INSPIRATION: Caroline Owashaba witnessed her mother struggle to raise school fees for her and the siblings. Many of the children in her neighbourhood weren’t as lucky. They were left to loiter around the village in rural Nsikye, Mbarara District, while Owashaba went to school. From that time on, she promised herself to make a change in the lives of rural youth and women if she ever got a chance, writes Phionah Nassanga.
Hers was a polygamous family. Her mother was the breadwinner, running a small village bar business. She did everything within her means to put food on the table as well as keep her children in school. When her mother died, Owashaba realised just how much her mother had sacrificed to raise six children.
At the age of 10, she had to face the reality of having to stay home on days when her school dues were not paid. This became her new lifestyle. And this did not leave her the same. It is at this point that she realised she needed to think of ways to survive.
Just like any one who has grown up in the village, Owashaba would look up for children of her age to participate in activities like running, music, dance and drama every evening when she came back from school and over the weekend.
“As a child, I did not know how much impact I was creating. But my friends and I enjoyed the games. I was an active girl at school and a scout”.
There was a term Owoshaba did not have school fees. Instead of going back to the village like many do, Owashaba wrote a letter to Veronica Maloney of Bromley Mbarara, an association of scouts based in the United Kingdom and Mbarara seeking for sponsorship for her education.
“I wrote to her in 2000, but got a response in 2001. She referred me to Anne Mary Kinyira Wanora, a renowned scout in the 1960s. Wanora was not only willing to support me but turned out to be the perfect replacement of a mother. The time I spent with her, many young girls joined scouting,” Owashaba narrates.
In 2009, Owashaba graduated with a bachelor’s degree in counselling and guidance from Kyambogo University. During her time at the university, Owashaba went on to start Youth Alive Uganda.
Today, Owashaba is a counsellor, a social entrepreneur, youth, women and environmental activist whose contribution has been felt in the rural areas of Ryeru Sub County, Katerera town council, Nsikye in Mbarara and Rubirizi districts.
Joining the fight
“Having joined Uganda Counselling Association, I was confident I would easily find a job. But I was wrong. I tried to venture into jewellery, but I felt I was better placed to interact with people”.
Wondering how to go about life and how she could achieve her dreams, in 2010, Owashaba saw an advert in the Daily Monitor calling for training for Women Forum for Democracy.
She successful joined and during the three weeks, Owashaba was equipped with social and alternative leadership skills, children and women empowerment skills, among others.
Even if she had been there before and seen the situations in the rural areas, the training opened her eyes to the impact of suffering that rural children and women go through.
Having gone to school by the help other people, Owashaba thought it was time she gave back to society.
Teaming up with a friend, the two started an organisation. Action for Youth Development Uganda (ACOYDE) which is aimed at impacting the lives of rural women and youth. Her first area of interest was Nsikye.
Keeping children in school
Apart from sending the girls to school, she also spares time to counsel parents and teachers on how to interract with teenagers, especially girls and following up on school attendance.
Through her networks, Owashaba says she has been able to win grants to support the organisation.
However, her intention is to reach out to people beyond mere education. She is also targeting those that are out of school due to early pregnancies but need to keep in school, survive and live a better life.
“During holidays, the girls are engaged in different developmental projects like making crafts, poultry and adding value to banana stems.
“We also work with parents in the agriculture sector to enable children to go to school early without having to go to the gardens first,” she reveals.
Owashaba does a lot of advocacy both internationally and locally, lobbying for the underprivileged women and youth.
In 2014, she embarked on boosting household savings through the Children for Alternative Change (CHACHA) programme.
Under this programme, parents are encouraged to open up joint savings accounts with their children to fight schools dropouts.
Using banana fibre and stems
Women in the four communities of Nsikye have been taught how to make crafts, among other items which they sell during exhibitions to help raise money for their children’s scholastic materials.
From the money earned out of the crafts or agricultural products, mothers save at least Shs2000 from every item or product sold. “The money saved helps mothers meet the basic school needs of their children,”
In 2016, National Social Security Fund offered to support her initiative. The local people asked if they could have a machine that extracts banana stems in order to make more products to boost their earnings.
Unlike many who prefer to work and stay in urban areas, Owashaba envisions a world where all children have access to quality education and heathcare. Her dream is to transform lives of the underprivileged people and this has won her numerous awards.
Recognised for efforts
Owashaba has worked in the community development sector for six years serving in various capacities. Her efforts in empowering the rural women and youth have been recognised. In 2015, she received an award from Set Africa. In 2016, she received the International Women award for women in rural creative development. In 2017, she was awarded the Active Citizens British Council Ugandan and in 2018 she received the ‘Decides award’.