It is not every day that you have rural youth wanting to be a part of something big. The common scenario is that there would be urban based youth with a cause that primarily affects urban youth. Nixon Ochater and his friends have in Uganda started a youth initiative for the rural youth. Amani Initiative is a non- profit organization that is dedicated to improving livelihoods of youths in rural communities of Uganda through the fight against teenage pregnancy & early marriage. It was started by 14 young people who thought it wise to form a coalition to help tackle the issues that come with teenage pregnancy and early marriage in the rural community. They in their own very little way have created impact by bringing hope and smiles to the rural African child. Ruth Aine Tindyebwa, our online Editor caught up with one of the founders of this initiative and asked a few questions:
Q: What is the inspiration behind starting Amani Initiative?
A: I was born in a small grass thatched hut in Yivu Abea village in Maracha District, when growing up I was like all the kids in the village. Waking up early in the morning to take the animals to graze, sweeping the compound, fetching water, washing my legs and face and using a stick from the branch of the guava tree to brush my teeth, and then having a small snack before running to school in my half torn uniform without shoes. With my friends, we had big dreams for the future and were determined to make it.
My father had the opportunity to beat the odds to join university and with his graduation he got a job in Kampala. At a young age I got a chance to travel to Kampala where I spent most of late childhood and teenage life. At 19,I decided to go back to Yivu Abea village to check on my friends. In the village I learnt that most of the dreams we had shared had all vanished, most of my friends where married with more than two children and the situation was even worse for the girls.
This situation inspired me to come up with a solution that will provide the children in Yivu Abea and other villages with an opportunity to achieve their dreams for the future. 2 years after my visit, I mobilized my friends with the same passion to start up Amani Initiative with a key focus of improving livelihoods of youths in rural communities of Uganda through the fight against teenage pregnancy & early marriage.
Q: It’s rare that a group of young people take up such a big mandate as Child Protection. How is that going? Any milestones in that regard?
A: “Elimination of harmful practices against children is our collective responsibility.” This was our 2013 theme for Child Protection. It’s been an exciting experience for the team in charge; we have been able to directly work with the community leaders, child protection officers at the local police stations, parents, community members and also inspired many young people to take it upon themselves to protect themselves and their friends from harm.
It has been a challenging journey despite the milestones. To mitigate the challenges, we adopted a model which enables us to work with all the existing community structures that support child protection. This has made the community realize that we are serious and determined to protect ourselves and the children in the community.
Q: Sexual & Reproductive health is very important message especially to the youth, what are your main talking points about it? What is your main message?
A: Our sexual & reproductive health program aims to empower the youths to make positive decisions about sex and marriage hence influencing behavioral change. This has been through our 1 year , “Our Time Is Yet To Come” school program. The program empowers a group of beneficiaries in a partner school under 10 participatory, fun, and inspiring topics about sex, marriage, rights, communication, decision making etc. Our key message is that, “there is the right time for everything.”
Q: I see from your address that you are based upcountry and not in the capital city like most of the initiatives. Why upcountry?
A: Amani Initiative was started with a focus on upcountry communities after realizing that the impact of our cause was more in such communities. Most of work is community based so we thought it would be cost effective if we established an upcountry address. We have a small coordination office in Kampala with a small team specializing in administration, programs development, proposal writing and developing strategic national & international partnerships.
Q: What are some of the biggest campaigns you have worked on?
A: Since we officially started our activities in 2012, we have worked on 3 big campaigns;
Our Time Is Yet To Come program
This is an annual campaign that sees more than 800 youths in Maracha District taking part in activities that will empower them make positive decisions about sex and marriage. This campaign is carried out basing on an exponential empowerment model whereby through mentoring one child we attach him or her to a group of 10 youths in his/her community.
Hear Us Out voices that speak for thousands ( VOICES AGAINST DEFILEMENT) Campaign
For a period of 90 days, we engaged more than 2700 people from 7 districts of Uganda to talk about the pertinent issue of defilement in Uganda. Activities under the campaign involved sensitizing school children, street children, communities and parents about defilement and the laws against the vice. We used spoken poetry and music in order to make our cause reach out. The campaign was aimed at coming up with a study to why the rates of defilement continue to increase despite the stringent laws against the vice. The report is available on our website and the findings were presented to the various stakeholders.
19 Days of Activism-Prevention of Violence & Abuse Against Children
Between 1-19th November, we join the World Women Summit Foundation and other 240 organizations around the world for the 19 Days of Activism dedicated to the prevention of violence & abuse against children and youths.
Our 2013 campaign was carried out with the theme, “Prevention of Child Trafficking, Child Pornography & Child Prostitution”. The campaign was in line with our 2013 objective for child protection; “Eliminating Harmful practices against children, our collective responsibility” Within the 19 Days we engaged 600 individuals including high ranking government officials, musicians, Miss Uganda, house girls, mechanics , teachers, parents etc to directly sign under our Prevention of violence petition and then take responsibility for the petition. The campaign was closed with an outreach with the street children from Kisenyi.
Q: Major lessons learned?
In life you have to use what you have to get what you want. Many times we look very far for solutions to our problems yet the best solution is within us.
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