One Tune-up at a Time Meet some young trailblazers in northern Uganda

A wrench, a tire pump, a jug of motor oil. In northern Uganda, these are tools for women’s empowerment.

For 17-year-old Nancy Sitaraya, learning about motorcycle repair is helping her build a brighter future.

After dropping out of primary school due to the high cost of school fees, Nancy used to sell fish in the market – but this wasn’t enough for Nancy to support herself, her grandmother, and little brother, and they sometimes went to sleep hungry.

Growing up, Nancy had always wished to ride a motorcycle. When she learned about vocational training courses being offered in her community, she decided to sign up to learn about motorcycle repair and delve into the world of mechanics. Through the training, Nancy has learned how to repair tires, brake pads, gear selectors, and gear pins.

“They always refer to me as an engineer,” said Nancy. “The community leaders ask me to stand up for recognition… [they say] ‘Look at this young girl, she is already an engineer at her young age.’”

Nancy has also motivated other women in her community, who ask her to let them know when similar training opportunities arise.

In Uganda, almost 40 percent of young women are out of education, employment, or training. This translates to a future where half the country’s population is unable to access the skills and opportunities to unlock a better life.

An AKF-supported community-based savings group in Arua, Uganda. Credit: Muhammad Shah Khan

In Arua, northern Uganda, AKF is working with Community Empowerment for Rural Development (CEFORD), a local non-profit organization. This program, undertaken with support from the Government of Canada, aims to empower young women in rural communities, with a focus on the most vulnerable, like people living with chronic illnesses, single mothers, and individuals with disabilities.

Exclusion from the workforce can have dire consequences. Without financial resources, women are often excluded from community decision-making processes and are less able to make decisions for themselves and their families. By providing young women and adolescent girls with opportunities to learn financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and vocational skills like motorcycle repair, AKF and CEFORD are helping address sociocultural barriers to starting a business or earning an income.

This project is also supporting safer and inclusive communities – young women in Arua identified economic empowerment as a key factor in preventing gender-based violence.

Nancy wants to continue learning new skills, with the dream of one day starting her own garage. She hopes to save up enough money to build her grandmother a house and make her proud.

For 19-year-old Susan Avasi, learning to weld is sparking hope.

Susan is a single mother, living in a rural Ugandan village. Like Nancy, she used to sell fish at the local market, after dropping out of the education system due to early motherhood and financial constraints.

Through AKF and CEFORD’s training program, Susan learned welding and metal fabrication, and can now make items like doors and windows.

Amidst the glow of molten metal, Susan reflects on her decision to pursue this training.

“I wanted to do a unique course that not many women have done,” she said. “I am the very first female welder in the community where I reside.”

At the outset, Susan faced skepticism and prejudice in her community. “People in my community scared me at first, saying that welding was only for the men,” said Susan. “[But now], women have been encouraged to try and apply for skilling sessions like me so that they can benefit.”

When women earn a reliable, dignified income, they’re empowered to make decisions in their household finances and make choices about how to use their funds, like spending on health care or their children’s education. Industries like welding and motorcycle repair are also higher paying than other vocations usually associated with women, giving young women like Nancy and Susan further means to forge ahead.

In rural communities where traditions often dictate gender norms, Nancy and Susan are breaking stereotypes and inspiring other women to pursue these opportunities in traditionally male-dominated industries, paving the way for a more inclusive and prosperous future.

With her new skills, Susan hopes to save and start her own welding business in her community and support herself and her family.

“Pursuing welding and metal fabrication gives me the hope that life will be better,” said Susan.

AKF is partnering with local civil society organizations like CEFORD throughout East Africa to support gender equality and women’s empowerment. By working with local organizations, AKF is able to strengthen inclusive communities and design solutions that are responsive to community needs and aspirations, building a future where everyone can thrive together.

This project is part of the Advancing Gender Equality through Civil Society component of the Foundations for Education and Empowerment (F4EE) program. F4EE aims to improve educational systems at the pre-primary and primary levels and strengthen women’s empowerment and gender equality in Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda.