Young people come and go, the walls are painted in bright colours and everywhere are message like 'dream big' and 'don’t give up'. We are in the SmartUp Factory in Kampala, a place where young people feel at home, find inspiration and build their future.
How Plan International gives Ugandese young people a future
“This place gave me an identity”, says Harrod. He talks confidently, looks a bit like Stromae, and comes across as much more mature than you would expect from a twenty-year old man. Harrod is one of twenty young people who lead the SmartUp Factory in Kampala. “A few years ago I saw a poster from Plan International, which called on young people from the city’s poorest neighbourhoods to participate in a new project on future opportunities. I applied and was selected, together with 10 women and 9 other men.”
The twenty participants received guidance from Isaac - previously a volunteer and now a remunerated employee at Plan International Uganda - and together they built the SmartUp Factory of Kampala, turning it into a comfortable place with free Wi-Fi and a positive atmosphere. Everyone who visits the SmartUp Factory lays their plans for the future on the table and learns all kinds of things. Don't know yet what to do with your life? Don’t worry, the “harbour room” offers a kind of quiet space where you can isolate yourself in order to let your ideas grow. The next step is the “brew room”, where these ideas are then gradually converted into practice.
It doesn't matter whether you studied or not. Everyone is welcome here. We want young people to be hopeful about their future, to dare to dream and to believe that they can make their dreams come true.
Everyone is welcome
“It doesn't matter whether you studied or not. Everyone is welcome here. We want young people to be hopeful about their future, to dare to dream and to believe that they can make their dreams come true”, says Harrod. That is necessary in a city such as Kampala, where girls in the slums all too often end up in prostitution, and boys in criminal circles. “Young people who leave our SmartUp Factory have market value. They have started up a business, learned to manage it financially, and because they learned to think more positively, they also persevere.”
“That is right”, adds Ritah (22). She, too, is one of the twenty young people who were there from the very beginning and received intensive support. Nowadays, the entire project is carried by them. Ritah, for example, gives workshops on “leadership & lifeskills”. “To men and women, because women are worth just as much to us. Families often do not want to waste money on a girl’s education, but here, girls from vulnerable backgrounds get opportunities. Once they have completed the programme with us, they have generally set up a small business.'
Smart Up is a project that stimulates young people from the slums to be eager to learn and to think positively, and gives them the opportunity to develop and carry out creative, innovative ideas. Apart from Kampala, SmartUp Factories were also established in Alebtong, Gulu, Kamuli and Tororo. Small groups of women and men are accompanied by a mentor and receive intensive training.
Today, the young people themselves run the SmartUp Factories and are the ones who now in turn educate other young people. Equal opportunities for men and women is an important focus point for the factories. Kampala's SmartUp Factory is managed by ten women and ten men, but has already reached some 500 young people.
My dream? Creating jobs for women, in a graphic design office perhaps. And become a member of parliament
Ritah, a key figure in the SmartUp project
“I didn't hesitate to join Plan International's project”, says Ritah (22). “The SmartUp Factory gave me confidence and changed my way of thinking.” Ritah has big plans for her future, and hopes to be able to live up to them one day.
Ritah is the oldest of fourteen children. When she joined the SmartUp project, she had just finished high school. “It was a struggle. Where I live, girls do not have the same opportunities as boys. There were more boys in my class. People often think that investing in a girl’s education is a waste of money. That is why I combined school with work. I cleaned and washed clothes in order to pay for my high-school studies.” However, she did not have enough money to go to university. “Thanks to the SmartUp Factory, I am now running a business. I am breeding chickens. With the money I save, I hope to be able to study again one day.”
Ritah is one of the twenty young people who carry the SmartUp project. Other young people clearly look up to her when she gives her “leadership & lifeskills” workshop. My dream? Creating jobs for women, in a graphic design office perhaps. And become a member of parliament”, she says firmly. “Like Rebecca Kadaga, the first female Speaker (chairperson) of the Ugandan parliament. I will never forget how she said that girls should be able to go to school and are entitled to good jobs. That motivated me to fight for women’s rights.”