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International Youth Day 2021: A Celebration of Resilience, Perseverance, and Leadership

Aug 5, 2021

youth entrepreneur selling food, celebrating youth dayIn the trade center outside of Kamusenene, Mubende District, in central Uganda, vendors await their final customers as the afternoon begins to fade. Under the shade of her chapati stall, 18-year old Zabayo sits down to tell us more about the business she runs. A customer draws her briefly away while “It’s a Small World Plays” continues to play in the background.

Zabayo started selling chapati- an unleavened flatbread- during the spring of 2020 when the pandemic closed schools across Uganda. Though disappointed she could no longer attend in-person classes, Zabayo took the opportunity to apply what she had already learned with Asante Africa Foundation to begin her own small business. In particular, it was the knowledge and skills she gained through financial modeling and business planning courses that inspired Zabayo’s path forward. With the money she now earns, she buys books and school materials, and is proud to be saving money for her future.

But Zabayo is not just making a difference for herself and her family. She shares the lessons that helped her successfully plan and start a business with her friends and community. Indeed, with Zabayo’s guidance, some have already started their own small businesses. Even beyond her local community, Zabayo is making an impact. As one of the only females in the entire district selling chapati, she is breaking gender barriers and inspiring change. Zabayo is one of the young people that we celebrate this International Youth Day.

A Better Future Must Include the Youth of Today

young students empowered by youth leadershipInternational Youth Day (IYD) is celebrated every August 12. Beginning in 1999, when the UN General Assembly endorsed a resolution adopted during the first session of the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth, August 12 has been upheld as a day to draw attention to youth issues across the globe; recognize young people for their actions and achievements in addressing global problems; and rally for meaningful and equitable youth engagement at all levels of policy and society. This year’s theme- “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health”- focuses on young people’s contributions to creating more equitable and sustainable food systems. Other recent themes have focused on peace-building, safe spaces, education, and political inclusion. While the theme varies year to year, the message remains the same: “we cannot build a better future for tomorrow without including the youth of today.

This may be especially true for Africa where almost 60% of the current population is under the age of 25, making Africa the world’s youngest continent. As Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050- from 1 billion to nearly 2.4 billion inhabitants-it is apparent that this youthful trend will continue. It is also apparent that young people will determine Africa’s future. To ensure it is one of prosperity and stability, young people must be equipped with the skills and knowledge to compete in a changing and increasingly competitive global economy and prepared to lead change. These objectives are at the core of Asante Africa’s Leadership and Entrepreneurship Incubator (LEI) Program.

Learning that Goes Beyond the Classroom

Zabayo enrolled in the LEI program two years ago. The LEI curriculum is comprehensive, focusing simultaneously on personal development, job readiness, and entrepreneurship skills. It was developed with the unique needs of African youth in mind and focuses on building skills that employers and governments have identified as critical for succeeding in the 21st century job market. It is a program that prepares young people to be the leaders and change-makers that we celebrate on International Youth Day.

Participants in the LEI program hone soft skills such as work ethic and communication, while also learning to problem solve and work effectively with teams. For Zabayo, it was the lessons on financial literacy and entrepreneurship that really resonated, and what prompted her to establish her own small business. In particular, Zabayo cites learning to draw a budget and save money as some of the most useful lessons. She expressed gratitude for these lessons, lessons that taught her “how to do business.”

Zabayo’s decision to open a chapati stall was influenced by her father. He also sells the popular flatbread. While her father taught her the art of chapati-making, Zabayo was confident enough in the knowledge she had acquired and her own ability to run a business that she convinced him to let her take his place at the trade center. Her father now sells chapati in a neighboring district where he is able to earn more money.

Though her father may no longer work in the trade center, Zabayo is not alone in her business venture. Most days, her younger brothers Ivan, 15, and Pius, 9, accompany her to the trade center. A cameo during our video call demonstrated the boys’ enthusiasm for their sister’s operation. The youngest chimed in with a fervent expression of support, “I love the business!” Her brothers help prepare chapati and serve customers, but Zabayo is eager that they also learn to save and budget money and develop skills in leadership and entrepreneurism- the same lessons she is learning as an LEI scholar.

Youth Inspiring Youth

It is not just her family that Zabayo is teaching. Inspired by Asante Africa’s Pay-It-Forward philosophy and proud of her own accomplishments, she serves as a mentor to others in her community- especially her female peers. With an acknowledgment that girls in her community do not often receive any sort of finance or business training, Zabayo feels fortunate to be learning how to manage money and successfully pursue economic opportunities. She is happy to share these lessons with other girls, not just to expand their financial knowledge, but to encourage and inspire them towards financial independence. She recently counseled a friend in how to prepare a budget and plan financially for starting a business. With Zabayo’s guidance and support, this friend now regularly earns money selling pancakes in their village.

When asked about her future, Zabayo responds that she plans to become a nurse. While schools in Uganda are again closed due to a surge in COVID cases, Zabayo intends to return once the lockdown is lifted. Until then, she continues to operate her small business and earn money to support her education. Selling chappas, she earns about 20,000 shillings a day (around $5.50 USD)- money which Zabayo is saving for school fees and materials. When regular classes do resume, Zabayo plans to keep selling chapati. The extra money helps Zabayo “with many things [she] needs.”

Celebrating our LEI Scholars and All Young Leaders this International Youth Day

While chapati may not be a forever career for Zabayo, she is proud of the business that she started. When asked to explain more about the food item she sells, Zabayo described the many different ways that chapati are prepared and eaten in Uganda, before hurriedly and enthusiastically instructing her companion, Samuel from Asante Africa Foundation, to list them all in the chatbox: the “kikomando”, stuffed with beans, tomatoes and onions, the “rolex” topped with a fried egg.

At just 18-years old, Zabayo can boast that she operates her own business. She can stand tall as one of the only females in her district to sell chapati; and she can write her own future with the skills and knowledge she is gaining with Asante Africa. We celebrate Zabayo’s accomplishments this International Youth Day and look forward to those that she is still to achieve.

Written By: Beth Garcia