NGO enables girls to create own livelihood

Program director Gorreti Nagawa shows the sewing room at the Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum, where young women learn to sew sanitary pads. (Nicole McPheeters | The Media School)

Yesterday a few of us had an interview with staff at the Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum (UYAHF). The office is in a small building tucked away in one of Kampala’s slums.

We were greeted by several women working for the NGO, and then we met with Patrick Mwesigye, UYAHF’s founder and executive director. Despite his impressive title, he prefers the term “team leader.”

We talked with Patrick and two program directors, Gorreti and Anna, for about an hour about UYAHF’s work. In general, it strives to educate young people about sex and reproductive health. The team works closely with young women, empowering them to take control of their health care and overcome gender inequality.

One way UYAHF is empowering women is through something they call “livelihood projects.” These projects involve teaching young women lucrative skills such as sewing and cosmetology. In developing these skills, the women will be able to realize their potential for financial independence.

The team took us to a closet-sized room in their building. Inside was a long table, a sewing machine, piles of felt and cloth in different shades of pink, and spools of pink thread perched on every surface. Upon closer examination, it was clear that several of these piles of pink cloth had already been sewn into reusable sanitary pads. We were told that these were the product of one of their livelihood projects.

Young women come in and make pads, learning how to use a sewing machine in the process. This gives them a lucrative skill they can rely on financially, as well as providing them with menstrual hygiene tools and a place to go in their free time. Patrick said that UYAHF is hoping to generate enough pads to be able to give them out free, but it’s not there quite yet.

As we finished up the tour of the sanity pad production space, we said our goodbyes and took a group photo. Patrick said that he hoped we were comfortable in their small office. I said that it was a comfortable and productive space, but asked if they had any plans to expand.

“Yes,” Patrick said. “We want a bigger building so we can create a safe space for young girls.”

The team is planning to move soon, but they’ll stay in the same area, since the girls they are trying to reach often live in the slums and can’t make it out to the NGO safe spaces in more affluent neighborhoods.

Patrick and the team at UYAHF were inspiring. Getting to see the workspace in which girls are empowered to be independent while simultaneously creating reusable pads for themselves and their peers made me hopeful for the future of women’s rights in Uganda.