After completing her third year final examinations at Makerere University Business School (MUBS) May 2017, Faith Mairah did not want to just sit idle waiting for her graduation, which was taking place the following year in January 2018. Mairah would be attaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics.
So, during the waiting period, she began applying for different jobs. “Which job didn’t I apply for?” she says, laughing. “I was determined and fired up in search for work because I yearned for independency.”
Mairah did not receive feedback on any of the applications she sent out. Upon realising her frustration, Mairah’s father offered her an opportunity to work for him at his company, a solar business enterprise.
“I turned down his offer because I wanted to build my own legacy,” she says.
At this point in time, Mairah had already moved out of the student hostel and was now staying alone in a rented apartment costing her Shs200,000, a month. And since there were no jobs coming up that would enable her earn money to pay for different expenses, she ventured into making simsim snacks.
Beginning of the hustle
The start of the business was challenging.
“My simsim was rejected many times. Shops refused to stock my product,” she shares.
Mairah decided to restrategise. Rather than going to market her product to shopkeepers, she opted to go to schools. “These learning institutions ended up buying my simsim,” she says.
The business picked up well and Mairah began making profits. Despite the fact that money was now coming in, she was not happy. “I did not want to build a simsim brand for myself. That was never my dream. Rather, I always wanted to become an advocate for women and youth,” she says.
She closed the simsim business after to pursue her dream.
Then came a thought. Rather than continuing to apply for jobs, why not apply for volunteering opportunities at different Non-Government Organisations (NGOs)?
“I told myself that probably the best way to enter the NGO world was by first volunteering and then afterwards, it would be easier to apply for a job within the organisation,” she says, adding: “Maybe the reason why I was not getting hired was because I lacked the experience for the positions.”
Mairah wanted to work for NGOs because these would give her a chance to reach out to different communities and connect with people. The volunteering application processes paid off after organisations opened doors for her. The first NGO she volunteered for was an environment based one. She then moved to Restless Development Uganda, an organisation working with young people to ensure they have a productive and fulfilling life. “I was recruited to work as a volunteering peer educator in Mayuge District.”
Life in Mayuge District was not easy. “The conditions there were challenging, for instance, power was off most of the time and when it rained, movement was difficult.”
Mairah was being given Shs90,000 as monthly upkeep money. In order to supplement this amount, she thought of venturing into farming. After conducting her research on what possible food to grow, she zeroed down to watermelons. This was after being told they could grow faster and there was readily available market for them. She reached out to her father who loaned her Shs1.5m. The money was used for mostly purchasing seeds, hiring land for growing the water melons and paying off workers.
“The watermelons grew in a period of three months and I sold off the harvest to one group that paid me Shs4.5m. My hustle paid off,” she says.
Mairah spent seven months in Mayuge District before her contract expired in August, 2018. Overall, the place made her realise that she could do so much with her life.
It was most likely because of her impressive volunteering role that Restless Development Uganda in the end offered Mairah the position of youth advisory committee member representing the organisation at The Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Alliance Uganda, a consortium of like-minded organisations that implements interventions towards addressing the sexual reproductive health needs and rights of young people.
While serving in this position, she was supervised by two respective bosses; the line manager from Restless Development Uganda and (the then) youth country coordinator at SRHR. “I received a lot of mentorship from them,” she says,
In particular, Mairah was more drawn to the youth country coordinator whom she admired a lot because of her power and vigor.
Mairah’s position opened up some other opportunities for her. For example, between May and early July 2019, she studied a Strengthening Education and Training course, which opened up her mind more on reproductive health. Then, she was one of the successful applicants considered for The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in Nairobi, Kenya a program that identifies and empowers young and upcoming leaders.
She was in the program throughout August, 2o19. After YALI, she came back to Uganda and found out that the youth country coordinator at SRHR had resigned from her position. “Everyone encouraged me to apply including my former boss who held the position,” Mairah says.
She went for it. Meanwhile, there was another job opening at Restless Development Uganda for the position of programme officer. She applied for this one as well.
She passed interviews for both jobs, and opted for the youth country coordinator position because the organisation was the first one to notify her about the successful job interview process. It is her current position today. Part of the role involves mentoring, empowerment and representing voices of young people.
What have these different life experiences taught Mairah?
“I have learnt that if you want something big in life, you have to work right from scratch. There is no shortcut. And with a lot of determination, hard work and persistence, you will make it,” she says.
The 25-year-old adds that volunteering gave her the opportunity to learn, fail as well as see her greatest potential.
She encourages other youth to consider volunteering first before applying for any job. By doing so, one will get the experience and in the end, they will easily be considered for job opportunities.