Feeling lonely and forsaken, Patricia Akankwasa had all but given up on life. Orphaned at the age of six following her father’s death, her mother was not prepared for the daunting and arduous task of looking after her and three siblings. Never the less, her mother tried her best. While in school, Patricia dreamt of becoming a teacherone day. By the time Patricia completed primary school, her mother could no longer cope with paying school fees. With Patricia’s childhood dream of becoming a teacher rudely shattered, she had no option but to join her mother in her roadside charcoal vending business. From the charcoal shack, she painfully watched as her former school mates went about their business going to school in their neat school uniforms.
“I kept asking God, ‘why me? why me?’ What had I done to deserve this punishment,” Patricia recalls. In Ugandan communities, Patricia’s story is not unique. There are many more ‘Patricias’ for whom HIV/AIDS has robbed the opportunity of having a shot at a bright future and self-determination. HIV/AIDS has had an alarming impact and led to a dramatic rise in the number of children and adolescents orphaned by AIDS.
Unfortunately, like Patricia, most of them stare at a bleak future. As they transition into adulthood without formal education, they need skills to help them become employable or start their own businesses. Cognizant of this gap, Makerere University Joint AIDS Program (MJAP) through funding from PEPFAR and technical assistance from CDC, is piloting a non-formal and livelihoods skills development training program for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) like Patricia.
Eligible participants receive career exploration and counseling which guides them to choose their career paths based on their interests and abilities. MJAP then links the trainees to handpicked artisan training sites for apprenticeship training. Patricia opted to train as a hairdresser.
Patricia speaks with confidence about what the future holds for her and her family. The 18 year old has no doubt that the skills she has acquired through the Makerere University Joint AIDS Program (MJAP) market linked skills development apprenticeship will help her to become successful and turn around her family members’ livelihood.
“Becoming a hairdresser had never crossed my mind. But now, I am glad that I enjoy it. It gives me satisfaction when a client is happy with my work.Even though I am still on training, I am able to earn some income. I am convinced that in future my children will not drop out of school because of lack of school fees.” Patricia says.
Meanwhile, Grace Asiimwe, her trainer and mentor is very impressed with her work. “Patricia exudes a lot of confidence, is very hands-on, and a fast learner. I will most definitely employ her when she finishes her apprenticeship program,” she says.
Patricia is also very thankful to MJAP for restoring her hope of a bright future. “After completing my training, I will work for a few years and save money to start my own salon business. I love the work that I do now, perhaps more than teaching.” Patricia says, with a chuckle.
Caption: Patricia (standing) plaiting a client’s hair during her training program