Boosting youth employment and income in Northern Uganda
Northern Uganda has long struggled with development following years of conflict. Many children and young people were displaced during the fighting and their education suffered. Today, around eight in every ten young people in Uganda are unemployed.
VSO volunteers are supporting young people here to access education and training in employment and agriculture, to boost their income. We are also working with them to create farming co-operatives.
The groups supported by this project have on average almost doubled their collective savings, and boosted their membership and livestock levels. Over a two-year period, more than 8/10 remained functional: evidence that the VSO approach is sustainable.
"We learned how to get something by working hard, not just sitting and waiting": Christine's story
Christine Atoo, 27, is one of the young farmers benefiting from the project. Her family were forced to flee their property during the war.
She missed out on finishing her education, and grew up illiterate. When it was finally safe to return to the fields in 2008, the community was forced to start from scratch:
"We couldn’t afford to take care of our basic needs. We didn’t even have a mattress to sleep on. We didn’t have clean water; we used to collect it from a small stream so there were a lot of stomach pains and diarrhoea in our family. When someone was sick we couldn’t afford treatment.
"We would only farm small amounts of food for consumption. I used to dig my land using my hands alone.
Things changed for Christine after she became involved in a VSO youth employment project. She received agricultural training and education:
"Learning about agronomic practices and literacy sessions have helped me the most. The insurgency here actually stopped me from going to school so I didn’t even know how to write my name. Now I can write and read, and sometimes write a whole letter.
"I’ve been trained in how to space my crops out and identify diseases. I know which chemicals to use to stop disease from spreading – it’s amazing. It’s improved my yield dramatically. I used to only get eight bags of crops but now I get 15!"
Now Christine's family of six are all supported by their land. They have two acres of maize and another acre of cassava. They have a pair of oxen and are planning to buy a cow soon.
"VSO is different to other organisations. It didn’t just give us oxen or money. They taught us on how to sustain our existing enterprises. We learned how to get something by working hard, not just sitting and waiting. When other organisations go away, groups like this die. But this is something that we have ownership of," she says.
"When people can stand on their own two feet, you can tell you have made a difference": VSO volunteer Sheila's story
Sheila Rushforth volunteered on VSO's youth employment project in Gulu from 2013 to 2015. She used her skills and unique position as a volunteer to support VSO's local partners to provide business planning, financial literacy and technical skills training.
In doing so, she helped encourage the agricultural community to form profitable farming co-operatives:
"When I took early retirement five years ago, I thought my skills might still be useful. I applied to VSO because the post was about contributing skills and long-term development.
"We focused on building sustainable livelihoods with young people in northern Uganda. It began with ‘business start-up kits’, like oxen or pigs.
"It then continued with teaching the building blocks of good business development, like technical training on topics such as crop management, financial literacy or running village savings and loans schemes. The point was to empower farmers economically with the right skills so that they could advance together.
Sharing skills and forging partnerships
"My work involved advising on the direction and design of the project, building the project management skills of the local staff and local volunteers so that they could implement and monitor the project more effectively, and going out into the field to support local staff and volunteers in delivering training or addressing issues of concern with the farmer groups.
"I also played a key role in building relationships with local government in the sub-counties where we worked, because long after NGOs leave, those are the people who remain and will continue development work.
"There were a lot of successes by the end my placement. Farmer groups were stronger, and had improved their businesses as groups and individuals.
"That meant an increase in land cultivated, animals owned and levels of savings. Individuals and groups had diversified their enterprises, so were more resilient to weather changes or market prices, and found ways to get a better price in the market for their crops.
"Nearly half the groups had already joined larger farming co-operatives, or were working together to create new co-operatives, which would give them better bargaining power with major buyers.
"When people can stand on their own two feet, then you can tell you have made a difference."