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This Beauty Queen Is Fighting Stigma Against People Living With HIV

Martha Clara Nakato first found out that she was HIV positive when she was 15 years old.  It happened when her twin brother had asked her to escort him to have an HIV test. Reaching the hospital, she too, decided to take an HIV test- and that’s when it dawned on her that she was HIV positive.

“I was very confused, scared and shocked. In my head, I was asking myself how I was HIV positive yet I was still a virgin.” Martha recalls. “I was scared my dad would kill me but to my dismay, he wasn’t shocked at all but rather bitter and asking what I was looking for at a hospital!” She says.

Her dad had never disclosed to anyone about her status not to even her family, because he was scared she couldn’t live a normal life since she was the only child born with HIV.

From that moment when she discovered she was HIV positive, her life turned upside down. She was no longer the jolly little girl who used to make everyone laugh. She was no longer the young girl who was always playing. She no longer wanted to talk to anyone and she became traumatized.

“I had terrible self stigma, self pity and denial. I always looked at myself in the mirror and saw a walking corpse and thought I would die soon.”  Martha says. “At a certain point, I tried killing myself because I never realized am worth a purpose in life.” She remembers.

Things became worse in her A-level. She had not yet accepted her HIV status and was constantly on suicide watch. Seeing that the boarding school she was attending was not comfortable looking after her due to her condition, she was “politely” expelled from Trinity College Nabbingo and her parents were advised to put her in a day school where she can receive acute care and management.

Martha (left) together with the 2014 Miss Y+ Sharifah Nalugo (middle) being hosted on Urban TV

One day when she was scrolling through Facebook, she landed on post that was advertising for an HIV Beauty Queen and King pageant organized by the Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV.

“My heart froze at that moment. I could not believe that there was a contest for HIV positive young people. I began to stalk the then reigning Miss HIV+ Robinah Babirye and after following her posts, I decided to give it a shot.” Martha recalls.

The young positive (Y+) beauty pageant, is an annual event comprised of young men and women between the ages of 13 – 24 developed to celebrate beauty with Zero Discrimination, and aimed at fighting stigma and discrimination against young people affected and living with HIV and AIDS.

According to the 2016 Uganda Population HIV Impact Assessment Report (UPHIA), the total number of adults and children of all ages living with HIV in Uganda is estimated to be approximately 1.3 million. Uganda registers 230 HIV new infections a day. Despite widely available anti-retroviral therapy, 76 people die of AIDS-related causes every single day.

Botswana, one of the countries in sub-Sahara Africa with the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate was the first to have organized a beauty pageant for HIV positive contestants in 2000. It has since organized over 20 such beauty contests to help reduce the HIV stigma.

After a boot camp and a series of competitions and emerging as Miss Y+ Central region 2016 on 3rd September 2016, she became  the 1st runners up at the grand finale on 24th September 2016 at Golf Course Hotel kololo.

“The night I was crowned Miss Y+ was one of the best days in my life. When I saw how people cheered and applauded each time I walked down the runway, I realized am someone special and worth great things in this world.” She says this with a beaming smile.

Martha has conducted a series of motivation speeches to inspires young people living with HIV

Martha, now 21 and a student at Kyambogo University pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance, has been unstoppable ever since. She has shared her story as a speaker while addressing the statement for the Young people Living with HIV at the National Joint Aids Annual Review Meeting 2016, Panelist consultant during the launch of the Uganda Population-based HIV Impact Assessment Survey, been to all East African Community countries, United Kingdom and South Africa as an HIV/AIDS Champion motivational speaker, she is currently the Secretary for the Youth Advisory Committee for the Uganda Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Alliance, she was elected Chairperson for the Ugandan Chapter for the Pan African Positive Women’s Coalition and she is a peer educator with The Aids Support Organization ( TASO).

“We people living with HIV have to de-stigmatize the community about HIV/AIDS. The struggle against HIV/AIDS will never succeed without addressing stigma. I have personally suffered stigma and I know it can be more lethal than the HIV virus.” Martha states.

Martha who is the 2016 Miss Y+ together with other awarded Y + winners, have been role models and have spear headed among the other champions in the fight against the spread of HIV and the fight against new HIV infections in in Uganda

“Here I am today once a nobody now a somebody, a strong admirable woman, inspiring, an international HIV motivational speaker and above all an advocate for the rights of Young people living and affected by HIV.” She says. “I call upon all Young positives to stand bold, stop hiding and letting HIV control them but rather come participate in this awesome life changing opportunity to realize their potentials and to the people in the communities. Come witness the beauty within Young boys and girls living with HIV.” She concludes.

The 2017 Miss Y+ beauty pageant finale will be held on September 23rd, 2017. (Photo by UNYPA)

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How this woman is empowering youth in slums to turn their passions into sustainable careers

Unemployment remains one of the most highlighted challenges for young people in Uganda today. The 2014 Uganda Census Report indicates that Uganda’s population between the productive age of 14 and 64 is slightly over 18 million. with 58% of this population group unemployed, it means that Uganda’s total non-utilized labour potential is 10.4m as of 2014.

One woman is trying to change this status quo.

Meet Noeline Kirabo, a change agent and the founder and C.E.O of Kyusa Uganda, a non-profit organization that is empowering out of school youth to become employable by starting their own business or get available jobs.

“Our organization focuses on youth 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.” 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 withdraw themselves from endless possibilities because they consider themselves unemployable due to dropping out of school.

The organization has been in existence since 2014 and has grown from its pioneer lot of 10 students to a total of 250 graduates

‘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.’ She says.

Kyusa seeks to eradicate the issue of youth unemployment by accelerating youth employability. The organization has been in existence since 2014 and has grown from its pioneer lot of 10 students to a total of 250 graduates with great testimonies about the impact Kyusa had on their lives.

The initiative offers programs that include business startup trainings for potential entrepreneurs, business acceleration for small and micro entrepreneurs, employability class for youth seeking to enter formal employment.

“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. “ Noeline says.

Kyusa helps youth discover and harness their passions to make them employable in the fast growing entrepreneurial
environment of Uganda

This rich syllabus has seen majority of the Kyusa alumni successfully running small and medium enterprises.

Julius, one of the alumni from Kyusa started a catering business that has grown into a full restaurant operating in Kisenyi. He employs four people and is working with Kyusa to start an apprenticeship program. He also runs an Events Management Company where he offers ushers, public address system and outside catering services and employs 20 youth on part time basis.

Another beneficiary Henry, runs a commercial farm on eight acres of land. He grows fruits and vegetables. Henry employs 15 youth on his farm and he is also working with Kyusa to launch an agribusiness training center for youth on Nakaseke.

Deborah another alumni,  has started a pineapple jam business and is in the process of standardizing the brand so as to sell across the East African market.

Noeline is a 2013 Kanthari fellow, 2014 Hive San Francisco fellow, 2015 Cherry Blaire Foundation Mentee, 2016 Community Solutions Program fellow, 2017 YALI Regional Leadership Center Fellow.

This rich syllabus has seen majority of the Kyusa alumni successfully running small and medium enterprises.

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 is 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 taught her a lot about vision, people development, leadership and resourcing for the vision.

Kyusa ultimate vision is to build a replicable model that will empower 10,000 youth annually across the African continent through the collaborative efforts of partners across Africa.

By Victoria Achom. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter.

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Dishing Out Inspiration: How this Man From Nakasongola Became a Globally Celebrated Chef

Joe Semanda is a 24 year old award-winning chef currently making culinary magic at the Kampala Serena Hotel. He’s the first Ugandan to participate in the international young chef Olympiad, an annual competition, twice, and bringing home the prestigious mentor’s medal for the 3rd International Young Chef Olympiad 2017 for mentoring Ugandan contestant Sandra Agasha.

He picked his love for cooking in 2010 after completing senior four. “I always wanted to be a surgeon but after my senior four, I failed to get school fees to push me to A ‘level. When I was asked what technical course I could do, I chose to do catering and I majored in food production” and thus his journey as a chef begun.

He was inspired by an uncle, Ben Musasizi who worked at a top Hotel in Uganda before moving to the United Arab Emirates as a Chef De Partie. Cooking has always been a part of his life. “I always had my holidays in the village with all my cousins. We were many and my grandmother used to make a cooking time table for all of us. We wanted to impress so we cooked our hearts out”.

Joel (middle) at the International Young Chef Olympiad.

A passionate young man, Semanda delights in cooking and expanding his horizons in the field. “My dream was always to work at the Kampala Serena hotel and when I made it there, it opened doors to a world that I knew less about. I learnt more about food and how it moves souls. I traveled to India and met with great chefs from over 67 countries and we all spoke one language which is “food”

Semanda is humble, intelligent and hungry for success. He has always aspired to be the best chef in Uganda. “Thanks to Jimmy Sekasi Business Institute, I was chosen to represent the school and Uganda at large in the 2nd International young chef Olympiad 2016 as student contestant and went back for the 3rd International Young Chef Olympiad 2017 as a mentor”.

He is currently preparing for the African young chef competitions that will be held in May 2018 in Nigeria, thereafter upgrade his diploma to a culinary degree in an international institution for more exposure.

At 24, Joe is one of the most popular chefs at Kampala Serena Hotel

A visionary, he seeks to promote the food industry and boost the culinary profession, “I am trying to reach out to the ministry of tourism to work with me and we promote this fast growing profession by organizing internal cooking competitions among cooking schools, I personally have missed out on a number of opportunities due to lack of funds but I believe with a helping hand, we will raise our flag way high using our talents.”

Semanda has not always been the young award winning chef at a top Hotel in Uganda. “Making it to where I am today has been a battle after all the hardships of raising school fees… At the moment, the greatest challenge I face is passing up opportunities for growth and exposure due to the lack of funding. I urge the tourism and hotel sector to be open to people like me who want to make a difference in this industry for Uganda and come out to promote and support us”.

He implores all young people not to under estimate any job but to use it as stepping stone to their dreams. “Do not allow pride and social status influence your employment decisions” he says.

Joe’s parents wanted him to become a surgeon but he followed his dreams of being a chef, a decision he’s never regretted making.

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13 Ugandan artists We Met on #DrawingWhileBlack Who Will Inspire You

If you’ve spent any time on Twitter over the last few days, you might have noticed a lot of really cool art from around the world taking over your feed.

Black artists, graphic designers and illustrators from all over the world are introducing themselves and showcasing their art to the timeline and to the world, using the hashtag.

You can thank Annabelle Hayford (@sparklyfawn), a 19-year-old, a gender artist studying animation and illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) for rallying others in their field to share their work.

Some EXTREMELY TALENTED Ugandans across the globe did not sit down. From New York, to London, Kampala and across the globe, Ugandans took to Twitter to also engage in the challenge and boy oh boy, they are proving that Uganda has got talent.

Let’s not talk too much. Here they are. Enjoy!

1. Here’s Solomon W. Jagwe

2. And then JNK

3. Say hello to Franco Mpagi who-wait-for-it uses black ink to create his murals

4. It seems we won’t get enough of Solomon W. Jagwe

5. Enter the super talented Neema Lyer

6. Here comes Andrew Mamawi. He’s not at all affiliated to Game of Thrones

7. Introducing Elise aka Seiishin who does character design and story-boarding in animation

8. Dorothy had to introduce Xenson because a multi-media artist needs some respect!

9. The only ballpaint artist on the hashtag- so far. Say hi to Michael Dungu

10. Everyone stand up for Jonas Rayme. This guy is a gem!

11. Darsan Aine is a super talented chap!

12. EZI (not Mr. Eazi) the vector artist also came through!

13. Daniel the low key chef made a plot twist!

Absolutely amazing art!

If you’re an artist and want to talk to us about your art, we’re eager to say hello! Send us an email on and let’s talk!



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