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Jamila: the herald of change among youths 

Jamilah Mayanja

Her liveliness is unmistakable the minute you walk into the room. The cheer with which she greets you leaves you with an impression of an amiable and outgoing person. 

It is this vibe that Jamila Mayanja, 28, carries into her numerous work roles, which has made her a role model among the youth. 

Mayanja has juggled as many works as her mind can recall, including marketing, establishing youth empowerment schemes, counseling and volunteering with different organizations, among others. The story of her life is an indelible mark of weathering storms to attain national and global success.

She was in August 2015 recognized by President Barack Obama at the presidential summit in Washington for one of her entrepreneurial projects, J-Mobile Laundry Services.

FOOTSTEPS TO SUCCESS

This alumna of Nabisunsa Girls School learnt the value of hustling after her father, Hajji Hood Mayanja, died in 2007. She was only a freshman at Makerere University Business School (Mubs) where she was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.

“After his death, I moved out of Akamwesi hostel because I could no longer pay the dues. Instead, I rented a one-roomed place with my cousin and sister. In that one room, we had two deckers and literally [struggled] for food and other basic needs,” she recalls, intermittently squinting her eyes. 

Nevertheless, lady luck was on her side; she was able to complete her university education with the help of her uncle Abubaker Maloo who paid her tuition. She graduated in 2011. 

But in 2008, while still at campus, Mayanja decided to make ends meet by going on the streets to distribute flyers for SMS One, a telecom value-added services company, specializing in sending bulk SMS. 

She was later trained in using the software for sending SMS, and acted as the company’s front desk manager and marketer. For this work, she earned Shs 400,000 a month. 

“I ensured I gave part of my salary to my mother so that she was able to take care of my younger siblings,” recollects the sixth born in a family of 14 children. 

CARVING OUT HER NICHE

Mayanja loses no chance in grabbing opportunities. She has volunteered with numerous organizations, including The Uganda Youth Talent against Aids and the International Republican Institute (IRI), which spearheaded the Green Light Movement. The movement was responsible for formulating the youth manifesto, which was launched ahead of the 2011 general elections. 

In 2011, Mayanja co-founded the Haven Anti-Aids Foundation whose mandate was to sensitize the youth on risky behavior that could result into contracting Hiv/Aids. 

While at it, she also worked with Generation Change-Uganda Chapter, a US- sponsored project that inspires youth to be heralds of change in their communities.  

Here, she has participated in school and hospital outreaches. And it is through this work that she met Yvonne Amooit, who ignited her desire to engage in girl child empowerment. Mayanja held the first father-daughter conference in 2011 after being tipped by The Obsessions’ Jackie Tumusiime. 

“Jackie had travelled abroad and seen such conferences being organized, and she sold the idea to me. I wasted no time in organizing it, and spent all my savings to make it a success,” she says.

After the conference, Mayanja received overwhelming feedback – with many girls requesting that she mentors them. She rode on this feedback and inaugurated Smart Girls Uganda, an organization that boosts the girl child’s self-esteem and business, leadership and governance skills. 

Under this project, she has reached out to more than 1,000 secondary school girls with talks, and in 2012, she held the first Youth Aids Walk.

Through Smart Girls, she started a franchise J-Mobile Laundry Services, a company which provides door-to-door laundry services. Here she employs single mothers and school dropouts, operating mainly in Kawempe, Bwaise, Kisaasi and Matugga areas. 

To impart entrepreneurial skills to the over 30 females in the company’s cohort, Mayanja partnered with Rotary Uganda and started the Rotary Vijana Poa program. 

“Under this program, 10 of the 30 girls have been able to establish their own businesses. For example, one is into tailoring and some have started saloons,” she enthuses. 

YALI FELLOW 

Because of her women empowerment efforts under Smart Girls Uganda and J-Mobile Laundry Services, Mayanja was in 2015 awarded a fellowship by Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) network, a US-funded project that aims at investing the next generation of African leaders. As a result, she spent time at Dartmouth University’s Business and Entrepreneurship Institute for six weeks between June and August in 2015. 

According to an article titled: “Obama hails Dartmouth fellow” on the Dartmouth website, when Obama recognized Mayanja, she jumped to her feet smiling, hands on hips, and greeted the president.

“She hopes to take what she learned during her time at Dartmouth University to meet her goal of getting 1,000 youth to work in or run their own business; so, we’re proud to be your partner,” the president said.

Today, Mayanja also holds monthly girls’ coffee talks at the US embassy in Nsambya, and is currently organizing a smart girls’ summit due in June and a girls’ rock retreat at the end of the year. In five years’ time, she envisions gaining presence in at least six other districts apart from Kampala, establishing a Smart Girls Resource Centre and promoting urban farming among corporate girls.

Martin Muganzi, who has known Mayanja for two years, credits her as an ambitious and self-driven person. 

“She is one of the most self-driven people that I have known, and I believe is a powerhouse of change in the country. Her weakness lies in her being ambitious,” Muganzi says of Mayanja.

MORE ABOUT HER

Mayanja is an orphan, having lost both her parents: Janat Nakayenga and Hajji Hood Mayanja. While at Nabisunsa Girls School, where she attended her O and A-level, she was on the cabinet of five clubs. She is remembered for having founded the Red Ribbon Club, which created HIV awareness in the school. 

In 2014, she got married to Jamil Kalinabiri. 

ninsiima@observer.ug 

 

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