Hellen Namara smiles and laughs often in the course of a conversation. The charming 24-year-old is a generally jovial character. Yet the additional delight that she exudes while spreading out her arms and welcoming this visitor to her modest tailoring shop on the outskirts of Fort Portal town in Kabarole district is difficult to miss.
“With this place, I can’t fail to eat,” she declares. “Even if I come here from home when I don’t have 100 Shillings, someone just comes [with a tailoring assignment] and gives 2,000 or 5,000, at the end of the day you have something with which to buy food. So, it’s not like that time when we used to depend on our parents for everything.”
When Namara was totally dependent on her parents, she says she became restless after completing her ordinary level studies in 2015 but stayed home longer than she expected without returning to school.
“I finished my senior four and my Dad promised to give me money to go further but then I kept on waiting until I felt I needed to do something for myself. I couldn’t wait for him any longer,” she says.
In 2017, a friend suggested to Namara that she should learn some skills from a youth development centre in Fort Portal, which offers vocational training to those who are unable to continue with their formal education and express a need to develop other income-generating skills.
GERMAN NGO SUPPORT
The Youth Development Centre named Amaani Rwenzori! (AR!) is a collaborative project of an NGO named Youth Encouragement Services (YES), together with Deutsche Welthungerhilfe, a German non-profit organisation working in development cooperation and emergency aid.
According to Benjamin Kennedy, the Project Manager for Amaani Rwenzori!, the AR! project is a result of a long-standing collaboration between YES and Welthungerhilfe that started in 2011. That collaboration has involved several project components including, from December 2016, Amaani Rwenzori which focuses on skills development among the youth.
“The Amaani Rwenzori project was born out of a need to empower vulnerable unskilled youth in Kabarole such as young mothers, orphans, and those who are not in school or in employment and cannot therefore afford to pay for the training using their own or their families’ meagre resources,” he explained.
The training involves 13 vocations and is conducted through in-house sessions at the centre’s three workshops and placements at any of the 30 micro, small and medium enterprises around Fort Portal that collaborate with the project to offer work-based non-formal vocational training.
FOCUS ON TRAINING
Vocations for which Amaani Rwenzori offers training include plumbing, car and motorcycle mechanics, pottery, carpentry, welding, tailoring, electrical installation, building construction, hair dressing, knitting, cookery, and mobile phone repair.
The six-to-eight-month vocational apprenticeship programme majorly targets youth aged 16-24, and includes Life Skills and Entrepreneurship classes at the centre.
According to Irene Linda Mugisa, a life-skills trainer at the centre, the classes focus on decision-making, communication, understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses, collaboration, self-management, sexual and reproductive health, nutrition and first aid.
“Most of these youth come from rural areas so if you do not equip them with life skills, they are likely to get derailed from their main objective when they get to a town like Fort Portal,” she said. “We want them to be able to defend themselves, protect themselves and to work hard to achieve the goal that has brought them for this training.”
On completion of the entire training programme, each of the apprentices is assessed and accredited with a certificate that is recognized by the government of Uganda and known as the Worker’s PAS under the Uganda Vocational Qualification Framework. The Worker’s PAS is unique in that it recognizes non-formal technical education through the Directorate of Industrial Training (DIT) in the Ministry of Education and Sports. In practical tests, AR trainees demonstrate their technical skills they have learned and are assessed by experienced DIT assessors. The formal recognition of their skills proves the success of the training and strengthens the position of the youth on the labour market. Welthungerhilfe applies the Worker'sPAS system not only in AR! In Fort Portal but in its skills development projects across the country.
Every eight months, at least 85 youth complete the training cycle at Amaani Rwenzori!. The two collaboration projects between Welthungerhilfe and YES have since successfully supported 320 youth from economically constrained backgrounds.
When apprentices complete their training, most get employed in the local private sector while others are offered support to begin their own micro start-up enterprises, as well as post-training support such as mentorship, networking and exposure visits. Many are also members of Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) hosted at the project premises.
One of the more remarkable post-training support stories is that of Moses Kugonza, who was offered Shs3 million to establish a motor-cycle repair workshop after his training. Within months, however, Kugonza suffered a life-threatening motor-cycle accident and had to abandon his workshop for nearly 12 months to focus on his recovery.
When Amaani Rwenzori officials learnt of the accident, in which Kugonza sustained fractures on his right arm and leg, they offered to support his rehabilitation, including through availing the organization’s official vehicle to the 25-year-old whenever there was a need to transport him to hospital for his regular physiotherapy sessions.
“I am what I am because of Amaani Rwenzori !,” says Kugonza at his workshop. “Without them, I would not have got the training that I received, I would not have started this business and I would not have recovered very well from the accident. It has not been easy but Amaani Rwenzori has helped me a lot.”
At the centre, there is a coffee shop where the beautiful ceramic pieces and mostly kitenge (East African cotton fabric with prints) fashion items made in the pottery workshop and the fashion studio at the AR compound are displayed for sale to visitors.
Kennedy says that in addition, the skilling component of the project, the coffee shop, fashion studio, pottery unit and beauty garage (salon) on the campus are part of the second component of the project, which seeks to promote social business.
The centre also sells its items at festivals across the country such as the recently concluded Nyege Nyege festival in the eastern Ugandan town of Jinja, which has become an East African tourism hotspot.
“We also fuse the training with a microcredit scheme called VSLA (Village Savings and Loans Association), through which the youth come together to save money and they can borrow from this pool,” he explained.
The current support from Welthungerhilfe to YES/AR is set to end in April 2020, there are chances that the cooperation and the funding will continue, Kennedy says they are relentlessly developing the social business side of the centre to contribute to the sustainability of AR!.
“The intention is that alongside the donations from institutions and private persons and the contribution of the youth, the income from the social business is one of the income streams intended to sustain the centre,” he concludes.
by Benon Herbert Oluka