Nicholas’ smile is contagious. His shop, a simple concrete room, houses a video library, a game console, and Nicholas’ handmade products: beautiful glass jewelry, beaded bags, and screen-printed t-shirts. On a shelf are several items proudly on display. Front and center is Nicholas’ Educate! graduation certificate, showing that he graduated top of his class—a Gold Certificate Scholar. Next to that hangs a newly awarded certificate of completion from Educate!’s Mentor Induction, an intensive two-week training that prepared him to deliver the Educate! curriculum to new classes of Educate! Scholars. Only Gold Certificate Graduates can become Educate! Mentors, and this is a goal Nicholas has worked toward for a long time.
Nicholas was not always a star student. In fact, he was suspended from secondary school twice. “He was discouraged and didn’t see how his life could go anywhere,” reflects Dorothy, the Educate! Program Officer who supports the Educate! program in his school. Always an active child, Nicholas’ greatest passion was soccer until he acquired a severe bone infection, which forced him out of school for a year to recover. The infection also left him with a physical disability that shattered his dream of becoming a professional soccer player.
“His life was derailed,” Dorothy remembers, “he hated himself and blamed himself.” His anger and hopelessness grew and led him down a path of misconduct in school. Nicholas found himself on the verge of expulsion. That’s when Nicholas met Carol, an Educate! Mentor, and gained a new perspective. “She told me life didn’t have to be like this. She made me believe in myself.” Carol’s support inspired Nicholas to apply to Educate! to be one of the 40 Scholars selected to participate in a skills-based course focused on leadership, entrepreneurship, and workforce readiness. Nicholas was accepted into the program and, for the first time in years, he saw a future for himself.
Nicholas started his business while he was an Educate! Scholar with just $10. He grew his business over time, reinvesting profits, expanding his product base, buying higher quality materials, and recently, earning enough to rent his own storefront and workshop. One of Nicholas’ proudest accomplishments is that he is completely self-sufficient and pays his own bills. Nicholas’ impact has expanded beyond himself: he’s hired a business partner, his childhood friend Ashrah, to support his thriving business. Ashrah covers the shop while Nicholas is busy with his new duties as an Educate! Mentor.
It’s a lot of responsibility, but Nicholas doesn’t see it as a job, he sees it as a calling. “When the opportunity came, I knew I had to be a Mentor. When the students look up to me, it gives me more motivation. I work harder and achieve more because I don’t want to let them down. I know I am changing lives.” Nicholas is also an inspiration to his family. “My siblings look up to me because my childhood was hard. Now when I go home I can buy them sugar, and they respect me because they know I’ve done something better with my life.”
Nicholas will be an Educate! Mentor for the next two years, gaining advanced business skills to support the growth of his own business, while also empowering and inspiring the next generation of Educate! Scholars. Looking ahead, Nicholas sees a bright future for himself and the youth of Uganda. “I heard that 70% of youth in Uganda are not employed, and I was so happy in my heart that it was not me. If you look at the Educate! Graduates you will see we are all employed. We feel proud. Everything has changed since Educate!.”