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Bricklaying towards a more stable life in Northern Uganda

The ability to succeed in anything we do is determined by many different factors. Opportunity, self-belief and support are three that spring to mind.

I am 18 months into a two-year VSO placement, working on a Youth Development Programme in Northern Uganda. The programme supports the social and economic reintegration of vulnerable young people in the area. It is designed to equip them with vocational and life skills to help them gain a sustainable livelihood.

Volunteer Samantha and bricklaying graduate Brenda in Uganda | VSO VSO/Samantha Hind

Bricklayer Brenda with VSO volunteer Samantha

Earlier this year Brenda, aged 19, graduated from this programme. She was given the opportunity to complete a six-month vocational training course at the Friends of Orphans Vocational Institute in Pader.

She wanted to become a successful bricklayer, a trade which is traditionally seen as being for men only. She would not have completed this course without the support of guidance counsellors at the institute, who helped her overcome the social and emotional barriers she faced.

Supporting the emotional, psychological and social well-being of the young people on the Youth Development Programme has been key to ensuring successful outcomes of our work in Northern Uganda. Guidance counsellors have been working with people affected by the 20-year conflict there, where many people were traumatised by their experiences, including child mothers and people living with HIV and AIDS.

I spoke to Brenda about her life and her experience on the Youth Development Programme:

Describe what life was like before you completed the course?

I lived with my mother and my brothers and sisters, I have no father. We did not have a house; my mother did not know what to do to get a better living.

Did your family support your choice to study bricklaying ?

Only my mother supported my decision. All my other family members did not support my choice to do bricklaying and concrete practice, especially my uncles. They wanted me to be married off instead.

Did this lack of support affect your decision to stay on the course?

I stuck to my decision [to stay on the course] because I saw my friends who were in a similar situation like me and were married off, but things would become tough and they would end up coming back. So for me I chose not to get married first, I wanted to get an education first.

How did the work of the guidance counsellors help you in completing the course?

They helped very, very much. I had not expected it would have helped this much. They talked to me, and gave me lots of advice about how to deal with my situation, all of which I found useful.

How has life changed since completing the course and being at Friends of Orphans?

Life is better now than before – today I don’t have to beg for everything, I don’t have to ask for money.

Work is going on well, with some challenges as work is not consistent and that is sometimes disappointing. Let’s say that I take care of my needs myself. Household items that we lacked, I am buying them.

What do you plan for the future?

Before I do anything else, I want to support my younger sibling to get education and pay his school fees; he is in P6 this year. Also I want to start a shop, so I can make money even when I grow tired and am not able to do bricklaying anymore.

Brenda is now working with her friend Prossy as a successful bricklayer in her local area. Volunteer Samantha made short film about how they are challenging gender stereotypes in Northern Uganda.

Find out more about our work in livelihoods, or how to volunteer with VSO.