“If you want real peace, start with young people”
By Eddy Balina
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Trigger warning: sexual violence, assault
Do not move. Do not touch your phones. Raising machetes and blinding us with torches, masked youths turned my house upside down while my pregnant wife and I lay powerless in bed. I have never felt so helpless.
They attempted to rape our adopted daughter. They held hostage, our other children. They took our money, phones, computers, and documents. “We have come to work. 20 million Uganda Shillings to let you live,” is what they said.
This happened in April, but my experience of violence did not start here.
I grew up in one of the largest and most violent slums in Uganda. I experienced physical and emotional abuse in school. I grew up accustomed to being beaten and robbed, but this time it was different. I have a young family now, and I am still traumatized by how powerless I was to protect them.
Youth violence in Uganda is a complex social issue which hinders peace and development. Poverty, high unemployment, and drug addiction, fuel violence. 63% of my community are unemployed. 45% are involved in drugs. A lack of positive role models and a culture of brutality have failed to give young people the skills they need to solve conflicts without violence. Economic inequality escalates violence and fear. The poor cannot sleep because they are hungry, and the rich cannot sleep because they are on guard. If we are going to build sustainable peace, we need to tackle and reduce youth violence. This is key in countries like Uganda, where 80% of the population is under 30.
Preventing youth violence in Uganda through early intervention
To help reduce youth violence, in 2011, I founded the Non-Violence Project Uganda, a nonprofit organisation working across Uganda's schools and communities.
We work to prevent and combat school-related violence. We focus on self-esteem, conflict management, and non-violence among students. We train school administrations on violence management. We have installed peace boxes enabling anonymous reporting of violence cases, and we have devices to record and track violence. But we don't just focus on schools. We provide economic opportunities for youth in marginalised communities through vocational skills, encouraging entrepreneurship and financing. And we leverage the power of the media to reach out to people across Uganda. Currently, we run a radio talk show on non-violence with a listenership of 5 million people.
So far, the Non-Violence Project Uganda has trained 21,732 students in 227 schools on how to solve conflicts without violence. We have trained 2,008 teachers to help achieve this, and over 2000 young people have been helped by our economic empowerment programme.
For example, Jacob was a notorious gang member. We skilled him up, and he started his own construction business. He can now support his family, offer employment to others, and is a positive role model in the community.
And then there's Kama. She was a victim of domestic violence and found herself in sex work. We gave her a microloan and business training, and she now runs and owns her own beauty salon and has left her risky lifestyle behind.
As Gandhi said, if you want real peace, start with young people. I believe by empowering young people from impoverished backgrounds, we will build and sustain lasting peace.
Peace requires us to bridge the inequalities that exist in our society, and it starts with each one of us.
I challenge you. What can you do to keep young people safe, inspired and engaged in your community?
Eddy is a One Young World Ambassador, Founder of the Non-Violence Project Uganda, and Co-Founder of Ripples of Hope Initiative Uganda.