Youth On Rock Foundation (YRF) recently held its second Annual General Meeting under the theme Strengthening Systems and Structures for Proper Governance and Community Involvement. Supported by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), FrontLine AIDS and Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPH), the meeting was attended by representatives from various community based and MSM led organisations, YRF members, partners, allies and health service providers that work with the LGBT+ community in Uganda.
In his welcome remarks, the Board Chair of YRF- Vincent Kyabazinye commended attendees for the great turn up. "The fact that we are all here from different affiliations in this one room shows solidarity and unity which was impossible in the past," Vincent said.
The National Coordinator of Uganda Network for Sex Work Organizations (UNESO), Namakula Nakato Daisy also praised YRF for the determination, passion and resilience in serving the community while also giving a face to male sex workers since its formation in November 2010. "YRF has contributed so much to the visibility of male sex workers in Uganda as it was widely perceived back then that only women were involved in the trade. We appreciate YRF for their unwavering perseverance in our journey and congratulate them on this big achievement. It has not been easy but we are so proud of YRF, their programs and achievements," Daisy said on a celebratory note.
Attendees shared their various experiences working with YRF and their impact within the key populations. Kelly Mukwano, one of YRF's pioneer members and current Executive Director of I-Freedom Network mentioned that it was difficult for MSMs to access lubricants and condoms since they were barely distributed despite the rise of many KPOs at that time. He thanked YRF for the great work done in health service delivery, professionalism and mentorship that has led to sprouting of other organizations in different regions of Uganda. Other testimonies from YRF members based in various parts of the country vouched for the organisation’s prompt and good service delivery in rural communities which was also viewed as an indication of growth for YRF.
A report from the Board which highlighted the issue of safety following a string of recent attacks that left two members of the LGBT community dead, was also presented. "Even if there haven't been any physical attacks against anyone in YRF, we have received reports of threats and intimidation especially against some staff and it is very scary. This shows need to emphasize not only group but also individual security," the board chair, Vincent stated. The board also expressed its gratitude to YRF for extending its programs to rural communities and the efforts made towards capacity building of both staff and members. Vincent further revealed YRF’s future plans to engage in social responsibility which will enable them to interact with communities, identify challenges and how to mitigate them. The initiative will promote good relationship with society, ensure security while fostering more partnerships and collaborations beneficial to YRF.
YRF’S Programs Director, Meddie shared the financial report running from June 2018 to June 2019 – the report highlighted the organisation’s donors who include Medicin Du Monde (MDM), Digital Defenders' Partnership (DDP), Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) and SMUG. The programs and activities implemented by YRF in the past year included strengthening referrals and linkages, World AIDS day celebrations 2018, digital security trainings, community outreaches especially in rural areas and outreaches to LGBTI persons in refugee camps.
To boost economic empowerment, some YRF members gained skills from a business and craftsmanship training that was supported by UHAI. These members currently started their own ventures in piggery, brick laying and boutiques which has improved their livelihoods.
Morgan Kanyike, the Executive Director also shared a brief history and challenges YRF has overcome since it was founded in 2010 in Bwaise. Initially, the vision of YRF was conceived by Joseph Kaweesi who is the founder and current ED at COPTEC Uganda while Morgan was the implementer and mobilizer. With nostalgic humor, Kanyike who is a teacher by profession recalled unwarranted police arrests and conflicts among leaders of the LGBT/ SW movements at the time. "The fights and disagreements have and will always be there in our movement but the question is how do we resolve these conflicts? With all the negative forces around us, we have to realise that we can't serve this community alone without existence of other organizations," he said. Morgan further presented his report for the previous year in which he stressed relevance of partnerships in guiding YRF into a positive direction. He also attributed the boost of YRF registered membership of 122 at present to his staff's teamwork and hard work on the different projects.
The Guest of Honor, Dr Frank Mugisha who is the current ED at SMUG credited YRF for representing the movement by giving it a presence and a voice at the grassroot level where they operate. He continued to pledge SMUG's support towards YRF because of the fruits and good work done through its activities and structures.