Many Stories has published two books: The Headline That Morning and Other Stories by Peter Kagayi and Flame and Song by Philippa Namutebi, along with several other short stories.

The blog she started in 2014 with the support of her husband has now morphed into a publishing house with a dedicated staff of four, and a wealth of Ugandan literal content in short stories, poems and book reviews.

After several years in the journalism and communications industry, Nyana quit her job and dedicated herself to creating this space that would show be home to Ugandan writers and an outlet for so many stories.

Nana leading a tot session. (Photo credit: Sooo Many Stories)

Her inspiration to start the blog was rooted in the fact that not many people knew about Ugandan literature. While an editor for the in-house Magazine and other publications at Madhivani group, she horned her writing skills and got to interact with other people in the African literary space.

“it was during this time that I started travelling for workshops outside Uganda and people were talking about publishers… writers and editors in their countries, but there were not so many from Uganda… I started getting a hunger for a platform that would talk about Ugandan writers.” she says.

When she took the plunge into the publishing world, she attended several trainings and an editorial internship with Modjaji books in Cape town where she learnt from the extra ordinary Colleen Higgs, who still remains one of her biggest influences alongside Ella Alfrey, Jennifer Makumbi and Goretti Kyomuhendo (Founder of African Writers Trust). Through this internship, she learnt the ins and outs of publishing and got the necessary tools and motivation to expand her blog into a publishing for Ugandan literature.

Peter Kagayi, a poet, facilitating a session. (Photo credit: Sooo Many Stories)

“I wanted people to take me seriously, to take the blog seriously… I was doing this for real, not as a part time job. That meant that I  put in a lot. I would do interviews, book reviews and attend all these events. No one was paying me but the sheer joy of doing what I love made it worth it.” Nyana explains.

Sooo Many Stories has taken on the responsibility of cultivating a reading culture in Uganda through book clubs for adults, teenagers and children. The Fireplace: Tot tales  is where children from the ages of 4 to 12 gather to read books. Divided into groups of 4 – 6, 7 – 9 and 10 – 12 years, these books clubs see up to 45 children at every session.

These sessions are held in Ntinda at the Innovation Village and in Bugolobi. Two more chapters will be opened next year in Muyenga and Entebbe. This initiative has gone a long way in nurturing a keen interest in books both for children and adults.

“People throw around the phrase “reading culture is Uganda so bad” but you don’t know how quite terrible it is that is until you try to sell a book, until you try to convince someone to buy a book. It was terrible, we started thinking… So we decided to start book clubs, which are called fireplaces… To boost the reading culture, it has to be done from the grass roots. If we are to promote Ugandan literature, it has to be through a holistic approach by making books available for children to read.” She says.

The team at Sooo Many Stories. (Photo Credit: Sooo Many Stories)

This brilliant concept has had visible transformational effect on the children.

“The book clubs have created an explosion of reading. We’ve seen results… We’ve seen parents say “watch out for my kid he doesn’t talk to anyone” but that kid will be the first one to speak when we ask for volunteers to read. We’ve seen parents tell us that my kid is interested in books now. We are approaching reading from a fun side showing these kids that books are fun. They don’t have to be academic.” Nana explains.

Nyana envisions a time in Uganda when reading will become a thing. For people to stay in doors on weekends just to read without having people ask “Do you have a paper?” With the state of the economy, buying a book may not necessarily be a priority like soap and food but just like food, when you do not read you die too. It may not be a physical death, but lack of knowledge kills.

Like this story or have something to share? Email us on info@thisisuganda.org or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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