“I was the opposite of spoiled. I was the one holding them together,” Flavia Kalule says, recalling her early years in Mukono, Uganda.
Flavia lost both her parents before the age of 16. She looked after her brother and sister, anticipating their needs and settling their disputes.
“I had to assume a lot of responsibility. I had to grow up immediately.”
Now an independent consultant in gender, governance, and leadership and a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow, Flavia is working with organizations across the country to empower young women and champion human rights.
“We have high rates of poverty in Uganda, and they’re increasing still,” Flavia says. “Because so many of the impoverished haven’t gone to school, they have little understanding of their rights.”
“I know that a country that is governed by illiteracy leaves citizens behind.”
Lack of media literacy, compounded by financial barriers to entry, makes it difficult for young leaders to create change in the state, Flavia explains.
“We have a population that is also ridden by fear, especially about engaging in political activism,” Flavia says. “When women come out to sensitize the public, they are often beaten up or taunted.”
“It creates a culture of fear among women,” Flavia adds. “No one wants to be beaten, undressed, or tortured.”
For Flavia, it’s the issues at root in Uganda — the misuse of public resources for personal ends — that underlie her advocacy work.
“Instead of putting money in the public sector where it should be, politicians are using funds for personal use,” Flavia says. “We have institutions that look like schools, but kids are studying under trees and in buildings on the verge of collapse. We have teachers quarreling because they aren’t getting paid.”
Flavia sees youth activism in Uganda as a kind of corrective to these long-standing issues. She calls on her peers to voice their concerns and their solutions.
“You have to have confidence in yourself and in your work,” Flavia says. “So many girls lack confidence. They need to believe in themselves.”
“The country we are in right now, if you are not principled, so many things will distract you from your goal,” Flavia adds. “So you have to remind yourself of why you are doing the things that you do.”
“Right now what we are battling is people who have lost hope in the system,” Flavia says. “What we need are strong support networks, people who will hold leaders accountable.”
“And you have to love people,” Flavia adds. “What you feel inside will come out. You have to listen to people to connect with them.”
Interested in Flavia’s work? Learn how you can stand for integrity on the YALIUnites page.
The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.