First-year MSW student Molly Nantongo was recently awarded a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant for her project, Ntongo Skills4Peace.
In this 15-week project, the Maendeleo Foundation's Skills Centre will provide vocational skills training in hairdressing, catering, and metal fabrication to unemployed youth impacted by COVID. Nantongo will coordinate mentorship and life skills training, and the youths will also receive digital skills and entrepreneurship skills training. Most of the grant funding will support the purchase of equipment, allowing the foundation to continue providing vocational training to unemployed youths even after the summer program ends.
Ntongo Skills4Peace aims to address high crime rates and unwanted pregnancy rates among youth living in Ntawo village in the Mukono District of Uganda. This issue has been aggravated by the COVID-19 lockdown when youth were out of school.
Nantongo is one of 10 Davis Projects for Peace grant recipients who will carry out projects in eight different countries this summer. We asked her about her previous experience doing social work in Uganda, how the project got started, and her future plans as a Berkeley student.
You were a social worker in Uganda prior to coming to Berkeley. Tell us about the work that you did there.
I graduated from Uganda Christian University in 2015 and I was retained as a teaching assistant there. Six months into teaching, one of my professors connected me to an organization called You Belong Uganda. This organization brought services to people with mental illness that were rejected from their communities. I worked with clients, and we walked the journey together through counseling, psychosocial therapy, and reconnecting them back into the community. I educated the communities and families on mental health and the importance of taking medication. I resettled the clients with their families, and regularly I did follow-ups to check on their progress. Clients interested in business were offered start-up capital of $100 to run personal businesses like salons, kiosks, and farming.
In 2018 I worked with another organization called Dwelling Places, where I worked with street-connected children. I rescued, rehabilitated, reconciled, and resettled children back into their families and connected them to different resources within the community. Most of the children I worked with had similar stories relating to domestic violence, neglect, family or community rejection, child abuse, and child labor, while other children were totally orphans and had nowhere to go. I have worked on so many stories, but I vividly remember this story of a woman who was engaged in another relationship and decided to give her own child $10 to move to Kampala city to start a new life; her relationship was better than her own child.
Due to COVID-19, I was laid off because of funding. I decided to start up a passionfruit business that later became successful.
Where did the idea for the project come from?
The long closure of schools created more harm to so many children, especially young girls, within Ntawo village. Many young girls became pregnant, boys got engaged in drug abuse, while others became idle and started stealing petty things like shoes. I always desired to give back to my community, but I was limited with funding. The Project for Peace opportunity availed itself; I thought of vocational skills for the youth who were affected by COVID-19. So I quickly reached out to my friend, who runs an organization that gives vocational skills. During our dialogue, she informed me that she did not have enough machinery to run a project, but she was willing to provide her space to run the project. So I developed a project proposal and it was successful. Looking at my background, I was born in slums and raised in an orphanage. With the orphanage, children/youth who did not make it to the university were taken into vocational institutes to attain skills, and they are successful.
What will your role be in Uganda this summer?
When I arrive in Uganda, I will get in touch with the Maendeleo Foundation, and we will start the recruitment process. We will be working with community leaders, church leaders, community development officers, and youth leaders. Working with this committee will help us to get the right candidate for the program. I will go ahead to purchase the machinery that is needed for the program to kick off. I will also hold mentoring and counseling sessions with the youth; during the sessions, I plan to discuss issues concerning family planning, motherhood, fatherhood, mindset changing, and starting up businesses.
What brought you to Berkeley?
It had always been my desire to attain my master's degree in the U.S.A, especially in a well-recognized university like UC Berkeley. Before getting admission to UC Berkeley, I was admitted to so many universities within the U.S.A, but I was always limited by funding. This time, MasterCard Scholarship made it possible for me to come to the University of California.
What are your plans once you complete your MSW?
After my MSW program, I will do my academic training as I apply for a PhD program in social work. My desire is to work with UNICEF. I also want to start mentoring sessions for children who have been born and raised in the slums to give them hope and connect them to different resources that can help them attain their goals.