Valentino, welcome! My name is Sophie Nicholas and I work with Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum (UYAHF), we are here today to find out a bit more about you, what you do, your projects with UYAHF and why you are so passionate about sexual health rights. Let’s start!
Q1. Please tell us a bit about you, your background and experience in the arts, how did it all start?
Hi Sophie, it’s great to be here and thanks for having me. Where do I start? Well, I am 27 years old, a Ugandan and I am an actor, dancer and creative director. I left school when i was 13 years old, but you know, I was always passionate about the arts. I used to buy a weekly magazine called ‘City Beat’, which covered arts and music.
From that magazine, and watching Nollywood cinema, which tackled real life issues, I was inspired to join the film industry as an actor. I was already looking for acting opportunities through auditions but never got any luck! But I kept on moving and was still inspired to work hard because people would say “you’re good” and that kept me going.
In 2014 i landed my first professional project acting on ‘Don’t Mess with Kamsiime’, who is a famous comedian in Africa. By then I had already started going for salsa social evenings, where I learnt the basic latin dance steps. By the time that project finished in 2015, dance had really ignited in me and I wanted to pursue dance as a career. I wanted to be on stage and already aspired to host my own live shows. By 2016, I was dancing professionally and now dance is my main focus.
Q2. How did you find out about UYAHF? When did you decide to become their cultural icon?
Well, I love the idea of using all forms of arts performance as a voice for people. I made a video on domestic violence and someone, I can’t remember who exactly, recommended me to UYAHF! I was interested and went to the UYAHF office to meet the team. I was really impressed with their work and agreed to do a project with them. It was to create a production, like a skit, about sexual rights. I love how UYAHF involved the youth in their projects.
The youth struggle because of lack of information, skills and a safe place to belong and work their way through life. I saw that UYAHF was equipping youth with information about life skills, sexual rights and health. After that project was completed, some young people came to speak to me and appreciated what we had done together and I felt so inspired by their positive responses.
Q3. Up to now, what projects have you done with UYAHF?
The biggest was definitely the She Decides festival in 2020 in Mbale. It was great – I performed and engaged with the youth and we had a lot of fun. In August I was asked to go to Kyegegwa District at Kyaka II refugee settlement, to train the UYAHF change champions on how to use the performing arts as an expression of voicing out their experiences and challenges around sexual and reproductive health rights. I enjoyed the experience even though it was really emotional. I live in the city most of the time, and yeah, it’s difficult because we don’t know what people go through in refugee camps and hard-to-reach places.
Q4. So what makes you so passionate about both arts and sexual and reproductive health rights?
I am super passionate about wanting life to change for the youth of Uganda, especially around lack of information for them. I feel strongly about this. The idea that they lack self esteem and struggle to express what they stand for, who they are. I feel like dance and theatre can support the youth to find themselves and also bring them information about day to day challenges like sexual health or gender inequality.
Q5. How do you think your talents have been, or could be, effectively utilized by UYAHF?
At ValRich Arts we are involving youth in our work as much as we can. Patrick at UYAHF and I had a discussion about how I can use my voice to create more opportunities for youth. We realized that many young people are passionate about performing arts. They love singing, dancing and drama but this is not an easy sector to get into, especially in Uganda.
The mainstream approach to gender and sexual health sensitization is generally reading and listening, but actually what I observe is that through the use of the performing arts, youth become much more engaged with the information we are wanting them to embrace.
Q6. Why art? Why do you think this is the best way to reach youth and discuss sexual health?
Because performing arts makes learning fun and it attracts large numbers of people. When this is done through peer education, the impact increases. It grows their skills and talent which in turn builds self esteem and confidence in those participating. For me when I was growing up, I wondered if I was enough. But now, through dance, I found a career, grown and developed in confidence and self esteem and this has changed my life positively, and this is what I want to pass on to others.
Thanks so much Valentino!