Hon. Agnes Nandutu, the state minister for Karamoja Affairs, has commended the Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum (UYHAF) for empowering and equipping the region’s young people with health information, peace-building, and life skills through the Karamoja Youth Camp 2021, noting that this will help improve their lives and make them champions of change in their communities.

She made the remarks on Monday, December 6th, while officially closing the Karamoja Youth camp at Moroto High School, which was organized by UYAHF in collaboration with the Moroto District Local Government, UNFPA, and Marie Stopes Uganda.

The camp, the first of its kind in the region, ran from December 2nd to 6th, 2021. It was organized under the theme “Leaving no young person behind, Positioning Young People in the Fight for Gender Equality, SRHR, Life Skills Enhancement, and Peace Building”. The camp brought together 167 young people including young mothers, adolescent girls and boys, and people with disabilities from across the nine districts of the Karamoja sub-region.

The five-day camp aimed at creating a platform to amplify young people’s voices by providing them with information and opportunities to exercise correct knowledge, choice, and to demonstrate confidence and high self-esteem in navigating their day-to-day lives in regards to SRHR issues, gender equality, life skills, and employability, community service, and peacebuilding.

Hon. Nandutu explained that young people in Karamoja, particularly those in rural areas, have long been left behind, especially in health-related programs. She mentioned that the Ugandan government is committed to improving the health of young people and revealed that the Minister of Education and Sports, the Prime Minister, and Vice President recently launched a national campaign to address teenage pregnancy.

“This is actually in line with the recently launched National Campaign to Address Teenage Pregnancy. I am both surprised and impressed that the UYAHF has indirectly started the campaign. This gives me confidence that change is coming to Karamoja through such platforms, ” Nandutu added.

She further announced a new program under her ministry focused on mindset change, disarmament, agriculture, and forced education for all children. In addition, Hon Nandudu also said for each individual who surrenders his gun, the program will exchange a gun for a goat.

She urged the boys to be change agents for gender equality and nonviolent conflict resolution, as well as to mobilize their male peers to abandon cattle raiding and gun violence in favor of alternative income generation opportunities in agriculture, small-scale enterprises, and innovation and creativity industries such as music, dance, and drama, among others.

“As you depart from this camp today, please use the skills, knowledge, and networks you’ve gained here to transform your lives and communities. I specifically urge you, young mothers, to consider returning to school.” She urged.

The minister, through her office, pledged government support to UYAHF in organizing similar youth camps in other districts such as Nakapiripirit, Amudat, and Kotido to cater for the North, South, and East Karamoja.

During the camp, young people were taught about SGBV prevention, management, and response, as well as the increasing demand for, access to, and use of family planning and other essential and fundamental sexual and reproductive health services. Participants also attended sessions on employability, entrepreneurship and skill development, personal branding, engaging men and boys, and positive change agents, among other topics.

In her session, the Moroto District Community Development Officer (DCDO), Mrs. Margie Lolem informed participants about available funding government programs such as Emyoga, Parish Model, and Women’s Fund, among others, and she also demonstrated how to participate in and benefit from these projects.

She encouraged the participants to organize themselves into groups of 20 and apply for the funding. Among other activities during the camp included painting a zebra crossing in Moroto Town, cleaning the Moroto Central Market, a talent show, campfire bull roasting, games and sports, and aerobics.

While opening the camp, Her Excellency Miss. Susan Namondo, the United Nations Resident Coordinator, expressed excitement about the camp, noting that the objectives under which the camp is organized are significant and result-oriented. She called on young people to consistently continue demanding and holding accountable their leaders, duty-bearers, and parents to their roles and commitments.

Patricia Nangiro, a UNFPA representative revealed that teenage pregnancies in Karamoja are at 17.2%, with 21 girls becoming pregnant in the region every day.

“Since the onset of the COVID pandemic, the number of adolescent girls seeking ANC services has gradually increased from 30% in 2019 to 47% in 2020, and now 50% in 2021,” Patricia stated.

The Moroto District Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Mr. Komakech, also lauded UYAHF for being an exemplary youth organization that reaches out to young people at the grass-root level. He pledged the district’s support and cooperation for UYAHF’s activities and operations.

The participants, led by Linda, a She Leads program girl champion, thanked UYAHF for empowering them, particularly on issues such as addressing sexual and gender-based violence, family planning, safe motherhood, and child-parent relationships, among others.

Patrick Mwesigye, Team Leader at UYAHF, thanked Moroto district leadership, CSOs, and other development partners for their support during the camp, noting that UYAHF is not new to Karamoja and will continue to implement innovative adolescent health and wellbeing activities throughout the sub-region.