An end of year project, sparked Science and Business, Biotechnology 2B student Darren Harry Baine's passion to help youth in his home country of Uganda. His drive to create change and be part of the solution led him to create a non-profit foundation and an youth-focused YouTube series before joining Waterloo.
The Homeland Project
During his final year of high school, Baine and his classmates were challenged to develop a self-initiative project to help those less fortunate. He chose Medina Pre-Nursery School in Bombo, located in south-central Uganda. His grandmother had volunteered with the school for refugee Nubian children and suggested they could use his help.
Baine visited the kindergarten class in August 2019. He ran a situational analysis to analyze the school's internal and external environment to better understand the needs and abilities of the school. He identified two issues that made it hard for the school to sustainably run their operations - limited resources and access to skilled labour.
Students didn't have the essential resources they needed for learning, which included textbooks, pens, pencils, paper and chalk. Teachers didn't have the training to teach effectively with little to no resources.
Baine gathered fellow well-wishers and partnered with different organizations to gather supplies and essential resources for the school to run sustainably. The scholastic resources enable sustainable and effective learning for the students. They also provided a teacher training session for the school staff to teach them how to effectively manage and use limited resources for the long-term.
"From this experience, I realized the huge impact the smallest act can have," said Baine. "It sparked a passion to help youth development."
This initiative called the Homeland Project led to the development of Ever Elm Foundation, an organization designed to facilitate the growth of youth communities across Uganda. The term Ever Elm was coined in 2021 to symbolize the sustainable and equitable growth of the youth society that Baine envisioned.
Ever Elm continues to support Medina Pre-Nursery School and is actively trying to help implement strategies on how the school can sustainably run while simultaneously creating a warm learning environment.
The Remand Joy Project is the second initiative from the Ever Elm Foundation, where they partnered with the Naguru Remand Home. There are approximately one hundred children in the juvenile centre, from 11 to 18 years old. Baine did a situational analysis and worked with local organizations to make a large donation of necessities including: food, sanitary pads, cleaning agents and dishware to the home on his first visit.
He also met with the Probation and Welfare Officer. She told him the children needed to develop market-ready skills to be able to pursue a vocation after their time at the home. It was difficult to find a skill that all the children could participate in and that was financially viable for Baine's charity. Ever Elm came up with the brilliant solution of running a skill program on hair braiding and nails.
"You know this is a skill they can learn and grow over time," says Baine. "They can do more complex things, but it's something that everybody can do."
Hair care and the beauty industries are one of the most lucrative informal, popular and fastest-growing industries in Uganda. The versatility of hair in Uganda provides massive opportunities for this industry. The cost of setting up is relatively low, and services can even be provided at home.
Ever Elm hired a skilled hairstylist to train the children for four months from this past January to May. The children were very interested in learning how to braid hair, do nails and how to dress hair.
"This will help them develop a skill that gives them confidence and the potential to earn money, changing the citizens of Uganda for the better," said Baine.
Currently, Baine is working with other partners and organizations to determine how to continue so the children can increase their skill and scope.
Ever Elm hopes to spread its influence to other Remand Homes across Uganda - namely Fort Portal, Gulu, Mbale and the Kampiringisa Rehabilitation Centre.
The Young Eye
Youth in Uganda are the youngest population in the world, with 77 per cent of its population being under 25 years of age. There are currently more than 7.3 million youth between the ages of 15 to 24 years old living in Uganda.
Baine's second non-profit foundation is called the The Young Eye. It's an YouTube video series that interviews experienced individuals in multiple industries about their stories and the advice they have for the youth. It highlights and celebrates young Ugandans actively involved in forging paths to their careers.
The first season has a total of 13 episodes, ranging from 10 to 20 minutes. Each episode features a different career and follows the career trajectory of an Ugandan youth. Some of the careers highlighted include: poet, musician, entrepreneur, model, doctor, athlete, actress and farmer. Baine is currently working on a second season that will see more audience engagement and showcase other careers.
The goal of the series is to positively impact the lives and change mindsets of their peers through discussions with policy makers, leaders and individuals from a variety of sectors. The Younge Eye is a social entrepreneurial venture, aimed at providing Ever Elm Foundation with a sustainable source of finance.
Baine was also profiled on Uganda's Top 40 under 40, which was published this past May.
Advice from Baine,“I believe at the core of a system are the people running it, and to ensure its effectiveness, we should learn the essence of leadership and the technical skills of business, supported by a focused mindset, vision of the goals you want to achieve and clarity on how to achieve them.”