Wednesday January 7 2015

Lyantonde’s response to the aids scourge

Students conduct science experiments at SVEC.

Students conduct science experiments at SVEC. No graduates have completed their studies so far. Vice-President Edward Ssekandi opened the institute in 2013 and the second construction phase was launched mid last year. Photos by Michael J Ssali 

By Michael J Ssali

A few decades ago, Lyantonde Town comprised two lines of commercial buildings, restaurants, bars and guest houses on the Masaka-Mbarara highway, according to Herbert Rwensheshe, secretary for production, Lyantonde District Council. It was mainly a hospitality town where long route truck drivers stopped over for the night before proceeding with their journey to Rwanda or Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The drivers also would spend a night or two in Lyantonde where the ladies of the night hang out in the bars eager to give company to the sexually starved long distance truck drivers. Some people then established more shops from which the women would buy items such as mattresses, bed sheets, stoves, cooking utensils and other items.
The farmers in the neighbouring communities sold foodstuffs, charcoal and other commodities to town dwellers. As years went by, Lyantonde developed into the busy urban centre it is today, and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics estimates the town’s population to be more than 7,000. Local opinion leaders however say it is more than 15,000.
However, the unique hospitality industry on which the town was built became its major setback with the arrival of HIV/Aids. Easy sex and alcohol turned Lyantonde Town into one of the most risky HIV/Aids spots in the country at an estimated prevalence rate of 13 per cent, according to Dr Okoth Obbo, the district health officer.
“Prostitution, alcohol, and drug abuse are among our worst social problems, and they have contributed to the big number of HIV orphaned children and widows living in destitute conditions,” Rwensheshe said during the activities to mark World Aids Day last year.
Prostitution is still a big problem. It was the first major economic activity at the beginning of the town, but the disease has led to high death rates and the huge number of orphans and widows could not support their families in the neighbouring communities.

Controlling idle youth
The big question for the local leaders and development partners now is how to reduce prostitution and to help the youths and the widows engage in gainful and dignified employment.
A Canadian funded research project Salama Shield Foundation (SSF), headed by Dr Dennis Willms did establish that fewer women would engage in prostitution if they were empowered to engage in money generating activities. Willms solicited funds from Canada and SSF took on a micro-credit component, lending small sums of money to women near Lyantonde Town.
“To our surprise, all the women we lent money paid back and we could see that they were eager and willing to work hard,” said Kenneth Mugabo, country director of SSF.
The other women who had some land were given goats and taught how to use animal manure to make their gardens more productive. With the money earned from such activities some of them built their own houses and managed to meet most of their families’ needs such as buying uniforms for their school going children.
SSF also organised village seminars where the local people would be taught about HIV prevention, hygiene, and general sanitation.
It was further observed that much as the women had struggled to send their children to school there was a likelihood that they would end up unemployed and engage in sexually risky lifestyles.
In 2009, SSF encountered a Canadian couple, Mr And Mrs Doug Fregin, who donated Canadian $8m (an equivalent of Shs200 billion, according to Mr Jude Ssekate, the public relations officer) for the construction of a vocational school to provide the youths from vulnerable homes with skills such as wood work (carpentry), metal work, food and nutrition, brick laying, agriculture, computer literacy, and hospitality, auto mechanics, tailoring and weaving, among other skills.
In February 2013 construction of the first phase of the school was accomplished in Lyantonde Town, complete with furniture and fittings from Canada and Vice-President Edward Kiwanuka officially launched the Salaama Vocational Education Centre (SVEC).
The vocational institution has been introduced as a measure to fight prostitution and HIV/Aids in Lyantonde. It accepts vulnerable youths to give them skills to earn a living without practicing prostitution. Those too poor to pay tuition are offered places on the understanding that they will pay afterwards when they begin working.
Entrants into the school have to be from vulnerable families who completed a minimum of O’ level education and could not continue with their education due to social and economic factors.
“Since we are aware that most of our students have tuition issues, we have a students’ loan scheme,” said Jude Ssekate, SVEC’s school liaison and outreach officer.
“We make home visits to establish their vulnerability and commitment to the training. We have two-year-programmes for different courses leading to the Uganda Business and Technical Examinations Board (UBTEB).
Ssekate said the school provides opportunities for work-study contracts for students to do work on campus such as participating in the construction of some halls and earn pocket money and crediting their loans. The students may also undertake work projects outside school on weekends to gain more practical skills and to earn some money.
Ssekate singled out a female student, Amina Nakafeero, who already has mastered building and concrete practice and recently has helped with the building of a house in her village.
The students must also engage in community activities such as voluntary cleaning of the local hospital and visiting patients, cleaning local places of worship and assisting with labour to repair homes of vulnerable community members. A section of the pioneer students were provided with bicycles to ease their transport, however with the commencement of the second phase last June, more students are expected to live in the school, according to Mr Ssekate.

at a glance...
Lyantonde Town is a busy commercial centre today. It is still the stop-over point for truck drivers and hospitality is a main economic activity. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the town’s population is more than 7,000 thought locals estimate it at more than 15,000.

Prostitution is still a big problem. It was the first major economic activity at the beginning of the town. Prostitution led to the high death rates due to HIV/Aids and the huge number of orphans and widows that could not support their families in the neighbouring communities.

The vocational institute has been introduced as a measure to fight prostitution and HIV/Aids in Lyantonde. It accepts vulnerable youths to give them skills to earn a living without practicing prostitution. Those too poor to pay tuition are offered places on the understanding that they will pay afterwords when they begin working.

Apart from SSF , there is Racobao (Rakai Community based Aids Organisation) which has been actively fighting HIV/Aids from the time Lyantonde was still part of Rakai. SSF is apparently much more sounding these days and has more involvement with the community. It tackles the disease by promoting medical treatment, testing and counselling. It has now embarked on providing vocational skills to the youths so that they can earn money honestly and with dignity.

features@ug.nationmedia.com

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