The young people and district officials in Kalangala district have expressed excitement over the power to youth (PTY) program noting that it has given them optimism for a better community through the youth empowerment approach that the project tends to undertake.

This was during the three days PTY district entry meetings with various stakeholders including Kalangala district officials, religious, cultural leaders, civil society organizations, and the young people to introduce the program to the district and seek their full support, commitment, and engagement during its implementations.

Power To Youth is a five-year program that seeks to address harmful practices and Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) challenges facing adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) like teenage pregnancies, child marriages, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, Female Genital Mutilation, rape to increase their agency, claim their rights, address gender inequalities, challenge gender norms and advocate for youth inclusion in decision-making including budgeting.

A group of young people being led in a focus group discussion by the UYAHF Campaign and Advocacy officer Ms.Nakyegera Norah (2nd left) during the PTY inception meeting in Kalangala recently

The project will be implemented in six Ugandan districts of Bukwo, Kalangala, Busia, Mbale, Isingiro, and Kampala by three partners including Men engage Uganda as lead partner, Uganda youth and adolescent health forum (UYAHF) and EASSI

While giving the opening remarks, during the meeting with district officials, Mr. Senoga Hamidu the deputy chief administrative officer (DCAO) thanked the partners for choosing among many districts Kalanga to implement the project. He said as the district and the community leaders were overwhelmed by the challenges that the program is seeking to address.

“This district is a hotspot for HIV/Aids, many young girls are getting pregnant day in day out, drug abuse and many other challenges, and we have really been overwhelmed despite our efforts,” Senoga said.

He explained that the community itself has not yet come out to take full responsibility for these and many other challenges facing adolescent girls and young women and boys making it hard for law enforcers to factor in and help.

Mr. Senoga further noted that the coming of the program is a good gesture and a boost to their effort considering its objective of empowering the young people who happen to be the victims.

He conclusively implored the youth to embrace this project and fully take part to better their lives and make a better and transformed community.

Mr. Apolo Mugume, the RDC Kalangala welcomed the program and committed to using his office and leadership to fully help in the mobilization of the youth and see to it that this program is not only a success but has created impact even in the aftermath of the five years.

“As the government, we have put in place various programs to help the youth but we still highly welcome and give full support to other bodies that come up with beneficial programs and I want to tell youth that I am happy about this Power To Youth program. It is special in a way that it looks at full engagement and inclusiveness of all stakeholders to solve a common problem facing the youth of Kalangala” he said

He mentioned that among the many challenges the district is facing is the high rate of drug abuse by the young people which he said has been orchestrated by idleness, especially during the lockdown. He conclusively implored the youth to embrace this project and fully take part to better their lives and make a better and transformed community.

Speaking to Namuli Vicky, a senior four student who was present at the meeting, she revealed that most of the challenges faced by them as girls are due to poverty in most families. She explained that many parents are poor and tend to influence their children to do prostitution so that they can get money to help take care of the family.

“The fishermen here are a big problem to us girls, especially during this lockdown that we are not at school, they have money and they use that to lure us to having sex with them and after impregnating you, they leave you and look for another girl,” she revealed.

She also said most of the girls keep quiet when they are raped while others don’t know to report in cases of rape or even deal away with pregnancies that result from rape so they end up carrying the pregnancies at a young age. Vicky is optimistic that the power to youth program will empower them as girls and give them voices, especially on what their rights are.

“During our focus group discussions, we shared our challenges with the facilitators, and what I know is we are going to be helped, we are going to be given voice to talk about our problems and know who and where to report to. This is very good for me and my fellow girls who are silent victims of these challenges we mentioned” she noted.

Another young person who preferred anonymity requested the implementing partners to also engage parents in the program because they are the big decision-makers at home and they can influence their participation.

“I just ask the NGOs to also call and talk to our parents about how they can help us because they are the ones who sometimes make us do wrong things by not helping to guide us and not giving us essential needs like sanitary towels, food, and sometimes education,”

During the district entry meeting, technical working groups were formed, sub-counties in which the program is going to be implemented were identified and the work plan was also prepared.

An MoU between the Kalangala district health officer (D.H.O) and the project partners was also signed to seek collaboration and work closely with the program for its success.

Implementing partners and their roles

Mr. Hassan Sekajooro, the executive director MenengageUgnada, the lead partner in the project said their role in the project is to see that men are fully represented and are brought at the forefront in ending the harmful practices. He says they will ensure that men are supportive of women to ensure development.

Mr. Mwesige Patrick, the team leader of UYAHF said that the organization being youth-led is going to mobilize the young people and ensure their full participation and engagement in the project so that they are empowered and have a voice.

While Sheilah Kawamara Mishambi, the Executive Director EASSI explained that as a women-led organization, they will focus on addressing gender inequality challenges among young girls and women and see how they can amplify their voices in Kalangala through the project.