Life can be harsh for one staying in a city without any means of survival.
The situation becomes worse when there is a biting cash crunch, which tends to plague all sectors—causing an interminable cash crisis. This is the life which more than 35 former ghetto youths lived in Kampala experienced.
They only relied on both hand-outs from good Samaritans and dubious means to put food on the table.
Amid this suffering, they gathered in squalid dwellings in the city suburbs, pondering on how they could start a new day. But they found solace in one thing: togetherness.
Ray of hope
It is through togetherness that one of them learnt of an ongoing registration of ghetto youths for vocational courses by 31-year-old businessman and former street boy, Farouk Mujumba.
Mujumba’s big heart for the ghetto youth was inspired by his childhood life which was laced with a lot of suffering since he was an orphan. Having hustled his way to the city, he started vending merchandise. As his capital increased, he established himself with Kampala’s top businessmen.
In 2015, he pitched camp at Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) to seek their help to improve the livelihood of ghetto youth. Fortunately, KCCA endorsed his proposal and gave him leeway to continue with the project.
KCCA outgoing boss, Jennifer Musisi and the Prime Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda later launched the project in Kisekka market.
The project was basically about skills development, where youths would be trained in different aspects such as welding, among others.
This training breathed life into the hopes of more than 30 ghetto youths who passionately did the training.
They have since started minting money from what other people might regard as ‘dirty’ work.
In a high-rise incomplete building in Kikaajo zone, Makindye Ssabagabo off Busabala Road, I meet a group of youth who benefited from Mujumba’s project.
In one of the rooms on the second floor of the building, a heap of old car tyres welcomes you. Donned in blue overalls, their faces are drenched with sweat.
Armed with a screw, hammer and spanner, each one of them can be seen trying to fix threads through holes in the tyres to make complete art work —chairs and tables.
Mustafa Ssebuwufu, the manager of the group says that Mujumba donated to them Shs1m as starting capital.
“When he sold to us the idea of making these chairs which he had acquired from Zambia, it was a very big challenge because we didnt have the skills. He then took a few of us to Zambia for two weeks to learn how these chairs are made and when we returned, we started making them,” he says.
Their chairs, Ssebuwufu said, are made in different fashions depending on the choice of the client.
For instance, there are those they make with only car tyres and threads, making a complete chair of a sofa-like style while there are those they make with both tyres and wood. They also use nails and nuts to fix the chairs. They can either make one chair or a set.
After joining the tyres, Ssebuwufu says that they apply vanish to removed the rough surface of the old tyres and make them smooth. They also use different colours of threads depending on the client’s choice.
According to their rates, a single chair costs between Shs280,000 and Shs350, 000 depending on the size. But he says that the prices of these products are negotiable. Asked about how they get clients, Ssebuwufu says their boss, Mujumba, markets the products among his friends, adding that they are mostly bought by people who own bars, beaches, and other entertainment places.
“We also sell our products to people from Tanzania because they like them so much,” he said.
They buy these old car tyres in sets of 8 and 10 at Shs200,000 and Shs300,000 from garages and fuel stations depending on the sizes of the tyres. However, Ssebuwufu says that when garages and fuel stations realised the former ghetto youth were making a fortune out of the tyres, they hiked their prices, something he says affects their work.
Their capital has grown up to Shs4m and they expect to open a big working centre so that they can train other ghetto youth who are still wallowing in poverty. Some of the group members we spoke to say that the project has since changed their livelihoods.
“Life is no longer the same because I am sure of getting what to eat, rent and little upkeep. I believe that in the next three years, I will have acquired not only experience but also money to sustain me,” said Nsubuga Muzamir.
In a month, they get about four orders, with each client buying at least one chair, which gives them Shs1m. However, they share little and save the rest for further investment.
Apart from making chairs, the former ghetto youth also do some welding to supplement their income.
However, Ssebuwufu noted that although graduates approach them several times seeking employment, they tend to run away after realising that the money is little.
“The problem of those who study a lot is that they want quick money and whenever they come here, they tend to ask for bigger salaries which we cant actually afford. As such, we only concentrate on those from slums because they know what they want,” he says.
He asks government to always support youth who come up with projects that could eradicate poverty among the youth. Mujumba says at he feels happy when his fellow youth can manage to earn a living through hard work because that’s how he also started.
“When my parents passed on about two decades ago, I did every type of odd work to get better life. However, I feel bad when I see the youth in ghettos suffering because they deserve better. It doesn’t make sense for me to have good life yet my colleagues are suffering. Helping someone doesn’t mean that you give them millions but something little that can make a difference,’ he says.
Mujumba has also constructed various kiosks around the city. Some of these kiosks are used by youth to operate chapatti businesses.
Kassim Lubowa Musisi, the chairperson of Makerere Industrial village, Kagugube where the former ghetto youth first operated, says government should support people such as Mujumba who are ready to support slum dwellers.
“There were very many notorious youth in Kagugube but when he trained them to make those chairs, their lives changed. He surely helped us and we thank him for his good heart,” he says.