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October 2010: A Work in Progress
I will always remember this year 2010 as a year of big strides! I was able to take the first step toward formally living my dream of founding a non-governmental organization for Ugandan teenagers!
Throughout my work experience, I have always loved young people and indeed spent seven years working at an adolescent health communications non-governmental organization called Straight Talk Foundation. While there, I had an opportunity to do consultancies to establish youth initiatives in Liberia, Kenya and India.
I did a lot of communication related programs in these places and it was great! However, one thing kept bothering me. Despite the efforts of many adolescent development organizations in Uganda, many young people continue dropping out of school due to early pregnancy, forced marriage, abusing drugs, infection with HIV/AIDS, indulging in antisocial behavior – all of which continue to impact them negatively the rest of their lives! It’s been two and half years since I left adolescent related work but I have never stopped caring about the plight of teens. I keep wondering what we are not doing right! I know there are no definite answers to this scenario. But I also know as programmers with passion in this area, we can revisit our strategies, avoid duplication and involve the young people in the design of the programs to make them more meaningful and impactful.
It’s against this background that the idea of establishing Teen Empowerment Uganda (TEU) was conceived. TEU was borne out of the need to design tailored programs that empower and positively influence teenagers’ character to deal with life challenges, without losing focus of their dreams. The ignition to make this dream come true was a result of the coaching sessions I had with Izumi Yamamoto, a wonderful lady I met during the iLEAP Fellowship program I attended in Seattle, USA in 2009.
When I returned home to Uganda in July the same year, the first few months were tough. I had many ideas and plans but unfortunately, it was quite hard to get all of them implemented due to circumstances and processes on the ground. This was, and still is, frustrating sometimes. However, I’m grateful to Britt Yamamoto and Elinor Alexander (a great lady I connected with through Barbara Spraker) who have been excellent motivators in keeping me encouraged when I feel like giving up. Their encouragement pushes me to meet my goals without putting pressure! I have learned to set mini-goals for myself, which keep me focused in the short-term, as I continue to look at the bigger picture. This has helped me to grow stronger and feel better.
I have also established great connections through social networking such as World Pulse where I linked with a phenomenal woman, Lynne Healy. Lynne’s transformative sessions and ideas have been very practical. Her approach allows me to discover my unique energy to take charge, move from reacting to circumstances to being a powerful leader in everything I do.
Like any new organization, the beginning is not easy. Startup costs are quite high and TEU does not yet have any funding. We rely on the limited earnings from my current employment to meet some costs during the school visits to meet with teens. However, tough as it sounds, neither I nor my partners are about to give up on our dream! We are determined to make it work no matter how long it takes. Today, we may be meeting under a mango tree but tomorrow the story will be different. I’m positive that TEU will grow gradually and serve its purpose of empowering young people to follow their dreams.
Currently, we are designing a pilot program called THIS IS ME! The concept promotes a unique essence or choice of being true to oneself! This programme is based around the creation of a book by each teen with specific pages created for them to complete / pages for drawing / painting / recording their thoughts about what inspires them. This will form a basis for designing tailored programs based on their real needs and concerns that are reflective of teenagers in the project area. TEU programs will be designed to provide teens with an opportunity to connect with their inner selves in a whole new way – to discover their unique energy and potential and use it be what they want to be. My wish is to see the teens enrolled in our programs mentored to explore the unlimited possibilities available to them to create the life they want. To me this is real empowerment that transforms individuals and their communities!
I know this approach may take a long time to show results. But I also know the benefits and the impact of our programs will lead to lifelong success for the teen participants. I will maintain the commitment and keep hope alive! The journey continues!
You may contact Betty directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org