A Konnect Africa Interview with Noah Walakira; Anzisha Finalist & Sweater-Maker Per Excellence

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Top of the week to you Konnect Africans! As October enters its penultimate week, we are pleased to present our interview with Anzisha Prize finalist, the Ugandan Sweater-Maker, Noah Walakira as promised here.

Believe it or not, Noah Walakira prays to be the solution to the problems of his community and staunchly believes that the ‘government’ needs from us more than we need from it.

Putting his money where his mouth is, Noah fc

With plans to expand to other communities and spread change, the 22-year old believes that Africa will only rise if its young people play their part…and rise.

Totally candid, inspirational and captivating, the story of Noah Walakira is one of focus, determination and selflessness.

Enjoy.

 Noah Walakira

KA: In the beginning? However did you learn to knit?

I was born on 4th July 1992 to my dear parents Mr. and Mrs.  Joseph and Betty Kabanda. Who reside in Mengo Kampala, Uganda. Being the third born among 7 children in a family with unsecured income was not a desirable life to me. I saw my elder brothers drop out of school in order for us the young ones to attain a certain level of education.  My father’s income drastically dropped after he lost his job. Struggling with school fees and personal needs, I studied until Primary seven when I had no choice but to go to the village and live with my grandparents during the vacation. It was at this point of working closely with my Grandmother that I got to learn how to knit sweaters using bicycle spikes.

We would work on individual sweaters and she would divide the money equally between us. This was an inspiration to me on how I could use my skill to make money. I continued with the individual sweaters until the end of my vacation.  I continued working on small individual orders while saving up for a hand knitting machine. It used to take me 3 weeks to make a single sweater but after I purchased a machine I could make a sweater in just 30 minutes.

I taught my friend, brothers and started working for Nursery and Primary schools. We saved up and purchased more knitting machines and sewing machines. People showed interest in learning and working with me to a point that it did not require my presence for the sweaters to be made. This was the beginning of Namirembe sweater makers (NSM.)

KA: Education…what is the highest level you have attained thus far?

In the course of my education I have always opted for self-education (studying what I need not, what the educational system has to offer.) As a result of my policy,  I waited 2 years after graduation from high school to study what I need .I have pursued a diploma in Sustainable Development from a free online institution called Alison courses and I am currently studying to earn a diploma in Business Administration. I have taken up several short certificate courses in leadership, live skills, ICT, and entrepreneurship. I have also attended workshops, seminars, conferences, and read numerous books in like areas.

KA: Where you ever derided for engaging in a ‘girly’ hobby?

I really don’t think knitting it is a ‘girly’ hobby. I think this is a mind-set that any person can change and tap into the opportunities they need. These limitations of ‘girly’ hobby perceptions have kept many of us back from some of our abilities. I had a close relationship with my Mother and Grandmother and they taught me most of the so called ‘girly’ hobbies. Besides knitting and sewing, I am also good at cooking our traditional foods and I have cooked at several occasions.

KA: Namirembe Sweater-Makers as a community change-agent…

I have always had a prayer to God and that is, ‘To be the solution to the problems of my community.’ When I saw a problem of unemployment among my peers, I took the initiative to solve it using Namirembe Sweater-Makers.

noah Walakira 1

KA: Mission and vision of Namirembe Sweater-Makers?

The vision I have is to set up similar community based organizations, organized and managed by the communities where they are set up and bearing the name of the community. A clear example being Namirembe  Sweater-Makers (NSM) whose name ‘Namirembe’ is derived from its location. I seek to setup similar organizations such as Karamoja Sweater-Makers, Kisoro Sweater-Makers, etc . Finally I want to setup an umbrella organization for these community based organizations.

NSM is just a small part of what we want to setup .I have already started on my vision by carrying out a needs assessment in the two areas- Karanmoja and Kisoro.

KA: Capital invested? Profits reaped thus far?

The capital ranges from the assets we have such as 15 knitting machines,3 sewing machines and three working facilities in Kampala .We also received a Government grant two years ago which empowered the company to grow. NSM employs over 20 members and these benefit their communities by eradicating poverty. Personally NSM has seen me through High School and I expect it to fund my tertiary education as well.

Being a community based organization, we do not stop at knitting sweaters and sewing uniforms for schools but also train others and carry out community service to needy communities.

KA: How many years has it been in existence?

It started in 2008 but was officially registered in 2012.

KA: Has your relative youth ever been a barrier to achieving or striving?

Yes it has been a barrier when dealing with clients. It is hard to earn the trust of the school[s] administration due to the perception they have about young people, but I have learnt better ways to buy trust while marketing through books I have read like ‘The Rules of Wealth’, ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, ‘Think and Grow Rich’, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’, ‘Me to We, etc.

Is being shortlisted for the Anzisha Prize validation of your efforts?

The Anzisha award has been the greatest encouragement I have ever received in my life as an Entrepreneur. It feels like a great reward for one’s hard work and sacrifice.

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KA: Should young people stop relying solely on the government to improve their lot?

Definitely, yes!  Who is the Government besides you and I? Breaking down the government ends up with oneself.  Young people should take up a sense of ownership of their lives. The so called government they perceive needs from us more than we need from it. Even the government grant I received came after 5years of our existence as a company.

KA: People think you have to invent something astounding to make an impact; but you have taught us different?

To me, the most astounding thing that has ever existed is oneself and that is what we have to invest in. It’s all you possess truly- your ideas, skills, passions, talents and innovativeness.

KA: If you could change something about your past, what would it be?

I have treasured every moment good or challenging though it has been a learning process and a journey of self-discovery. I have perceived every failure and challenge as learning processes in my life, and I have deeply treasured those moments because they have made me who I am.

KA: 5 life lessons…

  • It all starts with me (oneself) you ought to believe in yourself.

  • Doing good pays; it may take a while but it surely pays.

  • Do your best and be your best in every situation.

  • Never stop learning.

  • Finally it all comes back to the greatest lesson, “take ownership of your life.”

KA: Mentors and motivators…

I have not had a single well defined mentor in my life; I have learnt how to take decisions through learning from the people around me. I learn from other people’s failures and challenges and that’s why I always say,’ take ownership of your life’.

My motivation originates from the needs and challenges I have seen in my community, my Country and Africa. I believe I am the answer and I daily live to seek and provide these answers.

KA: How can Africa’s youth make sure Africa keeps rising?

I find it difficult to separate the word Africa and youth according to the statistics of youth in Africa. Therefore I believe the best way Africa’s youth can ensure Africa continues to rise is by rising themselves.

KA: Inspire young Africans in one sentence.

Take ownership of your lives.

© 2014 – 2017, Jennifer Nkem-Eneanya. All rights reserved.

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