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Esther Nakajjigo | Uganda

What do you do in your home country and what do you hope to do upon your return? In particular, with the integration of your experiences here?

Back home, I am Uganda’s ambassador for women and girls. I run Princess Diana Health Center. I am also in charge of two reality tv shows, one is called ‘Saving Innocence’ and the other is called ‘Lift: Living in the Face of Trauma’. Princess Diana is a health center that I set up when I was 17 years old. It has a teenage center, which sees 300 young people daily, to receive free adolescent health services. We also work with other people from the community. I am interested in the teenage center because it is a free and open space. Saving Innocence is my baby, it is a show that I started to ensure that girls stay in school, but also it is a reality tv show where high school girls that are from the city go to rural areas and try to help girls who had babies as teenagers. The girls raise money and help the girls that had children before 18. The girls provide economic activity and try to persuade the girls to go back to school. Only 2 girls did not go back to school after the program. We use social media to showcase the stories. This creates role models that young people will be proud of. I believe it is very inspiring. Many girls want to be part of this show. I think it's life changing. It's a competition. When I started it I started getting calls from various schools, it was hard to support all these schools. So I decided to make it a competition, we choose the best school with the best intervention. We ask, how much do you spend on changing the life of a girl? How sustainable is the business you set up for this girl? How much in profits are these girls making? At the end of the event, we do a big event, where we invite the general public. Then people pay money to enter the show, held at the biggest theatre in Uganda. We use this money to help support the projects of the girls. In my country TV and social media is something that they embrace. As much as there are very many campaigns and policies, young people do not embrace them as much. I thought, if it is working for the high schools, why not make something for the university level? So that is what Lift is. We will be working with refugee women. Uganda has the world's largest refugee settlement, mostly from Somalia, Congo, South Sudan. The biggest percentage of this population is women and children. They are the most vulnerable, they are unemployed, they have lost all they have. They have no idea as to why the war even broke out. They did not vote. They know nothing of the political insurgencies. Yet they are hit the most. Why not empower university girls to do something in their respective countries? I am doing something called Global Girls Projects where girls will try to better the lives of the women who are living in the refugee settlements. Empower them psychologically. Most of them have lost their children. They have seen everything purge through their eyes. That is why I call it Lift. We cannot always relate but we do what we can to help, to put a smile on their face. In their respective communities, with very little, with just your time, you can make things better. You giving her your old shoes. To show kindness. Everyone can do something to better the lives of others.

Basically, I've learned a lot. I've come to appreciate diversity. In Uganda where I come from, to be successful you must be educated. If you are not educated, people will see that you will never make it. Here I found things that don't exist in my country, for example the art and murals. I think art is a way of sharing, of expressing emotions, of dealing with stress. At the teenage center I run they also come to share, and express and get some psychological relief. The therapy part is what I'm going to take. Sometimes we don't need counseling. Maybe music, maybe art, to give them time to express something on a painting, etc. That is something I have really taken out of this fellowship. The murals last for a long time and they tell a lot. Back home people don’t believe in therapy. But I see it and I think that that is what my program needs. I learned that there is a big YALI alumni back home. So I want to work with them to involve them in Lift and involve them in the refugee settlements. In my first season they will be my focus. Implementing their projects in the settlements.

What is your favorite thing about your home country? How about Philadelphia?

Food is my favorite thing about Uganda. And now that I've been to the U.S I realized that Uganda's weather is so beautiful.

Philadelphia is diverse. It is one place I've come to and I've seen a lot of color and a lot of difference. I would not say that it is harmonized because I have not lived here, but in some neighborhoods I see a lot of color. I like the idea behind brotherly love.

Do you have any hobbies or an interesting fact you wish to share about yourself?

I love watching T.V. Specifically, reality T.V.

If I were to come to your home country, what is the first thing I should eat?

Matooke. It is bananas but its made with banana fibers. Rolex. Rolex is chapati.