Uganda is one of the most youthful countries in the world with over 82 percent of the population aged below 35 years and a vast majority of them are unemployed and yet they [the youth] are a big and essential component in the country’s growth and development. This is a strategic economic advantage for the country. But for that advantage to be realized, the youth must have access to dignified work opportunities.
It is estimated, Uganda needs to create at least 2.5 million work opportunities over the next five years. For more than one reason, it is why company’s such as MTN Uganda are coming out to skill the youth so they can be in a position to start up their own businesses and employ other fellow youths. The telco has a youth skilling program dubbed ‘Youth Empowerment Program’ (YEP) is an initiative that invests in youth enabling them not only to contribute positively to the growth and development of the country but to also enable them to create employment opportunities.
Hundreds of youth are benefitting or have benefitted from this program. One of them is 27-year old Harunah Damba who lost his sense of hearing at the age of 22. Corridor talk from the Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) fraternity illuminated Damba to the discrimination that would befall him in the employment market, therefore he decided to become an entrepreneur and be his own boss and the MTN youth skilling program is helping him.
“I didn’t know any bit of sign language, neither did my parents nor my relatives. I used to live in seclusion because it was difficult, almost impossible for me to engage in any conversation. While in such a situation, I could see that most of my friends with similar impairment had a lot on their minds, asking questions like; would we ever get a decent living and or good employment?” Damba recounts.
“I knew the future was going to be hard without any form of self-employment,” he says. It was at that moment that Damba made the decision to become an entrepreneur.
With the help of his dad, Damba has made strides in his ambitions. He owns a farm, sugarcane plantation, and a poultry house of both local and exotic birds. In addition, Damba has also leased land for a brickmaking project.
Damba says he earns enough from his businesses to meet his needs.
It was in his efforts to expand his business and hone his skills in digital technology and youth social entrepreneurship that Damba landed on the MTN youth skilling program which he has since learned extensively from.
“I am greatly enthralled to discover how ICT and entrepreneurship are bridging the rampant unemployment gap, and making PWDs resourceful and valuable. I commend the approach being used to train the next generation of young leaders which involves a paid training to acquire an internationally recognized International Certificate of digital literacy with cutting-edge modules tailored to our problems, business training, networking, and mentorship,” he says.
Bearing Haruna’s hearing impairment in mind, the MTN youth skilling program which was conducted online, ensured Damba was included through utilizing zoom online services which carried captions for interpretation.
“The zoom app has inclusive features like automatic captioning and a chat window. So I utilized them to always ask whenever I had not understood the concept and they were indeed mindful of the fact that the program includes people like me,” he explains.
Damba adds that he sees this opportunity —as an optimal catalyst to launch a career in ICT and youth social entrepreneurship to the level where he can create economic and employment opportunities for not only himself but also a wider range of youth as well.
In spite of his success, it has not been a rosy journey for the Damba as his hearing impairment has cost him friends and shone upon him a judgmental light in society.
He explains that “Most of my friends do not know sign language and many could not spare time to write while communicating to me. Many of them felt offended when I retorted because of my disability that I couldn’t hear them.” Furthermore, Damba says, “Many people have the false perception against us, the disabled. They see our disability more than our abilities. They are quick to judge what I can and can’t do because of my disability, yet I am more than what they perceive me to be.”
Shaking off the grim, Damba believes the future is bright.
Damba is a beacon amongst the PWD fraternity in Bweyogerere where he is the chairperson-elect of PWDs at the parish and founder of United Persons with Disabilities (UPWDs), a disabled peoples’ organization in Bweyogerere parish.
Damba notes that UPWDs have transformed into a social impact body tackling youth unemployment and increasing empowerment.
“We are still in the budding stage and using our own resources to set an example of what we really committed to. Currently, we are running two projects for the benefit of PWDs; and this includes; bead making and poultry-keeping, and we are devising means of investing in mushroom growing,” he reveals.
He is certain that he is now an asset to drive his association; UPWDs, from a grass root level to an internationally recognized institution, having attained knowledge and skills in resource mobilization, business setup, and management along with soft skills: networking, collaboration, presentation among others.
In five years, Harunah Damba envisions himself as a successful entrepreneur.