Photo by Mukalu Nasif: Bareelo Jackson participating in the Safe and Inclusive rehabilitation session on drugs and substance abuse.

My name is Jackson Baleero, I am a 23-year-old resident of the Makindye division’s Kakungulu zone of Kibuli Parish. Given the conditions of my life and the society I reside in, I ultimately chose the name “calamity” to refer to someone who causes enormous suffering and frequently unexpected harm or disaster to others and the community at large.

My friends began to wonder if I was depressed when I was in my late teens, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent a lot of time in bed, and spent a lot of free time thinking about death because of the difficult period I was going through. They did not even consider me to be a man since, in their opinion, true men are always on the go and seeking work, never at home.

I tried to ask them how I could follow their lead and mature into this man. I was shocked to learn that their membership subscription was covered entirely by smoking. They had formed a group and called themselves the “untouchables,” or “majje majje,” in the local language based in Kibuli’s darkened backstreets. I was going through a depressive moment at the time, so I decided to join them since I had nowhere welcoming or appropriate to go. Only to discover that they practiced not only smoking but also stealing, robbery, killing, raping, insulting notably females, and a host of other illegal activities that I am unable to discuss.

I became a star to the point that I was granted leadership as the gang leader of majje majje because, as they say, practice makes perfect. Since this was my job, there were ups and downs, just like in any other job. On the night, my guys and I went to conduct our usual job of “stealing phones,” but sadly, we were severely beaten up by the locals to the point that my reproductive system was damaged. This encounter made me pause, think, and choose a different, fruitful path to steer clear of these illicit Activities.

My local leader told me about a new youth program that had been launched by ACTogether Uganda and PLAN in 2022. I believed that this may be the catalyst for change. Fortunately, ACTogether Uganda mobilized me, and through the interactions, I learned about the Safe and inclusive cities project and its progressive goals for young people living vulnerable lives, including gang members, teenage moms, and sex workers.

I have since taken part in numerous meetings and training as a beneficiary. I have received training to serve as my community’s safety champion, and this has helped me to set a good example for other young people in the neighborhood.  I didn’t stop there; with assistance from ACTogether Uganda, I founded the Zanzibar Youth Development Group with some of my friends with whom I had previously engaged in illegal activities. We plan to launch product businesses like chicken farming in this group. Additionally, our group members have benefited from numerous pieces of training on advocacy, governance, and commercial and financial literacy.

I have taken part in campaigns to raise awareness, particularly around sexual and gender-based violence in my community. My rights and sexual and reproductive health have also been taught to me. Because of this, I finally admitted that rape was an awful deed, and my new motto is “say no to violence”.

I simply can’t convey the joy I feel right now, thanks to the efforts of the project, I am now saving to open up my saloon and generally advance peace in the community. Because of the Safe and Inclusive Cities project, I no longer have time to waste in the gang group other than motivating those who are already in it to change. As a result, I want to witness to the entire world who I am. I want to express my gratitude to Plan International and ACTogether for this significant shift in my life.

Story Teller.    Jackson Baleero, Kibuli parish, Makindye.

Story recorder: Joyce katisi ( kibuli parish)