In the small town of Bugiri, Eastern Uganda, Juliana Awor is growing her tree nursery business thanks to a tin of seeds, a thirst for knowledge and the help of her local library.
After enrolling in digital and mobile literacy training, offered by Bugiri Public Library, Juliana learnt how to research tree species and the process of tree cultivation. Using her newly acquired digital skills, Juliana used the internet to learn about Eucalyptus, a fast-growing tree cultivated in Uganda for fuel, timber and use for telegraph poles. Eucalyptus has a high market demand and slowly Juliana’s business has grown. She started by raising 50,000 Ugandan Shillings (12 EUROS) from friends and family to purchase her first tin of seeds.
“The digital skills training provided by the library enabled me to set up a business that can support my children and allowed me to manage my own enterprise. I want to encourage other people to learn these important skills, it is a golden opportunity for our future.”
Since 2021, the Digital skills@your local library project has worked with a network of 27 public and community libraries in Uganda to provide digital skills to young people and women. 50 librarians and volunteers have been trained to teach vital digital and mobile literacy skills in their communities. Across Uganda, over 15,000 members of the community have benefited from training to date.
Whilst many classes are held in library buildings, librarians also go out into the community, visiting workplaces such as garages and shops to demonstrate, using mobile devices, how the internet can provide skills to help entrepreneurs, including mechanics, marketing or communications skills.
New kinds of ice cream for happy customers
In Nakaseke, librarian Peter Balaba and volunteer David Tuhairwe have been visiting their local high street, meeting entrepreneurs and introducing new technology tools and digital resources useful for their businesses. Thanks to David and Peter, Carol Wanyenze’s ice cream shop now uses new recipes from the internet to make ice-cream for their happy customers.
“We use ICT training to introduce useful online resources such as courses, tutorials and YouTube videos. This allows people to learn new skills and generate income or diversify what their business can offer,” says Peter.
At Yiga Bookshop, Jackson Lubega was able to help his father’s business through the COVID-19 pandemic following skills training with Peter and David at the library in Nakaseke. “We were taken through the basics during the training, such as how to use a mouse, keyboard and type, also how to send email, search on google and use zoom meetings,” says Jackson. “The most inspiring for me was desktop publishing. Now, I have introduced computer and printing services to the bookshop. We have bought a computer and I design school badges, stamps and exercise books – we are planning to buy a colour printer to print exams and posters in bulk.”
Young people making and selling clothes
In Nayarushanje Community Library and Empowerment Center in Western Uganda, the local library provides internet access and digital skills training for young mothers and youth, who do not attend school. Many are now earning a living making clothes after using YouTube videos to learn new tailoring designs. "I was not familiar with many designs of Bitenge dresses and shirts but after I learned how to make them I am now getting so many customers,” said participant Owaruhanga Faith Mary. At the same library, a group of young mothers have also trained in beauty services after learning hairdressing, manicures and pedicures from YouTube videos, skills which they now put into practice in a local beauty salon.
Back at the Eucalyptus nursery in Bugiri, Juliana’s business is growing and she supplies over 5,000 seedlings each growing season, providing a good income to support her family. Stories such as Juliana’s are replicated across Uganda, as public and community libraries provide local entrepreneurs and small businesses with access to ICT tools and the support they need to succeed in earning a good income to support their families.
The Digital skills@your local library project is implemented by EIFL, Maendeleo Foundation, National Library of Uganda and Peer 2 Peer University. The project is funded by Belgium through the Wehubit Programme implemented by the Belgian development agency, Enabel.