Dhahabu: Empowering the Youth in Uganda
Youth mentoring is the process of matching mentors with children or young people. The goal of youth mentoring programs is to improve the well-being of the mentee by providing a role model (mentor) that can support them. Liz Baluka the founder and overseer of Dhahabu, a youth training and mentoring project in Uganda is one such person and is looking to find more people like her to join her project.
“I have a love and deep respect for young children and the youth and have always wanted to do something that can be useful to their personal and professional development.” She says. “I can personally relate with some of the challenges facing the youth such as having a dream and personality that no one appreciates; being misunderstood, and taken for granted; needing guidance but hardly coming across someone in the field that’s willing to commit time, mentor me and help me through; having seemingly crazy ideas that were often belittled and pushed aside; having my potential defined by academic qualifications; going through school as a brilliant student and yet sometimes wondering how my education would be of real use to me; wanting so badly to attend a very important conference or to buy a book but not having enough money or no money at all.”
According to Liz, the Dhahabu! project started out as a concept for coaching primary school children in life aspects like general etiquette, emotional intelligence, ethics, professionalism, presentation skills, self-esteem, general counseling and more. And all this was happening while Liz was in her second year at university. She then approached some schools who allowed her to do brief presentations to their administration.
ElleAfrique: Sounds straight forward. Was it?
Liz: No, it wasn’t because of two aspects; pricing and a lack of actual professional experience saw to the schools not committing. Still, I went ahead and approached more schools and one company, and although my concept was not taken on, I learned that each place I went to taught me something that would help me get back to my work, improve the concept, revise my presentations in such a way that by the next time I went to a another different school my concept was then better than before. The knowledge and exposure I gained was invaluable and strengthened my resilience and confidence.
Last year in June, having done some research on Centres of excellence in universities and their relevance, I was inspired to draft a concept paper for the establishment of a PR competency development center for one of the International secondary schools with the aim to train students and staff in generic PR modules. I remember sitting in the communications class at the university and thinking to myself how this was rather basic general knowledge that everyone should have and not just PR or Communication students, plus how it would be so simple and better if it was taught at lower educational levels like secondary schools. As a child, I often found myself comprehending things that most adults had made complicated but were in fact simple aspects. I guess I still hold a similar perception when I think of certain modules that could be taught at lower levels if only we removed the mystery thus believing that there is a lot we learn at the university that could in reality be taught at secondary level and further enrich the secondary level curricula.
ElleAfrique: Do you see this concept being applied elsewhere in Africa?
Liz: Initially I had thought of giving the project an English name but my love for distinction and originality had me considering Kiswahili translations for each name that I came up with. The project is Dhahabu (Kiswahili for Gold) while the sub-projects under it have been named: Urithi (Legacy/Heritage); Vipawa (Gifted/Talented); Utafiti (Research); and Mafunzo (Apprenticeship/Training). I believe that since the project is mainly intended to help and address the needs of the youth in East Africa and the rest of Africa, a more local identity would be easier for each one of us to relate with. I am also considering having it officially registered under the East African Community instead of a particular country so that it is more strongly identified as a project for the region, and more so for and by East Africans. There is an intention to have operational branches in all EA countries as the project grows. In the meantime, the project is in the pilot phase till December 2014 when a final direction should be set as to where it’s registered, activities and funding for each sub-project.
ElleAfrique: How does one become a member of Dhahabu?
Liz: Anyone can be a part of the project. Either by membership i.e. the Privilege Membership (P.M) and the Dhahabu Friends & Fans (DFF). The DFF has well-wishers of the project while the P.M features those people who volunteer to actively support the project activities in several ways as they like, such as, contributing intellectual and professional ideas, opinions, advice to the project. At the moment entry into any membership is free although consideration is underway to develop constitutions for the membership and charge reasonable membership fees. I am most thankful to the P.M from whom some members and connections in different industries and parts of the world have offered professional assistance which has made the load a little lighter considering that the project is not as yet adequately and relevantly staffed. I am thankful to people like; Mark K. Torokwa who is helping me with partnership proposals; Joy Kyakwita a lawyer helped with mentoring a law student; Shiela Hiire does a lot of listen to my crazy ideas, spreads the word and offers opinions, and many others whose presence and contribution is so far invaluable.
ElleAfrique: What are your main challenges?
Liz: Well considering the significant inadequacy of funds, there is so much that has not been done but could be kick-started or accomplished if significant funds were available. I have had to fund the operations and staff pay especially for the project’s Sales Associate intern, all from my salary which has not been sufficient to fully motivate her and attract more staff or even steer the project’s activities towards significant progress.
ElleAfrique: Are there any successes yet?
Liz: I am thankful to God that despite the inadequacy of funds, we have managed to approach over 24 secondary schools and 13 universities in Uganda proposing to conduct our mentoring and motivation sessions for their students. A few have so far responded positively though quite hesitant to commit.
ElleAfrique: What are your plans for the future?
Liz: I am a very optimistic person and more considerate of the bigger picture for the project despite the slow pace at which the project’s activities are operating.
With promised support from some of the P.M members, I am working on proposals to attract funders, business partners, angel investors, and highly qualified staff while also pushing to have the project registered in East Africa. While I will be glad to have people from Europe, Asia, the Americas join to fund or work with us; I, however, believe that it would be more significant to have Africans and more so East Africans come in to offer financial and human resource support.
At the moment a Dr. Ham Mukasa Mulira, CEO of eCONSULT (U) Ltd and Senior Presidential Advisor on ICT at the Office of the President (Uganda) has kindly accepted to be the project’s Patron. He has so far helped in guiding the basic structure of the project. I am considering a female Co-patron joining the project but have not decided on one yet although I would be glad to know of anyone out there that would be interested. The patron role is basically to offer overall mentorship to the project.
For anyone who is interested in this wonderful project or for more information, please visit Dhahabu’s blog Or send Liz an email; firstname.lastname@example.org