HARUNAH SSEDYABANE, 33, had limited formal education but not only has he risen from grass to grace, he has turned around the lives of thousands through vocation training, writes Justus Lyatuu.
In spite of a population of more than 40 million Ugandans, the reality is that there are not enough employment opportunities to cater for every able individual. Numerous interventions from government have had minimal impact on Uganda’s large youth population, which finds itself doing odds jobs and many a time resort to crime to fulfil their need for financial freedom.
On that backdrop, Ssedyabane, a Najjera-based machine operator, stands out for his effort to uplift himself and other youth. He has for the past few years worked tirelessly to change these odds in his neighbourhood of Ntinda, Kisaasi and other towns.
Ssedyabane started his journey working at Mawakato Tehnical Service on Entebbe road, where he was trained in the fields of metal fabrication, welding and casting. At the time, he was earning only Shs 15,000 from which he was supposed to pay his accommodation, transport as well as satisfy his other basic needs. Determined to learn and improve his earnings, Ssedyabane paid attention to detail during training and ran errands for his trainers in exchange for a small fee.
“When I realized my trainers were busy, I offered to help them for a small fee. I remember they used to give me any amount ranging from Shs 500 to Shs 1,000 for running errands. I always saved this money,” he recalls.
At the time, students from Nakawa Vocational Training Institute would go to Mawakato for their industrial training and since Ssedyabane had learnt many of the techniques, they found it easier to ask him for help instead of asking the trainers. He later learnt that whenever they would go back to the institute, they would praise him for helping them.
“Because the trainees from Nakawa Vocational Training Institute had commended me for a while, the institute invited and drafted me in their forgery department as a technician. I worked there until 2015 when I got a unique opportunity to become the technical advisor at Najjera Presidential Initiative Youth Training Center,” Ssedyabane boasts.
Located in Najjera, the non-partisan center was established in 2015 by the President Museveni in response to an appeal from some young artisans who were experiencing very huge challenges in their chosen area of work. They lacked specialized metal fabrication tools and had to incur high costs to transport their raw materials to Katwe where they were being charged highly per session.
The president, through State House, procured and handed them a hydraulic machine for bending milled steel plates, a shear machine for cutting metals and an industrial generator. He also offered the young fabricators Shs 50 million as running capital to enable them stock up on sufficient raw materials to take on the bigger jobs. Before receiving the funds, the fabricators were required to form a savings association (Sacco) and get financial literacy lessons from State House trainers.
With an initial membership of 80, the Sacco greatly expanded to include 1,000 members. More importantly, it has improved lives of the metal fabricators as they are being charged a lot less for their fabrication work and they could even borrow money for the purchase of raw materials and pay back with minimal interest.
Ssedyabane was handed the keys to the Najjera center and it was his responsibility to train the interested youth free of charge.
“To date, we have trained about 1,000 youth and over 500 of them graduated already. We have another batch due for graduation,” he notes, adding, “I want to thank the President of Uganda for listening to the youth and starting these initiatives that keep us occupied and give us money to take care of ourselves and our families.”
Today, the married father of three stays in his own house and has a garden nearby where he grows most of his food. He has also started a rabbit-farming project and he currently has 20 students.
“My message to all the youth out there is to persevere. Life has its challenges but always know what you want to achieve and persevere. Things will work out for you just like they have for me,” he concludes.