How to Transform the Quality of Life in African Rural Communities

Educate Young People to Be Entrepreneurs and Leaders

March 17, 2011

Here’s one way to address unemployment or underemployment—train young people to be job creators—not job seekers—in their local communities. In western Uganda, URDT’s Vocational Institute arose out of parents’ con-cerns that their children weren’t willing to “stay home on the farm.” As soon as kids reached their teens, they wanted to go to the big city to look for jobs—jobs that aren’t that easy to find. The parents asked URDT to create a vocational training program that would equip their young people with non-farming vocational skills. URDT went an additional step—it trained these young people to be entrepreneurs and visionary leaders. As a result graduates are creating their own successful businesses in their rural villages.


Through trial and error, URDT (Uganda Rural Development and Training Institute) has discovered that young people—school age children and young adults—are the most powerful and successful change agents for transforming Africa. In the past, we’ve described URDT’s Girls School1, in which girls from 10 to 18 teach their families how to increase their incomes and improve their living conditions.

We’ve also written about the African Rural University (ARU)2, a unique rural University for women that is being piloted by URDT to train young women to become Rural Transformation Specialists. The ARU curriculum includes both theory and practice and includes over a year of internship in the field in which each intern works with 8 to 16 villages to empower each one of them to develop a shared vision and to undertake projects the villagers agree are high priorities, such as improving maternal and child health, improving education, increasing the productivity of their farms, and/or building a town market.

Now, let’s take a look at URDT’s first educational institution, the URDT Vocational Institute. Its mission is to educate young men and women in vocational skills that they can use to create businesses and to transform their rural communities.

URDT carpentry shop
(Click on image to enlarge.)

© 2011 URDT

The carpentry shop, where Institute students train. The worker using the saw is a woman.


Uganda Rural Development and Training Institute (URDT) is a 23-year old, non-sectarian, indigenous organization that is promulgating education, skills, training, and values that are successfully transforming entire villages in Uganda’s rural countryside.

One of URDT’s goals is to stop the brain drain of young people moving to urban areas to try to make a living. Instead, it is training young people to invest their skills and talent in creating jobs and improving living conditions in the rural communities from which they come. Mwalimu Musheshe, the Chairman of URDT, explains the organization’s mission this way:

“URDT was founded to address the missing link in development programs: the merger of truly functional education and training with rural development intervention with the intent of empowering and energizing people living in rural communities.

We want our students to know how to protect a spring and help their village to have clean, safe water. We are not in the business of training people to go into the cities to look for jobs. That’s not the idea. The idea is that our students know how to build. They know how to be leaders. They know how to transform their communities.”

~ Mwalimu Musheshe, Chairman, URDT

URDT’s proven methodology combines practical skills in farming, carpentry, water protection, nutrition, sanitation, functional literacy, and appropriate technologies with consciousness-raising, community organizing, and visionary leadership. As a result, rural households, model farms, and model villages become Centers of Excellence, training their neighbors in the techniques and skills they have learned. Each transformed household inspires and teaches dozens of others.

The Challenges of Rural Life

The Ugandan countryside is beautiful and lush. However, basic infrastructure is lacking. Many of the roads are still very bad dirt roads. Electricity hasn’t reached many villages. Water is fetched daily from local water sources, many of which are not clean or safe. Most people live in huts with dirt floors and thatched roofs. If they’re thrifty and organized, they raise livestock as well as raise food to feed their families. Polygamy is widespread. Many men have multiple families. Each wife tends a small tract of land to feed herself and her children. The size of the average family is about seven children. Many of these children die before they reach the age of five due to malnutrition and childhood diseases.

YOUNG PEOPLE STAMPEDE TO URBAN AREAS. It’s no wonder, then, that for the children in these rural villages who do manage to actually complete their primary education at a local parent-built school, their families often choose to send these 12-year old kids to Kampala to live with relatives, to try to get a job working in the city, and/or to continue their education there. Since they have no money, they wind up as young adults living in slums and working in menial jobs. These youthful slum-dwellers are a prime recruiting target for gangs and power-hungry thug-masters. For 5,000 Uganda Shillings ($2.50), these young people will vote for anyone, demonstrate about anything, and even resort to violence when asked and paid to do so. Musheshe talked about this phenomenon when he welcomed the incoming class of young men and women at the URDT Vocational Institute...

1) "Educating Kids to Be Change Agents: How the URDT Girls’ School Turns Girls and Their Families into Change Agents," by Patricia B. Seybold, March 25, 2010, and "It Takes a Child to Raise a Village," by the URDT Girls School Students, December 16, 2010.

2) "Customer Co-Design in Rural Uganda: How URDT Empowers Grass Roots Creativity," by Patricia B. Seybold, March 8, 2007.

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