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Harnessing the power of storytelling: Inspiring young people in Uganda to live up to their potential

 “In my industry, I have seen it all. I have seen every type of social pressure you can imagine. Peer pressure is one of the most dangerous challenges you can be faced with as a young person.” These were the candid words of Ugandan rapper and songwriter Daniel Kigozi, also known as Navio as he shared his life experience with young people at UNFPA Uganda’s Innovation Café recently.

Navio is best known as a high-profile performer, playing to packed audiences of adoring fans. It was therefore an emotional moment as he peeled back the layers of his life and got personal with young people at UNFPA Uganda’s Live Your Dream Moment hosted by radio personality Malaika Nyanzi.  Navio was joined by entrepreneur Fiona Rukwanzi, who quit formal employment to follow her dream of becoming a business woman, making probiotic yoghurt.

The Live Your Dream Moment is one feature of UNFPA’s flagship  Live Your Dream Campaign that is meant to inspire action towards a better life for Uganda’s young people, women and men.  The Live Your Dream Moment, organized in partnership with Reach A Hand Uganda, is a two-hour conversational event that provides space for artistes, entrepreneurs, innovators, and other outstanding personalities to influence positive social change among young people by sharing their life’s stories. The event also features discussions around UNFPA’s mandate issues including prevention of Gender Based Violence, HIV/Aids, child marriage and teenage pregnancy. 

Responding to questions from host Malaika, Navio told young people in the audience and others following online that becoming a music star was not easy and that he has had to work hard, make sacrifices and overcome self-doubt and criticism to make it.

The same has been true for Fiona. Starting from scratch, she has worked hard to build a company that makes probiotic yoghurt, a healthy alternative to what is commonly found on the market. Having worked with The AIDS Support Organization, Fiona was inspired to start her business because she saw a gap in the market for healthy foods for people living with HIV.


On health and wealth

For both Navio and Fiona, the link between young people’s health and their ability to rise above challenges and make something of themselves is one that cannot be ignored.

“At the end of the day, health is your wealth, the moment you lose your health, your wealth is gone,” said Fiona.

  “I can tell you now – there’s no drug that will help your career, I have seen drugs destroy careers, the ability to write music, the ability to sing,” Navio added, urging young people to avoid abusing drugs.  He also spoke about the need to devise more innovative ways to reach young people with messages on HIV prevention. 

‘The world owes you nothing’

Once the stories had been told, young people were eager to ask questions and contribute to the discussion. Top of the list were questions about how young people could overcome challenges such as disability, lack of funding and opposition from family and friends to achieve their dreams.

 “The fact that you are living with a disability could be an empowering factor. Do things differently; don’t try to do what everyone else is doing, use your strengths,” Navio said in response to a question from Shakira Nabakooza who is hearing and speech- impaired and wants to pursue a career in music.

Fiona shared how she overcame discouragement and disparaging remarks about her choice of career. “My father was not supportive, he wondered why I would choose to desert an office job to ‘go to the kitchen’. But my mom was very supportive,” Fiona said. “I also had people ask me why I couldn’t do something posher like start a boutique instead of making yoghurt. You have to make a choice for yourself and stick with it,” she said

Selfie time: host Malaika Nyanzi joins participants to take a picture at
the end of the session.© RAHU

The key message from the discussion was that nothing would be handed to young people on a silver platter and that they would have to work hard, invest in partnerships and expand their networks in order to mobilise the resources they need and get to where they want to be.  “The world doesn’t owe you anything. We must fight for our space as young people,” Nixon Ampumuza Kagurusi, one of the young people in attendance summarised the discussion.

In his closing remarks, UNFPA Representative Mr. Alain Sibenaler, thanked Navio and Fiona for sharing their stories and encouraged young people to always believe in their dreams regardless of their circumstances. 

“Everyone has their own dream. The individuals who’ve told their stories come from different backgrounds: What drove them is the belief in themselves and that’s really important,” Mr. Sibenaler said.

  He challenged young people not to have a mentality of entitlement and to continually learn by developing a level of self-awareness, humility and introspection.   “Education is not learning. You learn from yourself. If you want to change, start with the man in the mirror,” he advised the young people, referencing Michael Jackson’s, Man in the Mirror.


By Annah Natukunda and Martha Songa