Sarah Natumanya looks back at her five years of advocating for better education in her home country and beyond.
Having been born and raised in the countryside I noticed - and in some cases experienced - some of the pressing challenges a majority of the rural population faces.
For instance, in my home district of Kyankwanzi, the majority of women do not have access to opportunities due to illiteracy. My passion for education compelled me to look for solutions to solve women's illiteracy.
Building from this experience, I got interested in collaborating with like-minded people from all over the world to advance my education activism. In 2014, I joined a global movement of over 500 youths to advocate for education under the banner of Theirworld's A World at School movement and was later selected to serve as a Global Youth Ambassador representing Uganda.
My work focused on increasing accessibility to education for children in Uganda, especially the girls, and it has positively impacted children from disadvantaged communities. The Global Youth Ambassador (GYA) position enabled me to have a direct policy input on fast-tracking the public, private and civil society’s role in championing equal education rights.
I managed to collaborate with different stakeholders from both the public, private and NGOs in calling for action to improve the status of education in Uganda.
We were given an assignment to drive a global campaign known as #UpForSchool. This was launched in 2014 to call for support in promoting quality education and ensuring every child is in school and learning. We collected millions of signatures from all over the world that enabled us to petition world leaders and governments to respond to world education problems.
Through engagements with like-minded individuals, I have since then expanded my reach beyond my district and currently operate at a national scale, primarily working with girls.
Realising that girls in many schools lack the confidence to speak and because of this many drop out, I worked with Litworld on a literacy program called HerStory Initiative.
Girls are empowered to share their experiences through storytelling - using classroom-setting workshops - to inspire self-expression and discovery, and build their confidence. So far more than 480 girls from various schools in Uganda have benefited.
I connected deeply on a personal and professional level with many influential leaders - and some have provided a platform for my activism in education.
Most of my work in activism has been on a voluntary basis. However, it has made a lasting impact on my people, leadership and networking skills.
While volunteering with different international organisations such as Litworld and Theirworld, I reached out to many people from various cultural backgrounds around the world to collaborate on ways of promoting equal education rights, especially for girls.
I have used my networking skills to bring 30 volunteers who serve as mentors in schools across Uganda. Using my contacts, I have exposed the mentors to my networks so that they can develop their leadership skills.
More than 16 of the mentors I recruited are actively leading the HerStory Initiative and are documenting inspiring stories of successful women to inspire other young women in Uganda.
From the many conferences and workshops I have attended, I connected deeply on a personal and professional level with many influential leaders - and some have provided a platform for my activism in education.
For instance, the US ambassador in Kampala gave me a platform to collaborate with them on literacy projects. I have managed to connect the US embassy in Uganda with some of the disadvantaged schools to seize the opportunities of being part of the educational programme such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). These programmes enable students from different schools to benefit from such learning opportunities at no cost.
My efforts in the leadership have not gone unnoticed. In 2014, the BBC recognised me as one of the 100 Women 2014. This was a gratifying leadership experience.
I was honoured on the basis of proven community leadership skills and persistent commitment to change the lives of ordinary Ugandans. This has given me a greater responsibility to continue working to improve the lives of Ugandans, especially women, and accorded me an opportunity to meet influential Ugandan and African leaders.
In the same year, the Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS) selected me to join the annual youth dialogue on governance and Leadership in Kigali, Rwanda, and the following year sponsored me for leadership training in Ethiopia.
In June 2019, I was delighted to be awarded a prestigious Chevening Scholarship to Study Gender and International Relations Msc in the United Kingdom. Chevening is the UK Government’s global scholarship programme that offers future leaders the unique opportunity to study in the UK.
Serving as a Global Youth Ambassador has been a humbling experience that has given me immense experience about advocacy and standing up for girls’ and women education rights. I am privileged to have used this experience to work with young people in Uganda and other parts of the world.
I appreciate all the stakeholders that I have engaged during my campaigns, especially the media. You have all been great. A special thank you to New Vision Uganda for always publishing my education articles whenever I sent them through.
The status of girls' and women's education in Uganda is still lacking. There are many barriers that are hindering accessibility of quality and inclusive education, ranging from violence against these young women, rape, inadequate scholastic materials, child marriage and child labour.
All these need to be addressed. My appeal is to my government to effectively implement policies that protect the girl child.
As I take a step away from my GYA position, I take this opportunity to show my sincere gratitude the following persons and organizations:
The former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, for having believed and supported the activities of Theirworld. We had a lot of motivation because of the strong support we had from leaders like him.
To Theirworld founder Sarah Brown and Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Thank you for creating this amazing movement and giving us a chance to change what we can in our different capacities.
To Madeline Serena and Sana Ahmed for their support and coordination of the programme, the former Director of Campaigns Ben Hewitt and the entire GYA team who were such a great foundation for our training and webinars during our time. They encouraged us to share our journeys and stories and they gave them a platform.
To my fellow GYAs, the former and the current ones, the power is in our hands. Keep moving forward and keep fighting for what you believe in. Our voices are the voices of those who have no voice. I wish to thank you all for your guidance and support. I have spent some of the best days of my life here - something which I will never forget.
Litworld, I will forever be grateful for having chosen me to spearhead the different literacy programs in Uganda. You trained me, supported me and empowered me.
During my time as a Global Youth Ambassador I have...
- Together with the New Vision, a leading media house, written print and online articles asking leaders to uplift the education status in Uganda
- Conducted training for young people in Uganda from the Advocacy Toolkit provided by Theirworld/A World at School
- Organised and hosted events for International Women's Day, Day of the African Child and International Day of the Girl
- Written several blogs, news stories, recorded videos and created content for education online campaigns.
- Participated in the #UpForSchool campaign and collected over 5,000 signatures from Uganda