I never knew how to save money or protect myself, but now I do

2 October 2017
Matovu Badru Kasozi, 24, who lives in rural Uganda, has learned about sexual and reproductive health and rights, along with business acumen, through the Youth Enterprize Model. © UNFPA ESARO

MUBENDE DISTRICT, Uganda “I was 18 (years old) and there was a lot of peer pressure. You go to clubs and get drunk,” says Matovu Badru Kasozi, 24, who lives in Mubende district in rural Uganda.

He is not alone in facing this challenge. Unemployed young men are at higher risk of alcohol abuse, domestic violence and other risky behaviours.

But in six years, Matovu has come a long way. He sits proudly in a plumbing workshop at a vocational training institution classroom in Mubende, where hundreds of students receive training in tactile job skills.

Thanks to the Youth Enterprise Model (YEM), a United Nations Population Fund-supported outreach project, the vocational training institution also incorporates regular visits from health-care workers, financial institutions and peer educators, who educate and link students to information and services. 

“They taught us about our sexual and reproductive health and about business – I like that part,” says Matovu with a wide grin. “I never knew how to save money, or how to protect myself. I knew myths about condom use – but now I know (better).”

Although Matovu is training to become a plumber, he has created a steady income by hiring and training other employees through his graphic design business. This is thanks to the financial and business planning skills he obtained through YEM. 

“I am able to use my capital to pay my workers and put back into the business,” he says proudly. “You see, I am here studying but business is still moving.”

Matovu has become a peer educator and he uses his personal experience to engage with other young people on issues he can relate to, such as alcohol abuse, condom use and even saving money.

You are taking money from your wallet to get treated [for an STI]. [If] you impregnate someone, you are taking money from the business. You see they are connected – they move together. So we have to be careful.

“I encouraged them not to drink and told them about the dangers,” he says. It was a gradual process that has led to his friends following his example; they too have stopped drinking. 

Other youth approach him at the vocational training college or at his business to ask questions. One young man asked him why his condom was always breaking and Matovu realized he was using it incorrectly. The young man was worried his girlfriend might be pregnant as a result. Matovu taught him to apply the condom properly and referred him to health services for further care and information.

Matovu emphasizes how important it has been to combine both business and health: “You are taking money from your wallet to get treated [for an STI]. [If] you impregnate someone, you are taking money from the business. You see they are connected – they move together. So we have to be careful.”

With sincerity in his eyes and self-confidence in his voice, he says: “You have to know how [to] prepare [for] life; how [to] fight for your life. I have to be safe.”

"If we don’t give them skills, it becomes a vicious cycle"

A beam of sunlight illuminates Jackline Masika, 22, at a work table in a classroom at Mulago Vocational Training Centre. As she inserts colourful strands into her knitting machine a piece of solid fabric emerges from the other side, producing an income-generating product. But the ability to create fabric is not all that she receives at the centre.

Jackline is one of many young people obtaining valuable skills at the centre, including hair dressing and beauty, metal fabrication (welding), catering and hotel management, tailoring and sewing, as well as computer studies. The centre is deliberately located in Mulago, a low-income community in Kampala. Julius Mbiabiazi, the centre's owner and instructor, witnesses some of the everyday challenges his students face.

“There are those [whom] we get from the streets – you find that some of them have already given birth to children. They are vulnerable,” says Julius. “If we don’t give them skills, it becomes a vicious cycle whereby a mother [who] has been vulnerable has given birth to a kid who, in turn, becomes vulnerable.”

Julius has been part of YEM since it began in 2012, participating as one of the first vocational instructors to receive training in the initiative, which integrates sexual and reproductive health into vocational training modules and extra-curricular activities. 

The Youth Enterprise Model is unique because the young people, who may not get the information from me, will get it from peer educators who have been trained by Straight Talk Uganda with the help of UNFPA.

Since his training, he has shared vital information about health and business with many of his students, who may not have otherwise received it, and encouraged them to seek safer sexual health behaviours. For example, he explains that many of the male students are now voluntarily circumcised, to help minimize their risk of HIV infection.

“The Youth Enterprise Model is unique because the young people, who may not get the information from me, will get it from peer educators who have been trained by Straight Talk Uganda with the help of UNFPA.” 

He describes YEM as a wider community support network in which the peer educators revert to him for consultation, clarification or support.

“The people who are responsible for [young people] are us – the instructors and teachers. If we [turn] a deaf ear to these children, they will end up not surviving.”

“If you have money and health, you have everything you want”

If you walk down narrow, winding pathways between brick houses and laundry lines in the heart of Kampala’s Kasubi suburb on a certain day of the week, you may come across five determined young businessmen - Tarouk, Maurice, Robert, John and Peter - holding their weekly executive board meeting. It is here that they discuss the important steps they plan to take to build an empire together. They call it the ‘Love Project’. 

We learned that it is important that we keep ourselves safe so we can achieve what we want in the future.

Ranging in ages between 18 and 20 years old, the young men decided to set up their business after participating in a YEM outreach event, at which they were exposed to critical information on sexual and reproductive health, as well as business management. In partnership with FINCA, a YEM financial institution partner, the boys received valuable financial management advice that helped them define their personal and business goals. 

 

“We learned that it is important that we keep ourselves safe so we can achieve what we want in the future,” Tarouk says.

 

With 40,000 Ugandan Shillings (equivalent to about US$11) as start-up capital, to which all of them contributed, they began a paper bag business that has grown exponentially. The business has not only given them a strong sense of purpose and seen them realising their dreams for the future, but also given them the ability to pay their school fees and finish their studies.

 

They have reinvested money into their newest venture - a poultry business. But nor does their quest end there. They hope to continue expanding their business empire so they can employ other young people in Kampala and hopefully, across Uganda and globally. 

 

“We are growing. It is still small but we hope to have something big,” Tarouk says. 

 

Thanks to the information they have received from YEM, they are aware that to be successful in business, good health - including sexual and reproductive health - is vital. 

 

“You cannot work and you cannot be a successful person without your health,” says Robert. “If you have money and health, you have everything you want – that is our dream.”

 

Merging health and economics: going where no one has gone before

Empowering, educating and employing adolescents and youth is a precondition for harnessing the demographic dividend in Africa, unleashing the power of young people and paving the path to prosperity. UNFPA embodies this through the Youth Enterprise Model, an innovative initiative that integrates sexual and reproductive health with formal and informal business and employment training. For Uganda’s young people, YEM is enabling them with opportunities.

Given the crucial link between health and business, there is an overwhelming need to address sexual and reproductive health issues within business environments. YEM has taken this principle into practice, proving that a combined approach can make a profound impact on the lives of many.

Funded by the David & Lucile Packard Foundation and implemented by UNFPA in partnership with Communication for Development Foundation Uganda, Reproductive Health Uganda and Straight Talk Foundation, YEM aims to ensure young people are not only building employable skills, but are also gaining knowledge and safe decision-making behaviours related to their sexual and reproductive health.

In attempting to merge sexual and reproductive health with business, the Youth Enterprise Model is blazing a new trail. Since 2012, YEM has reached more than 963,000 adolescents and young people, helping to shape better health-seeking and financially responsible behaviours.

- Hassan Sekajoolo, Straight Talk Foundation