After losing to Apollo Ofwono in the 2016 contest for Tororo municipality MP race, Cyrus Amos Wanyama decided to concentrate on empowering the youths in the district.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from Makerere University in 2006, Wanyama mobilized youths to start saving Shs 200 every day at the small garage he always worked from during school holidays. He told his story to Fred Hidula.
From the idea of ‘saving a coin’, he formed Community Initiatives for Development (COINS-FOD) with 48 formal members.
In 2009, the group officially registered as a community-based organisation (CBO) youth group at district level. Wanyama says one of his major objectives was to ensure the youths around him acquire skills for self-sustainability.
Thus, they purchased a small welding machine at Shs 340,000 to build containers. This was because most of his colleagues had proposals such as starting salons, catering services, electrical services and retail shops, mobile money services, health clubs, football clubs and the garage which was the group’s first project.
“Every member would start up a project with their savings depending on their skills and interests,” says Wanyama. “My job was to support them.”
So far, the group has various active projects such as a motorcycle garage, mobile money outlet, salon for both men and women, mini supermarket, photocopying machine and boutique.
Rebecca Musuya, a boutique attendant, says she receives between four and eight customers daily. She sells clothes and bags that range from Shs 25,000 to Shs 50,000.
This is a project she opted for as a result of her passion for fashion and learning how to plait hair. Meanwhile, Jude Wandera, who is in charge of mobile money and phone charging, says he receives “relatively many” customers daily.
On December 29 last year at about 1:00am, the entire premises housing the garage, mobile money point, boutique, offices and retail shop caught fire. The tragedy saw the group lose property worth over Shs 50 million. With no insurance for their projects, life would become harsh.
Using their savings of about Shs 7,000,000, however, they mobilized resources and bounced back in January with a boutique, garage and mobile money point.
Currently, COINS-FOD has a membership of 326 youths aged between 16 and 24. Of the 326, 147 are girls. Those beyond 35 years of age are eligible to become board members to guide the younger ones, according to chairperson Wanyama.
The group also has an executive committee of nine members, four of whom are women.
“Each section has a member on the executive to represent the others, and in our meetings, we discuss concerns and ways forward,” Wanyama says.
“Girls have a special representation on the executive committee in a bid to boast their confidence since the group started with only one girl.”
COINS-FOD won a tender from The Aids Support Organization (TASO), Tororo, to repair and service motorcycles, generators and lawn mowers.
They also partnered Global Health Uganda (GHU) to repair and service motorcycles. GHU is a non-profit organisation dealing in child health, neurodevelopment and interventions research in Uganda and beyond.
The group has also increased savings which enables them employ more young people. Share an Opportunity Uganda (SAO) branch in Osukuru sub-county, Tororo district, brought ten youths to be trained in mechanics annually for three consecutive years.
These were trained for six months, and examined by the Directorate of Industrial Training (DIT) after which they were awarded certificates. They are currently in the informal sector.
SAO is a national Christian-founded child-focused NGO empowering households and communities to fulfill their obligations in child development, education and skills development, among other related areas.
Wanyama cites one of the biggest achievements as having helped some street children gain practical skills and fight drug abuse before engaging them in mechanical work.
Loyce Nabukwasi, one of the young girls attached to the salon section, joined COINS-FOD after dropping out of school due to “bad peer influence” while in P6.
After attaining practical skills, she earned and saved some money before deciding to return to school. Currently, Nabukwasi is in S3 at Tororo Universal College thanks to the career guidance attained through COINS-FOD. She was attached to the salon section from where she saved money that helped her return to school.
“The group helped me learn to save money and advised me to rejoin school for which I am very grateful,” she says.
Currently, Nabukwasi only works when she has free time. Wanyama adds that he links youths to government programmes such as the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF) 2, with the help of community development officers.
Wanyama also passes on practical skills to the youths through NGOs such as Plan International Uganda, which hire him to provide career talks and mentorship to the youths in the district.
This is because he is a mechanic and entrepreneur who believes in helping others attain work, save and earn a living to support their families.
Wanyama says when the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) came up with programmes like Women and Girls Empowerment, COINS-FOD took up the opportunity to partner and train members in leadership and management, entrepreneurship and reproductive health.
Jairus Natule joined COINS-FOD in 2009 when it had just started, and is also a member of the group’s Youth-to-Youth club, which began in 2013.
The club is mandated to empower young people with sexual and reproductive health skills. As the patron and chairperson of the club, German Foundation for World Population (DSW) contacted him to always share information about youths and their ventures in the district.
Juma Abdallah and Arnold Omella, both operating in the garage section, are grateful for the opportunity of working with the youth group.
They say it has enabled them not only survive, but also take care of their families as well. DSW also supported COINS-FOD with workshop equipment such as a welding machine and spanners, and also facilitates their clubs on community health awareness programmes like those on HIV/Aids.
Natule says partnering with DSW is healthy since their mission is to empower young people with sexual and reproductive health information and rights for a healthy and sustainable future.
Wanyama says one of their biggest challenges is space for expansion especially now that many youths apply to join.
Because of this, Wanyama says he can only keep them waiting. This idea, he believes, is not fair enough.
He believes they have to work with the local government, but this involves a procedure to ensure that more youths are helped and brought on board.
The other concern is that all the sections within the group need more resources to expand, especially after fire gutted their premises.
The group plans on having all businesses grow to a higher level, and employ as many youths as possible.
Wanyama advises young people to learn to be leaders and help others, adding that one of the reasons he wanted to become area MP was to work with all responsible stakeholders and help the youth develop.
He further says the youths have a mandate of helping themselves fight poverty by utilizing the available opportunities to do so.
“Never despise humble beginnings because you never know where you will end up tomorrow,” he adds.