Growing up with adversity, Kenneth Mulinde decided he didn't want the same for Uganda's youth. So, he set up YAMU and didn't look back.
Like many other kids in the slums of Uganda, Kenneth Mulinde doesn’t consider himself a lucky child growing up. However, he did not surrender.
Moved by his own childhood, today he is relentlessly working for younger generations to have better living circumstances than he did.
Since 2016 to this day, Kenneth Mulinde, Executive Director, Youth Arts Movement Uganda (YAMU), has directly supported over half of young people living in poor conditions, with free informal arts education in digital-media skills, and information and communication technologies.
This is just a part of the contribution that YAMU is making towards creating safe spaces and supportive learning environments where youth can access global opportunities and bring positive impact and economic prosperity for young people in Uganda. Through arts, education and mentorship.
YAMU uses the creative process to nurture the hearts and minds of marginalized youth, offering a room for them to imagine, believe, and represent their creative vision.
In this exclusive interview with Youth Time, Mulinde highlights their work in broader terms, how they build cooperation with young people, and how they ensure that youth from at-risk communities enjoy supportive and sustainable learning environments so they can creatively express themselves.
Yesterday’s Struggle Becomes Today’s Strength
Using his own experiences, struggles and learnings, his passion for slum dwelling youth is stronger.
“Their story is my story”, says Mulinde while adding that it has always been at the core of his heart to change the status quo of the victims of the circumstances, to listen to them, give them courage and hope for a better day.
“To walk their walk and help them see life in a new perspective, they can even when the entire world has turned away from them.
“It’s not over, they have each other, they can craft together and forge creative solutions that meet their needs, they can have a space where they can amplify their voices about the things they care about.”
And all this, he goes on, is not because he or the organisation has a lot to give.
“We simply care and want to change the things we couldn’t change for ourselves by empowering others to win over them and be better people for the present and future generations to come.”
His family lacked in various ways. Today, he can’t even imagine the pain his father had to endure to fulfil their basic needs.
He continues: “We lost the only person in our lives to a road accident as he made his way back from a safari work.”
Following a life of struggles and unfortunate circumstances, the streets were his family’s only option left.
“We failed to pay rent for several months, feeding ourselves was hard, so we hit the streets. “
He brings context into discussion, while mentioning that 70% of children and youth with the background like himself, never make it through life.
“With zero access to meaningful education and family support, economic independence for young people in this situation becomes so difficult. Many resort to drug abuse and crime just for survival to see a new day!
“So, through YAMU, we want to ensure that youth like these, a safe place where they can call home, a small paradise where their dreams can come true, through access to lifelong opportunities that would bring the change they desire for, and financial liberation to live healthier and happier lives as a decent people.”
Building a Community for Youth to Grow
A corner where youth can find all these is the Community Learning Centre, where they share knowledge and skills, and they express themselves creatively.
Mulinde explains: “Here they learn how to challenge themselves to shift the status quo through leadership, to speak to unequal and unjust power and claim for their human rights to be observed and respected.”
All along his work with youth, he preaches hard work and collective creative solutions for and by the young people themselves.
“We encourage play and art as key components in building culturally diverse communities.
“We respect that people are unique and beautifully different, thus the need to live and work together regardless of who we are as people, but united and connected for a common ground, appreciating each other as humanity and forging a way forward together.”
Giving Youth a Chance to Feel Part of a Global Community
Because YAMU understands their beneficiaries, instead of blaming them, YAMU engages them.
“We empower creatives, activists and rights defenders through collaborative and solutions based programming whose focus is to eradicate poverty, inequality and promote social accountability, civic inclusion and participation of the youth and women in decision-making spaces.”
Decisions are guided by a commitment to social justice and a long-term pledge to the people they serve; to respond sensitively and effectively to their particular needs.
“We lead this through workshops, camps and events while providing a support framework including mentorship, collaboration, residency programs and training.”
Artivism Easing Youth’s Shortcomings
Most empowerment programs for youth and women in Uganda are focused on indigenous arts. Yet, this didn’t prove enough to solve the economic problems.
“Many youths are stuck, and have lost hope, yet we dominate 77% of the country’s population, and need to be equipped with tools and skills in digital technologies that the future demands.”
It is estimated that by the year 2030, at least 85% of the companies and businesses will be heavily relied on skilled tech, digital resources and solutions.
Seeing Through Activities
Youth Arts Movement Uganda, unlike many youth organisations, has adopted an inclusive digital media approach to solving some of these pressing challenges.
YAMU acknowledges the importance of art as an ongoing expression of identity and encourages youth to explore the world around them. Its approaches and activities include:
Youth Leader Programme
Provides opportunities for young people from slums to develop and influence their direction–ensuring that their programmes, initiatives and advocacy respond to their needs–and exemplifying best practice in youth leadership and creativity for other artists, activists and organisations to follow.
Every six months, the youth members contest for various youth leader positions in the various departments.
This allows them a chance to reconnect with their communities as change agents, but also as ambassadors that they have the power to change the status quo.
Amplifying Women’s Voices
Actively listening to and advocating for young women, and adolescent girls’ issues through the Elite Girls program and Visualize for Equality project.
These programmes facilitate opportunities for girls and women in creative and career development, and collaborating with other organisations to achieve access to social justice and equality.
To date, the program has empowered 20 young women, with confidence to speak out on their own behalf, competently take part in decision-making spaces to challenge the unequal and unjust patriarchal systems.
Art-Reach Youth Camp
Every year, YAMU organizes the Annual Art-Reach Youth Camp, a creative convention that hosts up to 300 young people from universities, high schools, associations and organizations.
This camp engages the youth in gainful and meaningful outdoor learning experiences to reflect, learn and share in different topical issues while having fun.
This five-day’ residential venture provides a “window” in which creatives and activists can be exposed to a whole different collaborative and creative life changing experience!
The camp is available to youth between the ages of 18-35 years for local and international participants.
Visualize Film Maker’s Boot Camp and Visualize for Equality Project
Visualize is a media programme under Youth Arts Movement Uganda management, that organises fun-filled outdoor learning experiences for all age groups, from scholars to organisations and corporate companies.
Its most thrilling experiences include the day and residential digital media camps, team building camps, road trips and customised up skilling on various topics.
The After-School Program
After-School Program is supported by a Community Learning Centre in Bulange, Sentema- Kampala. It serves children and youth of ages 10-25 from five urban slum communities including; kasubi-nabulagala, Namungoona, Nakulabye and Kiyaaye.
This programme encompasses a broad range of focus areas like academic support, mentorship, professional youth development, arts and design, sports and recreation, media literacy, income-generating activities.
Believe in Youth Power and Listen to Them
Mulinde believes that art is the starting point of a larger life process, and the start of larger conversations about the future of our communities.
He demands to hear youth’s voices and involve them in all issues that matter to them politically, socially and economically regardless of their marginalized backgrounds.
Click here to find out various ways to support their inspiring work.
Here’s another Youth Time story of a young activist contributing for sustainable development in rural areas of Colombia:
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