In August last year, 122 new young people joined vocational training at the Patongo Youth Centre we support in Uganda! In Patongo, Northern Uganda, poverty is endemic. Young people have little to no means of improving their prospects. 86% of those in rural areas rely on subsistence farming, but this has been disrupted by decades of conflict, poor infrastructure and climate change.
We support our partner Passion for Community to run the Youth Centre, which offers vocational training courses for out-of-school young people aged 14-24. These marginalised children and young people are isolated from society, often living in extreme poverty and at risk of coming into conflict with the law. Often forced to commit petty crimes just to survive, such as stealing food or health supplies, they may face harsh prison sentences.
For young people like Betty, the Youth Centre is a lifeline
After her dad passed away, Betty had to leave school as her mum could no longer afford the fees. Life became very hard for them, and at 16 Betty’s future was at risk. Children out of school are more likely to face child marriage and Betty found men, who knew she was no longer in school, starting to harass her.
But in August last year, Grace visited their home. Grace works with Passion for Community, and told them about the courses available at the Youth Centre. Betty saw an opportunity to get back into education, and signed up for the hairdressing course. However, her mum was sceptical.
“My mum at first accepted me going to school then later refused. Through the Centre, one of the district officials sent a letter to my Mum requesting she attend a meeting where she was given more information about the course. She gave her approval for me to start.” She told us.
In November, Betty got her first customers!
‘’I have got a customer this weekend. My mum is now very happy that I have started giving her some money. She now encourages me as she sees the course as key to a better future. I now want to start helping my home people, myself and my family to get a better future. I am also planning to start buying some braids and practice at a roadside station near our home so I can access more customers.”
I have my friends from school who I will also encourage to start courses at the Centre. I’m grateful to Grace, our teacher and the Youth Centre for supporting us.’’
29 other students joined Betty on the hairdressing course, but there are a range of other opportunities available to young people at the centre. Some have been learning tailoring, some have been taking ICT classes and other have been making liquid soap and detergents. Facemasks and soap made at the centre mean the community and schools can access them at affordable prices, and print media from the ICT group have helped to raise awareness and spread credible information on the latest COVID-19 news and guidelines.
Challenging gender stereotypes
Passion for Community told us how they got the young people to think about their course choices, and whether they were making them just based on gender norms.
“We organised a career guidance session which created the opportunity for students and mentors to share their honest thoughts to decide on which course they would take. Discussions during these sessions also flagged wider issues such as gender biases around the selection of courses, with some students being reluctant to pursue a certain discipline because they believed it was gender specific.
By speaking through the issues, the sessions helped to break down social norms, biases and stereotypes and empowered students to make their own choices on the courses and career path based on their interests.”
Because of you, hundreds of young people have the chance to learn a skill, earn an income and access a brighter future. Together we’ll continue to reach those who need it most and empower them to escape poverty.