Meet Joel Odota, a young man who persevered through all of life’s tests to become the man that he is today. As a first generation University graduate, Joel has managed to achieve a great deal for himself and his family. He is a global Champion for Change on Women Economic Empowerment (WEE), an Ambassador of the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network (CYPAN), Uganda Chapter due to his proven leadership and advocacy skills.
He founded Lamwo Youth Forum for Change (LYFC), a youth-led community group that brings together young people from Lamwo and the surrounding to share ideas pertaining to development.
As a high performing scholar, Joel is now pursuing a master in International Relations at Peking University, the leading Chinese research institution.
As a high achieving academic, how did you become a global Champion for Change on Women Economic Empowerment (WEE)?
Following the call for applications from suitably qualified persons from across the world to be the 2016/2017 Global Champions for Change Program under the UN Women’s Economic Empowerment Program, I took interest in this incredible campaign and applied right away. The volume of applications was overwhelming with at least 4900 applications and yet the available slots were only 170. We were subjected to a 10-day rally to determine the 170 people for the program. I was always ready to learn new things, research as well as willingness to work in groups. I was selected for the Social Media and Advocacy group that gathered resources relating to Women Economic Empowerment and used social media platforms to share them to the world and uploaded resources to the empowerwomen.org platform for reference.
This was a 6-month voluntary job online and offline. Offline, I engaged young men and women in Kitgum and Lamwo districts, collected and shared their stories relating to economic empowerment. I also held forums for discussion on women’s issues and approached various stakeholders to embrace women economic empowerment. I was very active online on facebook, twitter and slack spreading the gospel of women’s economic empowerment and in the end, I saw several young people (women) breaking the glass ceiling and engaging in business. This was an incredible program that inspired so many women to take on business and entrepreneurship role in the economy. I was recognized with a Certificate as “Global Champion for Change”. This was just one of a kind event that exposed me to an amazing international Community.
As an ambassador of the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network (CYPAN) Uganda, how do you put young people at the forefront of peacebuilding?
Through my experience as a former refugee of the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA rebel group in Northern Uganda, I have critically observed that insecurities around the world are caused mainly by the youth, and yet these very youth have full potential to top wars. I felt saddened by the way older people use young people wrongly to cause conflicts around the world. Imagine if all these young people who are currently at the frontline causes of political issues were made to be peace agents? The whole world would definitely be at peace. This is the major approach employed at Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network (CYPAN).
I am currently undergoing a 42-day self-development program by Peace Revolution which entails how to create inner peace and eventually create peace in the entire community. The formula we use is; Peace in=Peace Out. It means that peace starts from oneself and spreads to the entire world. It is such an interesting model in tackling peace issues. Through CYPAN, I have been able to influence peace in my community. Through Lamwo Youth Forum for Change, LYFC. we have got young people to intervene in solving issues relating to the land conflict which remains a major source of insecurity in Northern Uganda among the Acholi community.
Tell us more about Lamwo Youth Forum for Change (LYFC)
I initiated Lamwo Youth Forum for Change in 2015 as a youth-led initiative concerned with upscaling through demanding accountability from their elected representatives and local government, volunteerism, leadership and mentorship, networking and sharing opportunities over social media platforms. This is a platform is an advocacy platform by the youth and for the youth. We bring news from around the world to the youth who live deep down in the villages, we have the news shared on our official Facebook page. Many young people get job opportunities easily through our page, opportunities for scholarships, fellowships, internships and both national and international news relating to political, social and economic issues.
At LYFC we believe that young people need inspiration by learning through testimonials from other parts of the world. Recently we thought of matching every youth on our platform to a mentor.
You have persevered through a great deal in life. What kept you motivated?
Truly my life journey has been a very long one, not easy at all. The doors to my education, medical care, leadership and generally progress seemed very hard for years. I kept pressing in spite of all these challenges through ‘HARD WORK AND DETERMINATION’. I strongly believe that hard work really pays and indeed, I have earned from my hard work. I used Nelson Mandela’s quote “It always seems impossible until it is done.” This quote describes hard work and determination. For example, I knew that if I did not pass my Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE) well and acquired a scholarship to the University, I would definitely have no future as both of my parents were uneducated and not working and unable to take care of my university bills. This compelled me to work extremely hard and in the end, I was the best student in the North leading to the award of a scholarship by the government of Uganda to the University. My appeal to the youth out there is that they do not need to give up on their ventures.
It always seems impossible until it is done - Nelson Mandela Click To Tweet
As a first-generation university graduate, how do you pave the way for others to get the same opportunities as you?
I am the first graduate from our family and I don’t want to be the last. I need the younger people to go much further than me. This is one of the reasons I founded the LYFC to act as a platform for grooming young people to be better citizens both academically and professionally. I think mentorship and technical guidance does it well. Other mechanisms that I am employing to empower these young people are networking, embracing teamwork, appreciating diversity, and uplifting creativity and innovation. They are the future leaders of our community. I am happy to be a mentor and a model to the young people in my community. I need this great spirit of hard work to continue until the entire community reaches a state of complete transformation.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your journey so far?
My struggle to make my community a better place has gone through many ups and downs. One great challenge here is the low level of education in the young population. I needed more manpower to leverage change in my community. If I had more young people with the same thoughts, creativity, innovativeness and the zeal to transform the community, we would have been better off already. Secondly, our culture is a curse to development. It is a common norm that hard working and progressive people lack the support from community members.
Secondly, our culture is a curse to development. It is a common norm that hard working and progressive people lack the support from community members. Instead, they would think of bringing them down. I am happy though that with the current changes in the society, people are getting to understand and appreciate development and its pioneers. Lastly, I cannot ignore the fact that poverty is still a great stumbling block towards our progresses in the community and the entire continent. Most young people are unable to afford internet access, so they are left out of the information and communication spectrum. Which is a very important and integral part of development.
What are your plans for the future?
I have the big dream of turning the life in my community around socially, economically and politically. It is the reason I formed LYFC. I along with other change makers in the community hope to embark on education, healthcare, financial literacy and entrepreneurship and above all transform the leadership of the community to servantship and good governance. Culture still holds a great root in the Acholi community, Northern Uganda and opposed to development. We have got abundance of land resources and yet can not effectively use them. I plan to utilize the locally available resources, manpower, finances and others to shape our community better.
Who inspired your journey?
- Nelson Mandela: for his activism
- Ps Armstrong: of Verse by Verse International Ministries Bible Teachings
- Nobert Mao: an activist in Uganda
What are you currently reading?
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
Thank you, Joel, for shaping the African Legacy. We celebrate you.