As the young people come and go, they walk by messages on colorful walls encouraging them to dream big and never give up. Welcome to the SmartUp Factory. Here, young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods can come together to find inspiration and build their future.
Together, 20 young people founded the SmartUp project in Uganda with the help of Issac Rwotungeyo, a youth volunteer who has since become an employee of Plan International tasked with managing the SmartUp project.
Thanks to their collective efforts, the SmartUp Factory is now a safe social place with free wifi, where young people can go to present their entrepreneurship projects for the future and find the help they need to get started. And, for those who have no idea what they want to do with their lives? No worries—in the quiet “harbor room,” young people can find the peace they need to feel inspired. And in the “brew room,” their ideas can come to life, little by little.
“A few years ago, I saw a Plan International poster inviting youth to participate in a new project,” said Harrod. “It spoke of the future. I went there and was selected, with 10 girls and nine boys. This place gave me an identity.”
He is 20 years old and is one of the young people who helps manage SmartUp.
"It does not matter whether we have studied or not,” he said. “It's an open space for everyone. We want young people to have hope for the future, to dare to dream and to have confidence in their abilities to realize their dreams."
This hope is essential in a city like Kampala in Uganda, where girls from slum communities are all too often lured into prostitution and boys into criminal activities.
After their stint at the SmartUp Factory, the young people are ready to start their own businesses, having learned to manage the financial aspects of a business, think positively, and persevere in their projects.
"That's right," says 22-year-old Ritah. She has been involved in the project since the beginning and has benefited from intensive support. Today, Ritah is the one giving training on leadership and life skills.
“I give training to boys and girls because girls are worth just as much as boys,” she said. “Often, families do not want to waste their money by training their daughters. Here, vulnerable girls are given a chance to prove themselves. Having been trained, they can start a small business. It's guaranteed."
SmartUp gives young people from slum neighborhoods the desire to learn and think positively. The project also provides them with an opportunity to develop creative and innovative ideas and become entrepreneurs. SmartUp Factories have so far been founded in Alebtong, Gulu, Kampala, Kamuli, and Tororo.
Once they have received training, it is the young people who run the SmartUp Factories and train other young people. The SmartUp project focuses on providing equal opportunities for girls and boys; the Kampala factory has a steering committee of 10 girls and 10 boys and has already reached nearly 500 young people.
“I did not hesitate to join Plan International's project. The SmartUp Factory gave me confidence and changed my way of thinking,” explains Ritah.
When she joined the project, she had just finished high school. "Where I live, girls do not get the same opportunities as boys. In my class, there were more boys. I had to fight to get to the end of high school; I cleaned houses and washed clothes to pay for my studies."
But Ritah did not have money for university. However, “thanks to the SmartUp Factory, I'm now running a small business raising chickens, and with the money I'm saving, I hope I can continue my studies."
When asked what her dream is, Ritah says determinedly, “Create jobs for girls. In a graphic design office maybe. And become a parliamentarian like Rebecca Kadaga, the first female speaker of the Ugandan parliament. I will never forget when she said, that girls must go to school and have the right to have a decent job. It motivated me to fight for the rights of girls.”