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„Their fighting spirit was impressive” Interview with Charlotte & Theresa of TAKE ACTION-Uganda

The association GLocal LifeLearn e.V. has given new opportunities to young people in Uganda and radically changed lives. Advancement through education, Success through independent work, empowerment through appreciation: the stories which the founders tell from their experiences in working with local initiatives have inspired us at EMERALD BERLIN more than anything to create a unique statement-collection and boost awareness.

EMERALD BERLIN: Since the year 2018 your association Glocal LifeLearn e.V. is taking action in Uganda. What was it that made your team want to help this region in particular and built up an education-program for young adults?

Charlotte: In 2017 I travelled to Bukedea in Uganda to collect data for my master thesis. This way I got to know Solomon who is the director of the education- and training-centre called BUYOPA-BVC. I was granted permission to interview some of the Students in different professions for my study on future perspectives. What impressed me the most was this immense fighting spirit and motivation these youngsters had. They were going through a lot to be able to get this education.
The fees for BUYOPA-BVC are very low because the aim of the institution is to give young people coming from difficult life situations and backgrounds a chance to become a skilled professional. Nevertheless many young people still can’t afford to become a student. Coming back to cologne after my visit in Uganda I told my friend Theresa about the situation and both of us agreed immediately that we wanted to do something. That is how the initial idea for the TAKE ACTION-Program was born.

EMERALD BERLIN: How many members of your team and how many people in Uganda are helping in realizing this ambitious project?

Theresa: The Team of TAKE ACTION consists of three people, the two of us as founders and Julia which assists us creatively in so many ways. All the public relations material we have was made by her. But also the members of our association Gocal LifeLearn are helping us any time.

EMERALD BERLIN: How was the first contact made between your association and local initiatives and enterprises? And how difficult is it to coordinate your work avor such long distances?

Charlotte: Solomon and I know each other very well. So this is no problem at all in fact. We are communicating a lot via WhatsApp. That makes it super simple. And we get feedback fast. When I first saw the work this training-centre was doing during my time as a master- student I was so impressed what the teachers and supervisors are achieving and what a huge impact a skill training in different arts and crafts has for young adults in Uganda.

EMERALD BERLIN: Are there any other state-sponsored educational programs like yours in
Uganda that have a comparable aim?
Charlotte: Yes, there are state-owned training facilities. But most of them – like 80% - are in private hands. Often they get subsidized by the state too. Especially when they are in rural areas far away from major cities they can get financial support. Most private schools are way expensive though. BUYOPA-BVC is itself a private institution but it is recognized by the state and completely non-profit.

EMERALD BERLIN: What kind of success stories can you tell since you started your project? What kind of feedback are you getting from your team in school and from the young men and women you supported?

Theresa: The success we had touched us deeply. In the first year we were able to give a skills training to 10 students. The year after it was already 30 students. This year it will be around 30 again. In February – last month! – the new school year started at BUYOPA-BVC. And the students getting our grants value the opportunity they get through our support very much – that’s why they are highly motivated. For them it is the chance to get out of poverty and live an independent life.
One of our female students said it perfectly: “Learning a professional skill is the source for work and thereby for my independence.” The number of people who apply for our grants is very high. The interest is huge because the fees usually are not affordable for a large part of our students.
The region we are working in – Bukedea – is mostly rural. More than 95% of people living in poverty in Uganda are living in the countryside. For the time being we had to limit our capacity to around 30 students per year to make sure that there will not be a dependency in this area on our services.

EMERALD BERLIN: What are your biggest successes so far? The Project Lifeline Uganda started as early as 2011 – how many kids and young adults already got a grant from your organisation

Charlotte: Project Lifeline was able to give this support to 62 students up until today. Last year another big project was started called LifeCare. Our association Glocal LifeLearn applied successfully for a grant of the W.P. Schmitz-Foundation and with this support we are helping right now to built a training centre for nurses and midwifes in Bukedea. This schooling institution will give job perspectives to many young people of this area and improve the medical care of the region as a whole.

EMERALD BERLIN: Are you following the long-term development of your students after they graduated? What are your experiences concerning the effects of your projects on the local structures, communities and families?

Theresa: We are monitoring the career of our students as well as the impact of our skills training opportunities on the region. Graduating a professional skills training has a very positive effect on students and the whole community. Our very first generation of students is just this year starting their work in the field and we are very excited to see how they will perform and develop. Already during the training our partnering institutions had many positive experiences to tell. The students do not only acquire professional skills but they also gain self-confidence. Their families are proud of them and in society they are more respected than ever. Of course also the school benefits from this project. By working with us they do have a stable income which guarantees a solid salary for the instructors and teachers. Even a new school building was in part financed this way.
BUYOPA-BVC is now capable of creating new jobs in the region and consequently becomes a stabilizing economic factor. The skills training-programs are showing a way out of poverty and offer young people the real chance to live an autonomous life. This of course is very positive for the economy as a whole. Unemployment drops, young people earn more money and spend more too. Some of our students are even opening up their own businesses, become their own bosses and hire others to work for them which creates even more jobs.

EMERALD BERLIN: How is it actually possible to give a 15-month skills training to students for about 130€?

Charlotte: In Germany this would sure be impossible. But Uganda is one of the poorest countries on earth. The economic situation is precarious. Job perspectives are scarce and unemployment among young people is very high. For our students 130€ are of course anything but peanuts. BUYOPA-BVC is trying to keep the fees as low as possible while securing a good educational program. Furthermore the 130€ really only cover the school fees. Our students are themselves contributing to their education by paying for the materials they need for their classes. Those are not included.

EMERALD BERLIN: What special moments you remember that made you and your team feel how valuable your work is?

Theresa: Through our partnership program we provide a steady source of income for the training centre and thereby we give security and enable planning ahead. All of this helped in making it possible for the training facility to move into a bigger building with much more opportunities for the students. We were really happy because of this and it touched us deeply to see this unfold. More than anything we are inspired by the personal stories of our students which are incredibly strong and motivating.

EMERALD BERLIN: Do you get the impression that consciousness for the importance of educational programs in developing countries is growing lately? Are more people supporting your cause – also financially? How would you describe the development in the last few years?

Charlotte: Education plays a major role in development cooperation. Education is no doubt the primary tool for fighting poverty. “Education for all” is in itself one of the big sustainability goals defined by the UNITED NATIONS for the year 2030. And we are on a good way to accomplish this goal. Academic and professional education will be playing a vital role concerning recent global trends and issues. In effect I speak of global challenges like climate change, green and renewable energy, green economy, migration and refugees, economic development – just to name a few.
I believe hat many people see the importance of education in the fact that it offers a
different, positive perspective for the future of young people. But I also think that this might not be the main reason why people are willing to donate or give money to projects like ours.
From our experiences with donors and partners we learned that what is most important to them Is transparency and a direct contact to their project-partners. This way they have a good idea of what their support is actually achieving.

EMERALD BERLIN: What would your team wish for in 2020? Any special requests?
Theresa: Last year we started our project “Pro Period”. We recognized that many female students are missing classes due to their period. Hygiene-products are very expensive in Uganda and the sanitary situation in schools is a challenge. We believe that boys and girls should enjoy the same conditions for education. For this reason we started this project at our school. The students learning the craft of tailoring are producing re-usable sanitary- towels made of fabric which every girl can get free of charge. So this way the girls and women are having the possibility to visit their classes while on their period. Its our wish that the students might turn this idea into a real business and sell their product beyond their school..

EMERALD BERLIN: Thank you guys so much for this interesting interview, for everything you do and for all the great projects! Good luck for the future – it’s great to have you!


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