As a former street kid, Innocent Byaruhanga (pictured right) knows the struggles street children and orphans in Kampala, Uganda, face intimately. However, rather than feel self-pity, Byaruhanga decided to create a shoe-making business from local materials in order to give the kids of his homeland both hope and purpose.
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Founding the Pamoja Center in 2011 out of his not-for-profit Save Street Children of Uganda, Byaruhanga was determined to become a part of the solution to the numbers of children who struggle to survive on their own.
Explaining their plight, Byaruhanga says, “The biggest challenge that youth and former street children face is unemployment and drug abuse. They are either exploited by the drug lords or use [the drugs] to enable them [to] forget their problems. This is because they live in poor conditions and have to cope with their poverty or find a livelihood by all means available to them.”
Soon, Byaruhanga decided that teaching the youth how to make shoes could be a progressive livelihood.
“We came out with an idea of making shoes and we said what can we do that people are not doing?” explains Byaruhanga. “What can we do that will attract people to buy? What can we do in order that will earn us money at a quicker speed and at the same time which is very cheap?”
Byaruhanga’s focus on basing his business on a product that is cost-effective presented itself as soon as he noticed that there were worn-out tires throughout his community.
Once he began using the tires as a base for his shoes, the Pamoja Center was in business.
Of his business’ goals, Byaruhanga says, “Number one: [that my business be] Ugandan-made; two: Ugandan-owned; three: made from the thing that people don’t see; four: we want to do something that is very durable,” he says. “The work we are doing is not only help us to create employments for vulnerable children. We also want to protect the environment.”
And he is making an impact.
Since Pamoja became operational, he has been able to employ and train more than 80 street children and 37 at-risk youth between the ages of 12 and 24 years old. He also shares all of the profits with his employees.