In Uganda, UNICEF and partners invest in young people
By Jeremy Green
KABAROLE DISTRICT, Western Uganda, 12 August 2011 - In an outdoor market in Kabarole District, western Uganda, Veronica Nabagasela carefully sorts her produce of the day: fresh purple-colored onions, which spill out of their cloth sacks. She arranges them for customers, some of whom share a few words about the weather before moving on.
At 20 years old, Veronica is already a business owner, as well as a mother and head of her household. Her produce business does well, and she’s able to make a comfortable living that pays for food, good clothes, school fees and medicine for her children.
“I used to look after the family with only a small amount of money,” Veronica said.
Since securing a microfinance loan from the development organization BRAC, however, her life has changed decidedly for the better. Veronica’s business took off after her first loan, and now she’s expanding it even further with a second BRAC loan of nearly USD $200.
BRAC with its partner the MasterCard Foundation provides microfinance loans to young women like Veronica so they may realise their potential and establish their own businesses. BRAC has been working in Uganda since 2006, providing access to finance and livelihood development support, and has programmes in other critical areas like health, education, and agriculture.
Investing in young people
August 12th is International Youth Day, and this year’s theme is “Change Our World” - an inspiring call to young people to bring their energy, ideas and courage to the complex challenges facing them and the world.
“Failing to invest in our youth is a false economy,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in a message for International Youth Day 2011. “Investments in young people will pay great dividends in a better future for all.”
Investing in young people is especially important in Uganda, a country where more than half of the population is under the age of 18.
UNICEF-supported Youth Clubs
Not far from the market where Veronica sells her produce, a group of girls dance and sing in their club quarters. The heat of the day has disappeared, and after their dance, as if on cue, a torrential downpour crashes over the tin roof. The girls laugh at the perfect timing of the rain – then sit on mats arranged on the floor, read a bit, and chat about life.
“We girls come to the club to learn a lot of things,” said Immaculate Karungi, 17. Like playing games and sports, and learning about life issues – for example, how to stay safe, and avoid early marriage or rape.
UNICEF partners with BRAC in establishing such youth centres, or clubs. In these safe environments, adolescents, especially girls, can come together to learn, build friendships, and play. Some youth centres in Uganda provide girls and boys with the skills to build sustainable livelihoods – such as learning how to use a computer or how to be a successful poultry farmer.
By bringing together economic opportunity, increased access to information, and the development of livelihoods, UNICEF and partners like BRAC are ensuring young people are able to shape their own futures – and change our world.