“A former gang member who now helps other young people become more productive”

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Kyeswa Cowell lives in the Bwaise II parish of Kawempe division (Nabukalu zone). According to him, he was a member of the neighbourhood gang known as “One Love”. The gang was vicious, synonymous with drug abuse, and used to steal people’s valuables to sell them elsewhere. His primary role in the group, he claims, was to find a market for the stolen goods. According to Cowell, all of the members were unemployed and unable to find meaningful jobs, so drugs was a normal occurrence and a way of life for them. He claims that he and other members had certain expertise that only needed to be developed with assistance, guidance and financial support.

Cowell took part in a safety toolkit training session aimed at analyzing neighborhood problems and promoting strong youth civic participation in shaping governance and addressing neighborhood crime and drug abuse. Young men and women were assisted in establishing youth saving groups. The programme also aided young people in identifying, planning, and implementing safety initiatives targeting violence, crime and drug abuse in the neighborhood.

According to Cowell, he no longer has time for gangs and instead devotes his attention and time to his saving group (Good money, clean money youth saving group) where they are saving and doing collective work. He claims that the programme changed his outlook and that with the money he saved, he opened a craft, graphics, and tailoring workshop to raise more money and to encourage other young people to learn basic skills at his workshop rather than engage in drugs and criminal activity. “In addition to gaining knowledge on crime and violence, skills on how to engage for safety, the SAIC programme, assisted me to acquire some machines and materials as part of the safety initiative by my group aimed at reducing the redundancy of young men and women involved in violence and crime.

In addition, through the workshop, I am assisting other young people who are out there but have not had the opportunity to enrol anywhere. According to Cowell, many young people abuse drugs, and many have dropped out of school because their parents cannot afford it. As a result, one of the motivations for launching this workshop project was to assist those young people in gaining marketable skills and finding meaningful jobs other than wandering on the streets and engaging in illegal activity”. Amina Lukwago, a 16-year-old girl who is part of Cowell’s initiative, explained that her parents couldn’t afford to pay for her next stage in school, so she dropped out and had no choice but to attend the workshop to obtain practical experience. “My mother is still intoxicated and doing commercial sex,” Emma, a 15-year-old young boy, said. “With such actions and poverty, there was little hope,” he said, adding that Cowell’s initiative was the only way for him to learn some skills that would help him find work.”

So far, Cowell’s initiative has graduated 18 young people who are now working on their own and there are currently ten young people enrolled and undergoing training. According to Cowell, he can now have at least 200,000shs in disposable income, whereas before he could only have a small amount that could be used to purchase drugs. “If all goes well, he plans to enlarge the workshop to fit the large number of young people who are interested in gaining practical knowledge,” Cowell said.