How to improve understanding of sustainable and healthy neighbourhoods through youth participation in Kisenyi Slum, Kampala, Uganda (Sustainable Neighbourhoods with the Youth: SustaiNY study)
Principal Investigator:

Doreen Tuhebwe, School of Public Health, Makerere University, Uganda


Kampala Capital City Authority, Uganda


The Sustainable Neighbourhoods with the Youth (SustaiNY) study aimed to inform a community-based process on how to improve understanding of sustainable and healthy neighbourhoods through youth participation in LMICs. Sixteen young people from the informal settlement of Kisenyi, Kampala, Uganda were trained over six weeks on how to assess neighbourhood risks and equipped with transformative leaderships skills to effectively advocate for sustainable and healthy neighbourhoods. Working in youth led teams, the young people implemented three actions: i) cleaning up a community spring, ii) community sensitisation and iii) dredging an open trench in order to exemplify resilience leadership and trigger community engagement. See Research Brief SustaiNY for more details.

The SustaiNY study extended aspects of work by SHLC that seeks to “understand what makes a sustainable, healthy and learning neighbourhood”. Through group discussions, transect walks, leadership training, community dialogues and action plan implementation, the youth in Kisenyi slum reflected on what they perceive as a healthy and sustainable neighbourhood and what they can change by themselves and in the wider community. The youth became more aware about their community in terms of challenges (hazards) and existing opportunities (resources). They also appreciated how humans interact with the environment and how the youth can contribute to and/or lead solutions to neighbourhood challenges.

The Kisenyi Resilience Youth during community sensitization to trigger community engagement.
The Kisenyi Resilience Youth during community sensitization to trigger community engagement. Credit: Makerere University


Objective one.  The team explored young people’s understanding of a sustainable and healthy city by conducting two focus group discussions (FGDs), one prior to the training and one at the end of the action plan implementation. Participants were 20 young people aged 15-19 years old, born and raised in the vulnerable neighbourhood of Kisenyi. Six key informant interviews (KIIs) were also held with local leaders, urban authorities and city planners. From the content analysis of the FGDs and KIIs, the team generated a matrix of resources, land use patterns and activities of Kisenyi slum. It was noted from the FGDs and KIIs that Kisenyi slum land was mixed used with various land activities including: street side businesses like food vending, business premises like shops, residential houses (permanent and temporary structures), small scale industries like welding and social amenities like the churches. Some concentrations existed especially for ethnic groups that lived together and density spots for criminal gangs. The youth perceived a healthy and sustainable neighbourhood as one with: trees, enough walkways, safe roads, and one that is hygienic, has employment for the population, has security, schools, hospitals and where people of all ages, sexes and backgrounds cooperate with no discrimination. These perspectives resonated with bringing into place the resources that are not currently in place in this community.

Objective 2.  The project trained 20 eligible young people from the initial FGDs and 16 of them completed all training sessions. The curriculum covered 10 training sessions.  Session 1: People and the Environment; 2: Understanding My Changing Environment (Concepts); 3: Hazard mapping; 4: Creating the Community Map; 5: Awareness of my neighbourhood; 6: Identifying Priority Community Challenges; 7:  A Strong/Resilient Leader; 8: Action Planning; 9:  Sharing in a Community Forum and 10: Action Plan Implementation. Through the training activities, the young people understood their community better and through participatory methods they learnt how to take initiative in areas related to sustainable development for prosperous, convenient, liveable and safe cities.

Objective 3.  The post-training and action plan implementation follow up FGDs showed that the young people’s perspectives on what makes a healthy and sustainable neighbourhood had changed and resonated more with having a community where there is respect for law and order and all community members including the youth are more engaged in efforts towards the development and wellbeing of their neighbourhoods.

Contributions to challenges in low and middle-income countries (LMICs)

By 2050, the United Nations estimates that 3 billion more people will be added to the urban population. As countries work towards attainment of health and wellbeing for all (Sustainable Development Goal 3) and inclusive, safe and resilient cities (Sustainable Development Goal 11), young people, especially those living in informal settlements are being left behind. The current scale of urbanisation provides a positive opportunity for economic growth and social change, but alongside this rapid growth, cities also face major demographic, environmental, economic, social and spatial challenges.

The high rates at which urban informal settlements are developing in Uganda, a LMIC, make wellbeing for the urban poor an urgent priority. Uganda is experiencing a high rate of urbanisation exceeding 5% per annum with Kampala having the highest urban population growth rate estimated to be between 5.2 and 16% per annum. These high rates make city resource sustainability an urgent priority.

Kisenyi slum (the largest slum in Kampala) has 70% of its population in the youth bracket. These young people increasingly face pressures of infrastructure such as lack of housing, economics including lack of gainful employment, security, poor basic services such as lack of access to health care, and environmental issues like pollution, environmental degradation and urban flash floods. Within the context of sustainable development, young people in Kisenyi face a major problem of poor land use and environmental degradation which has hindered the realisation of a sustainable neighbourhood in Kisenyi. The youth in Kisenyi also present an opportunity where they can be skilled to effectively advocate for and contribute to sustainable and healthy neighbourhoods if they are skilled in approaches that help reduce exposure to hazards, lessen vulnerability of people and property, inform wise management of land and the environment, and improve preparedness for adverse events.

Through the SustaiNY study, the project team worked with young people in Kisenyi slum and facilitated them to reflect on causes of vulnerability in their immediate neighbourhood and identify solutions that can be implemented by themselves to overcome these vulnerabilities in the short and long term.  Through these engagements, the young people in this slum community became more aware about their community in terms of challenges (hazards) and opportunities (existing resources). They also appreciated the extent to which they can contribute to the challenges in the community and more importantly the fact that they are part of the solution.


Project outcomes included:

  1. A network of young leaders with potential to champion change for sustainable cities and who are ready to lead efforts within their immediate neighbourhoods.

“…we as strong leaders, whoever we find disposing of waste in a drainage channel, we shall take them to the police station. From the police station, we shall take them to court to be questioned why they dump waste in a drainage channel. If the reason is insufficient, then they will also be taken to jail. Other community members will learn from there and pick a leaf. You first warn the community members, and if they are persistent, then you use the law. That is what we must do as strong leaders.” (Final FGDs with the Kisenyi Youth Resilience Club)

  1. A community that has been triggered to think about and take actions that can make their neighbourhoods healthy, sustainable and resilient
  2. An informed community which benefited from the community sensitisation exercise that was led by the young people. The actions that were implemented by the youth i.e. cleaning up the community spring and open trench contributed to health and wellbeing of the community which will sustain the gains of the study.
  3. During the training sessions and engagements, the young people had their capacity built and they established themselves as change agents for sustainable neighbourhoods despite difficult circumstances. The lessons learnt can also be applied in existing networks like schools and civil society organizations within this community to identify youth leaders and systematically engage them.

“We have learnt a lot of things and also places which we never knew. Through the community mapping, I have been able to learn the hazards and resources in my community” (Final FGD with the Kisenyi Youth Resilience Leaders)

Project Outputs

The SustaiNY study outputs included:

  1. A team of trained youth who are skilled in applying hazard and vulnerability analysis to understand their neighbourhood. The 16 trained youth have formed a club called “Kisenyi Youth Resilience Leaders”. They are excited, curious, interested and engaged in community wellbeing activities with the support of the community leaders. Even after the end of the study the young people have continued to engage in regular community clean ups, mobilisation for COVID-19 vaccination and scouting law and order in their neighbourhoods.
  2. Documentation of community validated perceptions of what a sustainable and healthy neighbourhood looks like, provides a case study of the urban poor setting of Kisenyi. Through the study the youth and community leaders deliberated on the land use activities that can be initiated and encouraged in order to ensure a sustainable neighbourhood and how to adapt and thrive in their community despite existing challenges of poverty, poor infrastructure, lack of employment, insecurity, poor basic services and environmental issues.
  3. A matrix of resources, land use patterns and activities of a sustainable neighbourhood informed by the key stakeholders in the project. Through the focus group discussions, key informant interviews and community dialogues, the project was able to generate a list of resources that exist in Kisenyi community and the vulnerabilities that need to be overcome in order to attain a vibrant urban community.
  4. A team of researchers with operational insights on how to conduct research in the topical areas of urban development and sustainable cities. The researchers from Makerere University in collaboration with Kampala Capital City Authority were able to engage and learn from each other during the implementation of the project. This further strengthened the collaboration between academics and non-academics.
One of the Kisenyi Resilience Leaders during action plan implementation on cleaning the spring
One of the Kisenyi Resilience Leaders during action plan implementation on cleaning the spring. Credit: Makerere University

Local Involvement

  1. This project mainly worked with the youth from Kisenyi and the urban authority leaders in Kampala and Kisenyi. These key stakeholders were engaged in the project through the inception meeting where they input ideas on how best to implement the study in the Kisenyi setting.
  2. Through the key informant interviews, a new partnership with an NGO called “Slum Dwellers Association” was formed and the chairperson of this NGO became a facilitator in one of the community engagements where she guided the young people on how to effectively communicate a message to community members.
  3. A team of Village Health Team members supported the youth as mentors during this project. This built confidence between the community and the research team
  4. The Kisenyi Parish Chairperson appointed the Kisenyi Male Youth Councillor as Patron for the “Kisenyi Youth Resilience Leadership Club” in order to sustain the gains and momentum of the project. Through the community engagement, it was widely made known to the Kisenyi and city leadership that the Youth Resilience Leaders are available as a resource for the community and can be tapped into to support development initiatives and should be prioritized for emerging youth advancement opportunities.

“such programs (SustaiNY study) are good and give hope to the community….I promise to continue encouraging the youth to come and participate in our programs so that they can transform their communities” (Kakajjo Zona, Kisenyi II Chairperson).

Future Activities

Future activities include seeking more opportunities to disseminate the project findings and continue to engage the Kisenyi Youth Resilience Leaders in activities that can further enhance their transformative leadership abilities.

The project team is engaging a multimedia developer to transform the project photos and video recordings into a documentary clip that can be disseminated widely on social media, websites and other relevant platforms in order to interest other people in the work, seek additional funding and scale up the study approach for others to adapt in research and practice.

A member of Kisenyi Youth Resilience Leaders presenting on community mapping, problem prioritization and action planning.
A member of Kisenyi Youth Resilience Leaders presenting on community mapping, problem prioritization and action planning. Credit: Makerere University

Capacity Strengthening

The project was designed and implemented by a team from diverse academic and practice backgrounds/specialisations. The study involved two young and promising researchers as Co-investigators from Makerere University (Doreen Tuhebwe and Jimmy Osuret) in collaboration with the Kampala Capital City Authority Community Development Officer (Jackline Akello). This promoted exchange of knowledge by sharing different methodological approaches and operational insights in both directions of research and practice.

The research team expanded to include another six young researchers at Masters level training who supported the data collection, facilitation of training sessions, transcription, data analysis and documentation. These new researchers learnt from the Lead Research Team and they were introduced to new perspectives and topics in urbanisation, sustainable development, liveable and efficient neighbourhoods and the UN-HABITAT principles of urban development. Three of the young researchers subsequently applied for research positions in projects at MakSPH and were recruited, launching them in University work with a lot of growth potential.

The capacity of the 16 young people that participated in resilience leadership training was built. They learnt new concepts in disaster risk reduction, resilience, leadership and championing change. They became more aware about themselves, their neighbourhood and implemented actions that could improve their neighbourhood. They also interested other youth in the concept of sustainable neighbourhoods.

The trained young people also acquired other skills such as mapping, making presentations, time keeping, planning for events, communication, mobilising resources in the community, for example asking community members for wheel barrows to use during the clean-up exercise. They also learnt how to engage with adult leaders and this was demonstrated during the community dialogue with the Kisenyi and urban authority leaders where they were able to negotiate and interest the leaders to be part of the action plan implementation exercise.

The young people also have access to all the project training and dissemination material for future reference and use. In addition, they expanded their network of friends by meeting other young people from different neighbourhoods during the project activities.

“We have learnt discipline, respecting others, time management and working together as a community.”

“I have learnt to respect others”

(Final FGDs with Kisenyi Youth Resilience Leaders)


The young people had a positive attitude change and this was demonstrated by their commitment to the training sessions and their change in perception on what makes a health and sustainable neighbourhood.

The capacity of the two community health workers also known as Village Health Team members (VHTs) was strengthened as the team appointed them as mentors for the youth. The VHTs learnt about the project and the concepts applied and they received training material from the Research Team

The Kisenyi Leaders and urban authorities also learnt about the concept of sustainable and healthy neighbourhoods and the perspectives the youth have on what makes a healthy and sustainable neighbourhood. These insights triggered deliberations on how to better use the land in Kisenyi and avoid degradation despite Kisenyi being a slum. In total 10 Kisenyi leaders participated in the dialogue and community dissemination.

Over 2000 Kisenyi community members specifically in Kakajjo zone benefited from the efforts of the youth who cleaned up the water spring and open trench in China town during action plan implementation.