Inspiring Youth Leadership in Uganda

PYE have been partnering with organizations and individuals in Uganda for the last 4 years, bringing arts-based empowerment techniques to young people across the country. We first met facilitator Andrew Nalani at a Creative Community Model camp being run in collaboration with In Movement: Art for Social Change. Andrew had a strong passion for creative education and was searching for ways to empower young people in his community.

“What I saw at that camp with PYE and In Movement was incredible. There was a big change in the participants over a very short period of time,” says Andrew. Having been inspired to use some of the techniques he had learned he began plans for his own camp which would address some of the main problems that he saw facing young people around him. “The idea for my camp was to create a safe space – a challenging but powerful incubator to help young people see how much they can offer Uganda.” Andrew knew that he wanted creativity and arts-based practices to be at the core of his work. “I totally believe in the power of the arts to transform people’s lives.”

Andrew set about securing funding for his project, and thanks to generous help from Davis Peace Projects, Dartmouth College’s Tucker Foundation and St Joseph Primary School, on August 10th this year, the camp came to life. Twenty-nine youths from eight schools in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) came together to engage in dialogue across religious, ethnic and gender differences. Andrew named the camp The African Youth Leadership Experience (AYLE).

Here is AYLE’s diary from the camp. You can also read the original version on their website. With thanks to Hannah Freedman and Jakob Sprenge for the photographs:


Getting Ready


Camp begins this Sunday, August 10th, and planning is still underway. Facilitators Andrew, David, and Hannah arrived at St. Joseph’s Nabbingo, a primary school in Nabbingo, near Kampala, where AYLE will be taking place. We spoke with the school staff about logistics for the camp, and toured the campus, planning where various activities would be.

As a thank-you gift to the school, AYLE will be painting the backs of the girls and boys dormitories. The paint arrived on Tuesday!


Training of Trainers!

dsc_0285 dsc_0307


(Almost) all of the facilitators have arrived and started the first day of training! The facilitators head to St. Joseph’s Nabbingo on Saturday afternoon for a day of preparation before the students arrive at 3pm on Sunday, August 10th.

ONE DAY UNTIL AYLE! See how excited Andrew Nalani is?


Day One


dsc_0449-e1408198579471Three Kenyan students arrived late last night, and the students from Tanzania arrived before lunch today! All AYLE students are here, totally twenty-nine. On Day One, we created community agreements, introduced family groups, and set intentions for the next ten days. In the afternoon, facilitators Hannah and Jakob designed and led a challenge course for the students with various team-building activities.

In the evening, we introduced key sessions that are held every night: Quiet Time, where a facilitator reads a poem and holds meditation for fifteen minutes, and Family Circles, where small groups of seven or eight students meet with their family facilitators. The evening was a presentation of these family groups, where each group led a chant and a dance and shared their intentions with the rest of camp.


Day Two

dsc_0608Welcome to Day Two of AYLE!

After rising at 7:30 and doing morning exercises together, AYLE facilitators Grace and Maria led the community in a workshop on AM/FM: using the metaphor of a radio that can change channels, Andrew and Maria led us through how to change internal statements from Against Me to For Me. This strategy is essential to leadership; a leader must know how to work with his or her inner critic.




After a Ugandan lunch of matoke, rice, beans, and watermelon, students split in half to attend two sessions. Andrew led a session on Conflict Transformation, and Hannah and Jakob led a session on public speaking. Both were well-received, and we watched as the students grew more and more confident in the AYLE community.

For dinner, we had chicken, rice and beans; the chickens butchered and plucked by Abuubakar and Hannah! In the evening, David and Maria led the community in theater improv games!!






Day Three

After morning exercises with Grace and breakfast, the AYLE community joined together in our main hall, the Water Hall, for an activity called the River of Life. Students took twenty minutes to visually represent their life story and important events on large pieces of paper, and then shared them in our smaller family groups. This activity is intense, and to ensure a safe space for sharing, ground rules were set. Participants had to:

dsc_0013Speak from the heart

Listen from the Heart

Be conscious of time 

Trust yourself and the moment


After lunch, special guests Break Dance Project Uganda came for beat-boxing and break dancing classes! We can reveal to you that the secret to beat-boxing is chanting “baboons and cats, bouncing cats”, and after a demonstration, the students had a great time learning several break-dancing moves.

Break Dance Project Uganda

Break Dance Project Uganda

Break Dance Project Uganda

Break Dance Project Uganda

Break Dance Project Uganda

Break Dance Project Uganda

Day Four: Gender Day

Day Four is Gender Day, a day of separate programming for the boys and the girls focused on examining cultural gender prescriptions and the celebrations and challenges of each identity. Part of leadership is understanding identity and it’s cultural context.

dsc_0183The girls started the day off with two silhouettes of people, one of a man and one of a woman. The girls were asked to write in the figures all of the stereotypes of each gender with markers: in two short minutes, both figures were covered. The girls were then asked to read them out, and a conversation followed on where these words came from and what they meant. One student pointed out the difference between the word “boss” on the male figure and the word “controlling” on the female figure- were these words the same?

A little ways off, the boys started their morning by washing the community’s breakfast dishes and helping the kitchen staff peel plantains for the matoke we would eat for lunch; something that many of them had never done before. It was hard work, and one boy, after seeing the girls sitting, talking, and laughing, commented on how it felt to be working while the women relaxed.

dsc_0116In the women’s space, the discussion shifted to ideas about what makes an “ideal” woman, and for the next activity, each participant made a list of the women in their life that they admire and the specific qualities that they admire about them. Throughout the day, the girls danced, sang songs, talked about our mothers, and discussed challenges that women face. It was a wonderful day- there is something that shifts in communication in a group of all women- and all the women shared and learned.

After lunch, Maria led the group in a creative writing exercise: she read Maya Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman” and everyone spread out to write their own poem. After half an hour, the girls reconvened and copied our poems onto a phenomenal life-sized silhouette of a woman. The poems were joyful and proud, and as the day drew to a close and it was time to meet with the boys again, Grace led everyone in a song she had learned in the Congo, a song that celebrates femininity and empowerment.

dsc_0129“Singamana loketo! Singamana mokongowe. Singamana loketo! Singamana loketo mabele mangondoma kabitoto.” The women sang and marched back into the group, announcing ourselves as Phenomenal Women.

The Amazing Gentlemen, after peeling plantains, relocated to the main hall for discussions on the roles men and women have, what it means to be a man, and how to build friendships and support between men.

When the groups met up again, we traded songs and dances, and then sat, divided, in the main hall. The girls and the boys each presented three questions to the other side, and listened to several answers. Gender Day programming ended before dinner, however, the conversations sparked by the day’s activities continued throughout the night.



Day Five


AYLE slept in this morning after an emotionally exhausting Gender Day yesterday. However, after morning exercises with Grace (a favorite part of the day for some campers!), AYLE was ready to go.

After breakfast, students worked on personal vision statements. These statements are affirming one’s life intention and affirming that each of us have the power do achieve it. The personal vision statements were carefully worded and then copied into artwork done by the students, and the main hall is now blessed with the fully gallery of AYLE vision statements!


In the afternoon Break Dance Project Uganda returned, back by popular demand! Bringing some new members and some new moves, the students spent the afternoon learning new steps.

Every evening at AYLE follows the same pattern. Before dinner, the AYLE community gathers for a Gratitude Circle, where members step into the circle and give thanks and appreciation. After dinner, we reconvene in the main hall for Quiet Time. A facilitator or member of the community calls for silence, and reads a poem or shares a thought. AYLE then spreads out throughout the hall, each person claiming space and sitting, thinking, or writing in silence. After Quiet Time, we regroup into our “families”, smaller groups of 7 AYLE members and one or two facilitators. Family Groups are a way to check in more personally with each member of the community and take time to reflect on the day and AYLE so far.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.