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- SOARING HEIGHTS. Little known from the ghetto and raised by a single parent, Noeline Kirabo dreamed of becoming a lawyer but later found her calling in helping disadvantaged youths to become better, writes CAROLYNE B. ATANGAZA.
Our society has conditioned us to believe the only way one can have a worthy career in the formal sector is having a university degree.
Noeline Kirabo was fully sold on this conditioning until her dream of attaining a university degree was dashed by a family tragedy. Left with no choice, Kirabo went on a hunt for an alternative way to get legitimate certification into the formal sector but instead found her purpose that she now uses to make other disadvantaged youth’s lives better.
Kirabo describes herself as a family therapist, life coach and social entrepreneur. Her brand of social entrepreneurship helps charity organisations create successful positive social impact using business models. She is the founder of Kyusa, a not-for-profit organisation which works with out of school youth from urban slum settings and helps them become employable through starting their own businesses or being able to leverage available job opportunities. “Youth unemployment is a big issue in this country at the moment whether educated or not. It is a crisis that cuts across, but it is even worse for young people that drop out of the education system and have no academic papers; their employability is already too low. So we help them turn their passions into businesses using their skills and experience to build business models that help them become profitable,” Kirabo explains.
As a former school dropout Kirabo has an insider’s experience of this kind of struggle. “I passed my A-Level and was admitted to Makerere University on a private sponsorship scheme. Unfortunately, at this time, my mother Joyce Mugaga discovered she had cervical cancer. This meant I had to stop working and coming from a single income family, I could not continue with school,” Kirabo recounts. Kirabo nursed her mother for a year and watched the indomitable strength of the human spirit. “I noticed my mother simply refuse to die. She stared death in its face and simply defied it. This, as unbelievable as it may sound was a defining moment for me; it gave a perspective about human will even in the face of death. My mother had always told me I could be anything I wanted, this, became more than a tired old cliché when I saw her demonstrate it through her own life,” relates Kirabo.
Kirabo’s quest for knowledge
The social entrepreneur dreamed of becoming a lawyer or a journalist but lack of tuition meant these would remain dreams. “The most frustrating fact was that I had not failed but because I did not have tuition and could not do anything about it. But after my mother’s fight against cancer I realised all I needed was finding out something I cared about enough to fight for,” she recounts.
With a resolve to make her life better, she started reading. “Initially the idea was to read extensively. I would go to the library and read everything. I wanted to understand how everything works and my position in this order of things and simply be knowledgeable.
Through this, I discovered I was more interested in working with people and the humanities,” Kirabo recounts. Kirabo enrolled for a basic computer course, and then she discovered the internet which exposed her to a new world filled with unlimited possibilities. She started doing as many online courses as she could to build her curriculum vitae (CV). With this foundation; she started doing voluntary work especially with youth. It was this combination of relentless learning and selfless voluntary work that got Kirabo her first job.
“When I got my first job, I told myself that I would never look back. I was an office assistant earning about Shs30,000. For me the money did not matter but what was exciting was having something to look forward to everyday. I would excitedly wake up, dress as formally as my wardrobe could allow and go to work with a spring in my step. The bonus was having a computer to myself. After the basic training I taught myself everything I know today about computers which is substantial,” says Kirabo.
The big break
She later got a job with an NGO where she was paid half of what her colleagues were earning although she did the same amount of work because she had no formal academic papers. Two years later, as she was still coming to terms with her discovery she noticed an employment advert in a newspaper and decided to apply for it even though she did not have the required academic qualification.
“The advert stated that candidates must have a master’s. All I had were a bunch of online certificates but the daring me thought, it does not hurt to try.
So, I applied for the job. During the interviews, a British woman who was one of the panelists observed something outstanding about someone who dares to apply for a position for which they do not have academic qualification. And this, I realised was the reason I got shortlisted,” Kirabo recounts.
According to Kirabo, this was like a second chance at life. She was overwhelmed that someone dared to see her beyond her academic papers or lack of thereof. That she managed to beat people with masters degrees and take the job built a new confidence in her that she can do anything, be anything. “My mother and I were excited by this opportunity and that I was finally earning enough money and living a comfortable life. Six years later, what would have been the peak of my career, I quit,” she relates.
Kirabo says her mother was appalled by this decision and told her it was a dumb thing to do. She admits that she too had moments when she felt the same. But, most of the time, she believed it was the right thing to do because she felt she had learned everything she needed to and was not finding enough challenges to fuel her. She also had to fulfill a goal she had set to do something she was passionate about by the time she turned 30.
“So there was this shift between the comfort of where I was and the unknown but compelling journey of finding that one thing I was passionate about. I knew what I wanted to do but I did not know how to do it. About three months after resigning my job, I got a scholarship notification from Kanthari International Institute, India. I used to apply for many things online and I was surprised when I actually got the scholarship. So I went for this programme where the only question I was supposed to answer for eight months was how did I want to change the world. Finding this answer shaped my passion and desire into my new career,” Kirabo explains.
Her passion for compassion
The vibrant life coach was not always the upbeat and positive. She reveals she went through bouts of depression and that she attempted to take her own life. Having survived these darkest times of her life gave her the compassion for other out of school young people.
She is compassionate about these people who feel hopeless and lost because society tends to label them failures. She understands the indignities and discrimination they face every day because she went through the same. So for Kirabo, working with this group of people is not so much of a job but helping them through the same journey but faster and easier.
For the last eight years Kirabo has volunteered as a counsellor at Watoto Ministries and other communities.
Currently, she is concentrating on helping people discover their hidden potential through coaching. She does group and individual coaching. She has so far published two books Finding Your Significance which is sold on Amazon and Command Your Morning which helps people shape their habits and develop routines that can help them become productive.