Igniting change: youth empowerment stories from Uganda’s West Nile

This story captures the inspirational journeys of four resilient individuals—Alaru, Zainabu, James, and Christine— showcasing the remarkable impact of the SUPREME project on their lives.

In the bustling landscapes of Uganda’s West Nile region and a rapidly growing national population with approximately one million young people entering the job market annually, the challenge of youth unemployment looms large, with a rate at a staggering 30%. The region also grapples with an influx of refugees, who struggle with unemployment, and face limitations due to several factors, such as marginalisation, limited access to education and labour market integration.

To address the challenge of youth unemployment and the pressing need for skills development in the West Nile region, it is crucial to provide comprehensive skills development support through initiatives and programs that focus on vocational and entrepreneurship training and access to financial resources for starting businesses.

The Security, Protection, and Economic Empowerment (SUPREME) programme, collaboratively initiated by SNV, World Vision, ZOA, and RICE-West Nile, is designed with a bold objective: to pave avenues of employment and economic empowerment for the youth, especially those within the refugee and host communities across the West Nile districts of Moyo, Obongi, Terego, and Madi Okollo. The four-year transformative European Union-funded programme is implemented with a vision to impact the lives of 25,000 individuals directly and an additional 112,500 household members indirectly.

This story captures the inspirational journeys of four resilient individuals—Alaru, Zainabu, James, and Christine— showcasing the remarkable impact of SUPREME on their lives.

Alaru’s triumph in poultry entrepreneurship

Poultry farming plays a significant role in Uganda’s food security and the socioeconomic empowerment of households. Between 2013 and 2017, Uganda has registered a 9.6% increase in poultry populations. However, there are still challenges, such as prevalent diseases and antimicrobial usage, that can hinder productivity.

Sunday Alaru’s life in Moyo district transformed through the SUPREME programme. Engaged in various ventures without much success, Alaru’s turning point came when he delved into poultry entrepreneurship.

‘I had tried everything... It was disappointing, especially since most chicks would die because they were not vaccinated,’ shared Alaru, recalling his initial challenges. The SUPREME programme’s training changed this. Alaru learned about poultry management, feeding, hygiene, and disease prevention, which are all critical for his venture's success.

‘I liked poultry because it can be done from home, and you will gain profit in a few months,’ the 22-year-old explained.

With this newfound knowledge, Alaru secured a loan to invest in his poultry business. He bought 100 chicks, nurtured them, and the profits allowed him to expand his coop. Now, he not only provides for his family but also plans to increase his poultry venture substantially.

‘I am happy because I can now support my family and grow my business,’ Alaru smiles, envisioning a future where he mentors other youths, guiding them towards successful poultry farming with the skills he acquired from SUPREME.

Zainabu’s resilience: building a future brick by brick

The West Nile region’s soaring unemployment rates are further complicated by the steady influx of refugees, primarily from South Sudan and the DRC. With refugees numbering approximately 1.53 million in Ugandan settlements, a significant 81% of this population comprises women and children, with the majority residing in urban areas. These refugee women navigate a maze of challenges: restricted access to land and markets, limited opportunities for vocational and entrepreneurial training, and constrained access to credit. Such obstacles collectively impede their ability to generate adequate income, which is crucial for sustaining their households.

To empower refugees, the SUPREME programme has extended its skills training reach to 770 refugees, half of them young women, out of a targeted 2,000 people. Among them is Zainabu Naduku, a 25-year-old single parent and refugee who fled South Sudan in 2017 to the Moyo district of the West Nile region.

Zainabu transformed her life from surviving on meagre earnings and grappling with domestic violence to becoming a skilled mason, all thanks to the SUPREME skills training programme. She not only earns a stable income now but dreams of inspiring other girls in Sudan to pursue empowering careers and challenge gender norms.

Zainabu reflects, ‘Life has hardships, but we must learn to overcome them. The SUPREME programme equipped me with skills and helped me let go of painful memories, planning for a brighter future instead.’ The young woman mastered the essential tools and techniques after a rigorous three-month brick-laying and concrete practice course at the Moyo Community Polytechnic School.

Zainabu’s skills training, equipped with her perseverance, culminated in her successful entry into the male-dominated masonry field. She now earns over UGX390,000 (€32) per month, surpassing Uganda's average monthly income for low-skilled labour. Her newfound stability allows her to support her son’s education and rent, and to dream about exporting her skills back to Sudan to inspire other girls to challenge gender norms and pursue empowering careers.

James’s horticulture revolution: boosting vegetable yields

Horticulture farming in Uganda faces production, skills, and knowledge gaps challenges. The lack of access to knowledge, information and training opportunities limits farmers’ ability, especially youth, to engage in horticulture.

James Bida Peter, residing at the Imvepi refugee settlement in the Terego district, initially struggled with low vegetable yields due to a lack of farming knowledge. ‘We used to eat all the produce because it wasn’t enough to sell,’ he said, recalling the days before joining the SUPREME youth skilling programme.

The pivotal training at Adraa Agriculture College under SUPREME armed the 26-year-old with crucial skills in pest control, disease prevention, and fertiliser application, leading to a noticeable increase in his crop yields. This knowledge not only transformed his own farming practice but also turned him into a valuable resource within his community.

Now, with improved yields and the ability to share his expertise with fellow community members, James exemplifies the transformative and rippling effect of the SUPREME programme’s investment in individual knowledge and skills.

Christine’s fashion dream: stitching success with skills

Uganda has long grappled with the limited inclusion of women in employment. Young women, specifically those aged 15 to 29, face the brunt of challenges such as elevated unemployment rates, unequal wages, heightened employment vulnerability, and difficulty transitioning from education to careers.

The challenge of unemployment thus perpetuates the significant gender gap in the job market, where among every five unemployed individuals in Uganda, three are women. This disparity is especially pronounced among young women, with an alarming unemployment rate of 20.4%.

In the Moyo district, a stronghold of northern Uganda’s host communities, 22-year-old Amadrio Christine’s aspiration for a career in fashion was met with the challenge of acquiring the necessary skills.

For her, SUPREME was a gateway to her fashion career dream. Through the programme, she transformed from a shy individual to a confident entrepreneur, ready to establish her tailoring shop and inspire others with her success story.

‘My life was transformed after the life skills training. Now I know how to speak to many people to market my business,’ she recalls.

Complementing her creative expertise with entrepreneurial acumen, the programme equipped her with skills for launching her own tailoring business. Today, Christine’s trajectory is one of promise as she saves for establishing her own tailoring shop within three years.

Dignified youth employment: the road forward

SNV is steadfast in its commitment to fostering productive employment and decent work for youth, with a special emphasis on supporting women in refugee host communities. Through the dynamic SUPREME programme, over 2,000 youths have already experienced empowerment and transformation. This initiative, underpinned by strategic collaborations with over 194 private sector actors in the region, has successfully facilitated community-based training, easing transitions into gainful employment with a 44% job creation rate for trained youth noted midway through its implementation.

The private sector partnerships have facilitated community-based training and eased the youths’ transition into employment through internship linkages and retention. As a result, the programme has achieved over 44% job creation for trained youth midway through implementation. The community-based training approach has yielded higher attendance rates and reduced dropouts than centralised training models that focus on business, technical and vocational education, and training institutions. Pregnant and lactating women and people with disabilities have notably shown heightened participation.

SUPREME’s innovative approach also includes the formation of over 1,000 Saving and Development Clusters in the communities, promoting sustainable growth and economic resilience among the youth. The clusters serve as platforms for savings and access to developmental grants and provide crucial support for small income-generating ventures, empowering the youth to tap into opportunities presented by government initiatives and low-interest loans from partner financial institutions.

The SUPREME programme is a testament to the potential locked within Uganda’s youth, particularly its young women. The programme propels youth towards self-sufficiency through strategic partnerships, skills development, and entrepreneurial mentorship and augments the nation’s economic landscape. The stories of empowerment and success highlighted above are but a glimpse into the transformative impact and promise held by SNV for the youth of Uganda.

Written by Daniel Odyang, Youth Skilling Advisor, SNV in Uganda

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