Turning Protests Into Realizable Visions

URDT Institute Is Transforming Unemployed Youth Into Job Creators in Uganda

December 1, 2011

As unemployment becomes a big problem around the world, and disaffected unemployed people take to the streets, a successful pilot program in Uganda provides an alternative. The URDT Institute offers an innovative approach to inspire and equip young people to become job creators in their rural communities, instead of rioting in the streets of the city.


URDT (Uganda Rural Development and Training Institute) Vocational Institute is playing a seminal role in stemming violent protests in Kampala, Uganda. 200 formerly unemployed young men and women from the urban slums just graduated from a unique three-month intensive Youth Leadership Training Program. Instead of going back to the city, where jobs are scarce and pollution, congestion, and violence are increasing, the majority of these 18-to-28 year old men and women are now planning to move back to their rural villages to launch new businesses and to shift their families’ farms from subsistence into income-generating enterprises. This pilot program has been so successful that the Ugandan Prime Minister, the Minister of State for Planning, the Head of the Ugandan government Youth Desk, and members of Parliament participated in the graduation ceremonies on November 20, 2011 on URDT’s rural campus. This show of government interest and engagement was particularly impressive since URDT is five hours away from the capital city on very bad roads.

The leadership and vocational training these young people received is unique in that it combined URDT’s visionary approach using the principles of the creative process, with practical vocational training and business skills. This structure allowed each student to create a vision for a better life and career, to formulate a business plan, and to produce marketable products or services within three months.

URDT's Youth Leadership program Pottery vases and planters
(Click on image to enlarge.)

© 2011 URDT

Illustration 5. Pottery vases and planters made by the recent graduates of the Youth Leadership program at the URDT Vocational Institute.


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 roadways. 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 underemployed and unemployed youth become disaffected. They want a better life but they don’t know how to achieve it. They feel excluded from opportunities to get higher education and/or to apprentice in a trade, and/or to get decent employment.

Increasingly They Agitate for Better Opportunities

The “Arab Spring” has inspired Ugandans as it has people in many other parts of Africa. Peaceful demonstrations are not encouraged, however. There is no tradition of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. So the police and the military step in quickly to confront demonstrators, leading to more violence.

Unemployed Youth Are Also Recruited Into Gangs and Paid to Vote and to Agitate

These youthful slum-dwellers are also 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. Mwalimu Musheshe talked about this phenomenon when he welcomed the incoming class of young men and women at the URDT Vocational Institute:

“That’s why, when in Kampala, they are looking for people to demonstrate, to steal, to be violent, they go to Kisekka [large market area and slum in Kampala]. That’s where your relatives are who have run from the misery of the villages and gone to the city on the lure of a better life. And you find them doing menial jobs and speaking good English. They were not born in Kampala. They were born in the villages. But because nobody cared to transform the villages sufficiently to be attractive, and because the education system is designed not to help people learn their parents’ vocation, you despise what your parents are doing. You hate what your parents are doing. That’s why when someone reaches P7 (seventh grade), they think they are done with the home. The parents persuade their relatives in Kampala to take their children. There is no other job that their children can do in the village at that level. Because the jobs that are being done in the village are for those who didn’t go to school.”

~ Mwalimu Musheshe, Chairman, URDT


Reversing the Stampede to the City

Mwalimu Musheshe is convinced that these young people are capable of starting their own businesses in their native villages and/or improving their parents’ subsistence farms and businesses. And he realizes that it’s a major culture change to encourage them to do so. He understands that there’s a lot of peer pressure for kids to drop out of school at the age of 12 and/or to move to the city and look for a job. In February, 2011 Musheshe addressed a new group of Institute students with this message:

“If you stayed in the village and continued in school up thru Senior 4 (through the age of 16), the villagers start gossiping about you. They can’t bring themselves to admit that you could use that education in the village.

Our training is supposed to reverse that. So, you go with your training and you reconstruct your village. And we say, 'Hey, it’s true you can be educated and become a good farmer, you can be educated and become a good carpenter, and at the same time, become a good cattle-keeper.'

The boys and girls are suffering in Kampala because of a socialization of education that has divorced our young people from the vocations of their parents. That’s why your parents are going to remain poor, despite your education. Because you are not adding value to what they are doing. You are not using your skills and knowledge to expand the farm. No, you are not using your knowledge and skills to increase their trade. If your father was a carpenter, are you going to be a better carpenter? Are you going to improve on his business? As an accountant, you could say, 'Let us sit down and look at our income. Let us see how we can diversify.' Instead, you are busy learning to run away.

URDT is busy working hard to keep you in your communities. And not stopping there, but knowing what you need to know how to do, and to give you diverse skills. There is no way I can go in a village myself and not create a job. Whatever is going on, I have an idea about how I can deal with it. People are looking for leadership; leadership as an entrepreneur to create new positions in your villages. But the education that we in Uganda have inherited, which we have failed to dismantle, does not allow you to do that.

In URDT we are convinced you can do it and that’s what our education is about. Our education is supposed to bring a new young person, who views the world differently—whose worldview is not the traditional job-seeking one, but the new approach of ‘yes, I have a variety of skills, and these are good for myself, they are good for my community and they are good for my people.’”

~ Mwalimu Musheshe, Chairman, URDT


Needed: A Structure for Sustainable Culture Change

The URDT Vocational Institute in the Kibale District in western Uganda had all the elements in place to address the challenge of re-orienting unemployed youth from trying to find jobs or education in the city to focus instead on creating businesses and jobs in their own villages. One challenge was to convince the young people (and their families) to consider this alternative. A second challenge: to equip the young people for success. A third challenge was to design and execute a program that was cost-effective. URDT rose to these challenges by designing an intensive residential three-month Youth Leadership integrated training program that was extremely cost-effective for the government to fund.

The Youth Leadership program provided an attractive opportunity for urban youth to get vocational and business training paid for by the government. According to the web site of the Prime Minister of Uganda, this is how it came about...

Contact Info:
Uganda Rural Development and Training Institute
P. O. Box, 16253, Kampala
Contact Office: Plot 617, Mengo
Kibuga Block 4
Right-off Southern gate City Parents, Basiima Campus

Chairman: Mwalimu Musheshe
Tel: +256 793-150990/1
email: mmusheshe@gmail.com

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