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Akol Benyamen : A heartfelt volunteer from Uganda

Akol Benyamen, Founder of iFamile Emu Children’s Home is a young Ugandan who is passionate about the African youth engagement and access to quality healthcare for all people.  He is a retired Mechanical Engineer and a community activist by choice and a workaholic by nature.

Well this time around here’s a sneak peak into the unseen side of Akol Benyamen ;

  • Growing up in Uganda how would you describe your childhood?

I grew up surrounded by my family always curious for creating opportunities where none existed and making my own path.

Family was an integral part in terms of shaping me to who I am today.  TV was not available for majority of my childhood and when it was it was a privilege to be earned. This really impacted me as I had to find creative ways to keep myself busy and also by default ended up spending more time studying  and reading  books which is so hard to find in Africa.

I went to many kinds of schools for some years from the age of 4 to 18 and this played a big role in shaping who I am now. Going to many kinds of school for some years gave me the space to discover and develop myself in a secure environment where I made a lot of mistakes but grew a lot as a person.

  • What is the name of the community outreach project you involved in? And what is it all about?

iFamile Emu Children’s Center-Uganda is a community based organization that seeks to empower children and young people living in the rural villages and on the streets with basic survival skills. We mentor children and ensure they remain in school and take those in the streets and rural villages back to school. Young people are encouraged to start alternative income generating activities instead of resulting to crime to earn a livelihood.

  • When did it start? What motivated you to start this project?

It all started in the year 2014 when I was doing my research work about the orphans and vulnerable children who go to school without the basic needs like shoes, bags, books and whatever name it. Together with two other friends we realized that organizations in Bukedea, Uganda were concentrating their operations within children’s homes and rehabilitation centers and in the process children living in rural areas who are equally vulnerable were overlooked. I decided to go to the people in the rural areas and work with them from their community.

  • What is the purpose of this project?

The project seeks to empower orphaned and vulnerable children and young people living in rural areas. Since they are surrounded by conditions that hinder rather than encourage them to thrive, we come in and give them a sense of direction. We train them in the areas of HIV/AIDS, Drug and Substance Abuse, Responsible Sexual Behaviors, Personal Hygiene, Self Respect and Esteem, Dreams and Talents, Environmental Conservation and the Power of Ambition.

  • What do you want to achieve with the project?

We want to see as many orphaned and vulnerable children living in the rural areas go through school successfully, proceed to Secondary School and then to the University. Education is central to upward mobility and we want to ensure that they get access to quality education. Secondly, we want to see young people actively taking part in activities that earn them a living and empower them to take part in building their local community.

  • Any challenges you faced as a young person starting your own project?           

The fact that I was working on uncharted territories which, was a big challenge but with the response I got from the local community were able to me keep going, one step at a time. Getting the stakeholders who work in the children sector in Bukedea to believe in my idea was also a challenge but in time they have become valuable partners.

  • How has the journey being like so far?

It has been a great learning experience in my life. When we started I had no idea that I would be doing this for the rest of my life but having come so far and witnessed the local community transform I am sure I will be a community activist for life. Despite the many challenges we encounter, we have transformed with the community we serve.

  • How has the community benefited from the project so far?

The community has seen most of the orphaned and vulnerable children successfully go through primary school, which was not the case before we started working there. Young women and young men now have alternative sources of income; they have set up small businesses with the guidance of the group and are able to earn a means of livelihood. Recently we rolled out an environmental awareness program where we sensitize the people in the rural areas to take charge of their environment and take care of it. We have done several clean-ups in the rural areas.

  • What has been some of your biggest achievements yet?

Having mentored children, having them go through school and come back to be mentors to the rest of the younger children is one of our major achievements since this was the goal when I started the Community Based Organization. This year we were also able to host an international volunteer and making our first international partnership with IVolunteer International which we will celebrate about with the children and the community. We have also managed to partner with well wishers at the local and global level to implement projects in the rural areas and have successfully run these projects.

  • Where do you get your inspiration from?

Over and above it all, God makes it tick for me Jeremiah 29:11 and the fact that mere men have done amazing things, whom am I not to be of great service to the multitudes. I love it when I walk in the streets and society has my imprints with many who can relate to my giving of what I have.

If you were president of Uganda for a day what would be the first thing you would do?

Wake up then I would talk to all the Ugandan leaders and explain to them that leadership is about sacrifice and they need to leave behind legacies of making Ugandan lives better and not just enriching themselves, because the country does not grow because a few more people are richer it grows because we have less people living in poverty, access to healthcare, access to education and active, engaged, patriotic citizens.

  • What do you think are some of the challenges facing African youth today?

To me the main biggest challenge to the youth is Alienation from the Nation building process. What I call the ‘You are the leaders of tomorrow paradox’ For a long time now we the young people in Africa have trusted other people to build our country yet we have everything it takes to actively build it and lead our nation to the fullest of our belief. I think im doing what’s right to help others who have lost hope and faith in their lives.

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

Oh, in five years time from now iFamile Emu Children’s Center-Uganda will have developed a system of mentors that will serve not only Bukedea rural areas but other rural areas in Uganda and also which are outside of Uganda. We will be serving a wider network of communities. I see myself as an active community activist at the centre of this.

  • What are your dreams for Uganda?

To continue with the gains we have made in the last few years in terms of freedoms. That soon healthcare will be an important area in Uganda’s development agenda because at the moment it is not and I hope we can see strides in Uganda’s  social areas especially public healthcare and quality of education  just as we have seen in ICT and infrastructure over the last few years. Otherwise we have made great economic gains but socially we have areas we can improve. I hope we move forward as a nation and not leave anyone behind. We frequently talk about the great economic gains that Uganda has made but rarely do we hear about inequality in our society.

  • What would you like to change about Africa today?

All in all Africa should not be changed; it is the people living in Africa- It’s Africans that need to change for a better future. I would like to change the mindset of Africans through Human Development Projects so they can have a goal in mind.

  • What advice do you have for young people who want to start their own project?

If it is your passion, go out there and do it and with time your efforts will be rewarded. Action is the Key word to be happy in the future.

  • How one can get involved in the project?

We encourage people of all walks of life, especially young people from all over the world to partner with us. We welcome people who share a common passion for community development to join us either as volunteers, mentors, sponsors and friends. When children interact with young people who are doing well in life; a seed is planted in them. This seed when nurtured gives us a future generation that we will be proud of at some point.

 

Anyone who is interested in making a change or who is passionate about volunteering and community service can get in touch with Akol through ;

@ifamileemu (Twitter)

akol@ifamileemu.org (E-mail)

 

For more details on what Akol and his entire crew have been working on, log onto http://ifamileemu.org/

 

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