Every member of the Butterfly Project has unique skills and abilities and in my mind they represent very clearly that rural children in Africa don’t just demand sympathy, but also our investment and active participation. Nyeko is also a good example of how potential can be missed – during our interview process, we viewed him initially as unsuitable for the project, as he had little interest in community action. Later, though, he showed a passion for change that few have exhibited and our learning from this is that a change in culture can be achieved in young people, even with those that have more extreme views.
At the Chrysalis School we took the view that if you want to empower children, then you must not beat them. Punishments must be thought-provoking, not physical. This may not be a new phenomenon, but it is a rare one in Uganda, where there seems to be a culture of beating children and even an unhealthy zeal for beating amongst some teachers. When asked about beating in March this year, he said that it was very important for children’s development, a crucial part of ensuring that they did not stray. By November and feeling empowered himself all year, he took the opposite view that beating was counter-productive to the development of children. He felt that he could speak up in class, ask questions, challenge authority, develop his own ideas, study areas outside the curriculum and show initiative in a whole variety of other areas.
When asked about violence to women, back in March he said that women needed some abuse “to make sure they brought the food on time” and “what’s the problem with slapping a woman, if they do something wrong?” By November, he was advocating fro women’s rights and education for girls.
Nyeko has always been something of an entrepreneur. He lives in Agoro, the son of a Congolese man and his mother is from Kasese in Western Uganda, though he describes himself as an Acholi, as his grandparents on his motther’s side were both from Agoro sub-county in Lamwo, Northern Uganda. He lived in the town of Kasese for a number of years, but he said he felt disempowered to achieve anything there. He said for him it was also very difficult for him to learn entreprenurship skills, as no one gave him much credit and business in any case was for adults. He was more of an errand boy than a young entrepreneur. He was actually quite pleased to be sent to Agoro to live with his grandparents, because he could learn some useful agricultural skills and have some land just for himself to grow and sell produce. And so, he became a beans and onions seller in his village, borrowing a bicycle to ride for two hours to the trading centre and two hours back.
However, it is with corruption that Nyeko most adamant about being a changemaker. Children grow up within a web of corruption. They see things they know to be wrong – nepotism, rich people getting richer at the expense of the disempowered poor, children killed to make way for the children of new wives or even buried under buildings to enchant them to make more money for the owners. They see people selling up everything, so that they can bribe officials for government jobs for their children. And much more.
Nyeko felt spectacularly disempowered when he joined us in March, in that he felt his mission was to earn money, so that he could become a “player” in the corruption web. No one had ever suggested that a social entrepreneur does not brook corruption and that this was a relevant possible way to make a better society. In November, his mission is to become an international social entrepreneur, who can develop projects for the benefit of communities in Uganda and even Congo, where his father lives.
Nyeko has learnt this, I think, mainly by participating in the Chicken for Change Project. He has been managing the rosters of the children who are looking after the chicks. They are much more disadvantaged than him and some have been spending 12+ hours for many days in a row, just to earn 35p per day, which can use for food or clothing.
His plan next is to develop a fish farm in Congo this year for the community where his father lives and then to duplicate that idea in Acholiland later this year. However, we need to support his education to do this and if you feel you would like to support him, then write to this email.
Nyeko has performed well this year academically, achieving 4th and with an A grade for the year. You can see his speaking on our promotion video at http://www.youtube.com/chrysalisuganda. Also, a week or so back, he won a national medal for taekwondo – he’s serious about the things he participates in and he had only be doing taekwondo for six or so months!
So, please consider supporting the education of these Butterflies – don’t let them be caged in their villages, as their colours are too bright!