WIL Uganda was founded in June 2014 by Cianne Jones, a Family Lawyer and Gender Equality Advocate after her experience of volunteering in Uganda. Their vision is for women and girls to be in positions of leadership acting as role models for future generations whilst promoting equitable development.
When WIL Uganda had just begun the programme of Crafts, they had to look for people who can manage that programme, so I was chosen and given an agreement to sign and we started from there. I was already trained with Crafts skills alongside another facilitator, and we managed a big group of women at the start.
The other facilitator Sara and I spent two years training women to make products. After some products were made, the director would take them to the UK and move around selling those products. The organization was making earrings bracelets and jewelry. A time came when the programme was running but had to stop because we couldn’t find a specific place to sell the products and get the money for the women. The director didn’t want the women to keep coming to make crafts and not receiving an income for their work, it was too discouraging. Then we started searching for ways to sell products online, and last year we were successful in finding a company that buys our products and the women receive the money.
Last year WIL Uganda helped me go and join a tailoring training, I was training for 3 months because of their support. Because they helped pay for this training I am very grateful and I graduated in November 2017. Tailoring is a very serious and big programme, I was given an introduction of making practical things like dresses, jackets, shirts etc. There was a nice and interesting graduation celebration at the end and I was really happy. The sewing machine I use now is personal and I used this to train myself and improve, I used to practice sewing at home. The organization is also planning on getting sewing machines when they have the budget, so the women in our programme can also develop this skill. After the course I started making products to sell personally and for the organization too.
In February 2018 I started a government programme under the government ruling party (NRA). The programme is to help school drop out girls and boys and give them practical skills for these children in the village. The sub-county CDO called me in March, because I am known in my town for tailoring, and he told me to give an application. I took the documents to the court and was called for the interview, which was hard because it was all just writing. Many women who have tailoring skills cannot read and write, so I was able to write this exam for 2 hours and a half, it was 6 pages with many detailed questions. After I was called to come in and they told me I got the post and I am to start teaching these girls and boys tailoring.
Since April I have started teaching girls about some practical parts of tailoring until we get the machines so they can start practicing. The contract is for 1 year. We are paid for our services, and they really help the people in rural districts in Busoga where people are really helpless.
Along with starting some tailoring projects with the WIL Uganda women hopefully next month, I am hoping to go back to a technical institute whereby I can get the DIT paper (a certification) to be able work in the whole country. It is a more technical training for tailoring and the course is one year, at Iganga Technical School. I will do this course and am willing and I need to become someone who is so so resourceful.
Photo of a student in the Adult Literacy programme, Irene Namuganza, introducing herself in English
A few weeks ago the Adult Literacy programme had a session focusing on self-introductions. In this session with Adult Learners on April 8th I realized the capacity of the learners to introduce themselves in English and to “own” a platform.
People came forward and explained things about their lives and we learnt more about them. When the exercise went on in class, one student, Irene Namuganza, firmly introduced herself. She stated she is a housewife married to a gospel preacher and secondary school teacher at Numutumba Secondary School and so on.
Her body language told it all, how confident she was on the platform. She told the class that she is a mother of six, some of whom had completed ordinary level of secondary education. The art of body language was really developed for Irene. She chose a good diction in her expression. She only needed correction in sentence construction here and there, which is great progress for her compared to where she was at the start of her time in the programme.
I hope if Adult Learners concentrate on the Literacy programme, they will be empowered even more so to express themselves very well in public. When the women concentrate and keep coming they have a better chance of achieving their goals and better for us to help empower. They can stand and address the public in meetings, gatherings, clubs, and even in local politics. This is a springboard for the women to become leaders in the community and stand on their platform and speak up and convince people of new ideas.
I would love to have more volunteers and interns to come join facilitate the Adult Literacy programme with me as classes get larger and more support is needed to help encourage and empower these women to develop their capacities.
Final goodbyes with the Teen Voices participants from Townside High School, Busembatia.
I write this blog for the month of May, a little earlier than usual. That is because, this week marks the end of my time in Uganda and the realisation that I am soon to embark on my journey ‘home’, is beginning to set in. Despite three months not being a huge amount of time, I have consolidated my view that development is measured in more than numbers. Change often takes the form of a subtle yet steady ripple, which could eventually break, or manifest into something beautiful. A wave. That wave cannot be guaranteed, but the option and choice are there for disposal and that, is exactly what matters.
It has been an eye opening three months completing the Teen Voices internship here in Uganda. There have been moments where I have questioned impact and receptivity, yet there have also been times where I have beaconed with pride and purpose. For example, when I’ve observed the girls’ passion as they presented their poetry at International Women’s Day celebrations, read articles they’ve written on issues from their heart, watched how they communicate with such honesty and rawness and have just generally enjoyed seeing how much they shine.
In my opinion, social change is tangible and visible, but only if we adapt the way we see it. Sometimes it is necessary to alter our perception. Through previous workings and postings, I have become accustomed to measuring numbers, collating data for impact assessments and presenting both quantitative and qualitative findings – of course they are crucially important and provide huge insight. But, so are the subtle things that are almost so abstract that they are difficult to describe.
I have realised, that far away from implementing monitoring and evaluative tools and gathering case studies and baselines and midlines assessments, despite their importance, impact is an elusive concept, no matter how much we measure it. If I am looking to see change right here and right now, then I must look for the small things, especially with such a local and grassroots organisation. It is then the impact becomes clear, strikingly so.
Change takes time. Perseverance is key, and people must want it in their very core. Not just want it, but crave it, embody it, become it. But there are so many constraints. So many people I have met, whom are dedicated to their education but with little backing and support. That’s what striked me the most, how a participant during a session can lack resources, yet harbour such enthusiasm and a will to achieve and succeed, through any means they can. For me, that’s the beauty about facilitation and non-formal education, creating a safe space for the girls to grow, develop and nurture their passion, their inquisitive minds, their queries. All in a way which operates on mutual respect, mutual drive and mutual desire for positive change, regardless of their background or initial knowledge basis.
Change is there in the way a girl speaks a little louder, it’s there in the way another girl listens, and in the way a classmate encourages her colleague when she’s looking for reassurance. So many articles the girls have written, have been about the importance of girl child education and the obstacles that stand in their way. Yet with the small resources they have, they are dedicated to the progression and fulfilment of their dreams. They write about why they want to stay in school and become teachers, nurses, doctors and lawyers.
Time is a strange concept because it’s always moving. Perhaps because it is so elusive, that’s why we struggle to see and appreciate tangible change and real examples of impact straight away. Indeed, I believe capacity building and skill transfer are longer processes, the impact is small, but it is most definitely there and in the long run, for me it huge and worthy. Like everything in life, nothing is perfect. We learn from our mistakes and we adapt as we go, according to what is needed and prioritisation. I am no stranger to over-analysing, have I done enough? Did I orchestrate that debate in the correct way? What image am I portraying to the young women that look up to me in the sessions?
I have realised that in community development work, we do what we think is best. We do what we hope will have the most and desired impact, informed by needs assessments and tried and tested approaches and knowledge from above. I know in my heart that in a small way, I have made a change. I like to think of the ripple effect in instances like this one.
In total, I have facilitated 17 sessions over the last three months with 25 young women. Session topics have included: Gender equality, Gender-based violence, Girl-child education -Access and Challenges, Assertiveness and training on article writing fundamentals and how to capture impact.
In both schools there are some loyal members whom have attended every session. These are the ones who regularly submit articles, have been published with our blogging partners and in my opinion, have gained the most from the sessions. Then there are the occasional drop-ins, the students who come once a month. Maybe because they are revising for school exams, maybe because their interest and inquisivity is not yet strong enough.
I have consolidated my opinions on the importance of delivery and how a project or programme is implemented – my passion for facilitative delivery remains intact. Like I said in my previous blog, ‘by the people, for the people’. Although I won’t be here to see the long-term change in the girls I have met, or watch them graduate university, or become leaders in their own communities, that is exactly how it should be. The girls making the changes for themselves, for their own benefit, armed with the skills and knowledge to allow them to make educated and informed choices and empower the next generation of young women here in Uganda. The power is in the ability and option, to make a choice. Some will go to university, some won’t. But regardless, they will be there, armed with their knowledge, skills, confidence and inner drive that they have showcased to me during my time here. If the statistics prevail, many might not reach university, and might fall pregnant over the next few years, be hit by the reality of not enough funds to pursue higher education, or early marriage. But, I hope that no matter where they go, what they do, or who they become, they remember their ability to project their voice and its importance.
Final goodbyes with the girls from Standard Secondary School, Busembatia.
Just like that, three months have drawn to a close. I know that as time moves forward, operational challenges such as African time and the sessions’ interruption due to exams, will fade, and the memories will remain. I will conclude this final blog, just like I concluded my final session with the girls. By stressing the importance of three fundamental things in their own development and future, that have been intrinsic to the way I have delivered the Teen Voices programme – Education, Storytelling and Conversation.
In one of the most recently published articles by our international blogging partner, Women’s eNews, one of Teen Voice’s most prominent writer’s and avid participants wrote some profound words, which really resonate with me.It seems only right for it to be their voice that concludes, because the future here in Busembatia, belongs to them: “Equality is important to all of us because we are all human beings. If you are mistreated, please get up and speak out your problems. Through story-telling and conversation, together we can solve our problems. We will show them that as women and girls, we can” (Joanitah, Nankinga, Townside High School).
Photos of a few children stopping by our office to make use of the books in our library
On a recent case study with a local stakeholder, I received some insight that inspired some reflection about WIL Uganda’s impact in Busembatia. The man I was interviewing is a Police constable, Mr. Bukono, who has been in the police force for 22 years. Self-taught, he explained that he hadn’t even attended secondary school, but became a police officer and worked his way up to the senior position he has now. The phrase that struck me during the interview was when he claimed:
“For me personally I am very thankful for WIL Uganda and the reading culture you bring.”
The bookshelves we have at our office are full of books ranging from educational textbooks to childrens books to teen novels, and though this isn’t one of the main services we advertise, it is always there for the community to access and make use of, and Mr. Bukono is a frequent user.
The reason the phrase stuck with me was specifically because he used the term “culture.” When you look up the word culture in a dictionary, it is often defined as the shared beliefs, practices, and values of group of people. This made me think about how the act of reading can become a part of a peoples culture: belief in the importance of reading, practicing it habitually, and valuing the role of what reading can play in a persons life. This doesn’t mean that it is an act that is done only out of necessity, or just because we are told to at schools. Rather it is a practice that follows you your whole life and at all levels of society, whether it’s young children or elderly people in a community, whether it’s on your lunch breaks, or in bed before sleeping. Really being a part of the culture of a group of people. The importance of education and knowledge is also then taken to a deeper level, and appreciated in the many ways it presents itself.
Mr. Bukono is a wonderful example of this; even amongst his coworkers he is known for reading on his spare time and at the police station when he is working. I can tell he values the existence of our library and treats it like a resource that needs to be appreciated; just in the way he spoke about it.
This train of thought also reminded me the importance of always learning from people we interact with, especially as a visitor to a new culture. How we need to always be vigilant that we are listening and being attentive to the new environments we are in, and take in the knowledge that people are always indirectly sharing with us. Lastly I was reminded how we should encourage children to come and make use of our library, as children always hang around the office but we don’t always hand them books; however that would be such a great way of reinforcing this reading culture. I hope to use this term more often now.
‘I Want To….’ Participants of Townside High School and facilitator Bethan Williams pictured above, during a class activity used to establish personal and collective objectives
During my time as a journalism intern with WIL Uganda, I have been lucky enough to facilitate sessions with many inspiring young women. As the school term ends and this week marks the final sessions with in school youth, here I reflect on the achievements, operational challenges and the things I’ll take away, from implementing the Teen Voices programme in Busembatia.
Facilitating sessions is just one part of my role here with WIL Uganda. However, the opportunity to foster growth and community engagement on a grassroots level by conducting sessions with in school youth, is one which I fully embrace. I welcome the opportunity to be ‘in the field’ and have direct contact with the local community, a hands-on ability to impact capacity-building amongst young women, it’s refreshing and rejuvenating.
It acts a regular reminder of why I do what I do, and why I feel so strongly about the role of informed women in their own development. I feel honoured to work with such bright and motivated young people. When I am with them, I feel alive and bask in their light and how much they shine with enthusiasm, eagerness and motivation. The girls can be critical and analytical, stubborn and silly, but I know that at the end of it all, they have taken away something for themselves, and that’s what matters.
The way I see it, the role of the sessions is three-fold:
Education– Firstly, to facilitate a safe space for non-formal education on topics that the girls want to know more about. Issues that directly affect them and have meaning or value. This cycle, sessions have focused on teenaged pregnancy, women in leadership (economic, political and social activity), gender equality and gender-based violence, to name a few. The first session helped me formulate a projection of the subjects we would address, I asked them, ‘What do you want to know?’ – I wanted to tailor my content, to match what would maximise their learning.
Storytelling- Secondly, I facilitate their growth and give them the skills and confidence in their own ability to express themselves in written form, to become effective communicators and agents of change within their own communities. Over the past month in particular, I tried to assist the girls in communicating impact through their storytelling and instil the mindset that this is their opportunity to tell their own stories. What do you want to say? Who are your readers? What do you want your readers to know? What does impact mean? How is it achieved? What don’t you like about the way you have been previously represented? How can they communicate their stories in a succinct and solid structure, to ensure relevance and receptivity by a large international demographic?
Conversation- Finally, the above hopefully aids a conversation. I view this with both an internal and external lens and intention. Internally, within Busembatia, and the settings of Standard Senior Secondary School and Townside High School and globally, in terms of output and the published content. The girls’ stories are live, so to speak. They are online, ready and waiting to be read, discussed and their experiences and opinions pondered.
In my opinion, the girls have done remarkably well in communicating ‘from the heart’. This is what I would tell them, every session. I don’t want a story about ‘a woman’ from a ‘far-away land’ (most of their first stories started with something along these lines – third person and about a stranger). I kept repeating myself each time we met, I want a story about YOU- Your story, your opinion, and your voice! This took a long time to develop and for their stories to reflect this. Resistance, shyness and sometimes an inability to break away from acting as one, a class, a collective, not an individual. But they got there. The most recent articles are from their heart and about them, their experiences, challenges, hopes and dreams. I can’t wait for them to be published and available for a worldwide readership.
As I reflect on the way I felt during the first few weeks of my time here, I can see just how much has changed about the sessions and how we conduct ourselves in each other’s company. The girls now come to sessions because they want to, not because they are told to. They are usually on time (although not always- African time is still very much a ‘thing’!), and, the novelty of me being a ‘musungo’ (white person) has worn off for them (and not a moment too soon if you ask me!). No pretence, no judgement, now they see me as Bethan and that’s what I love most, because that’s how I see them too. They are there for themselves, not to see me. They are there because of the skills and knowledge I can transfer, and the information I can assist them to disseminate. Their story, their voice, in their words. They are there because they recognise their own value and ability to make a change and to me, that is so very beautiful.
They don’t see the behind the scenes preparation, the hours of monitoring and evaluation, the case study collections, the editing of articles late into the night, but that doesn’t matter. They see me, stood at the door every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with a smile. They see me, pestering them to remember to edit their stories and remember their structures and adjectives, but that doesn’t matter either. Because I hope that in the long run, they remember something I told them this week during our last meeting. Something which has helped me in my own navigations through the challenges that being a young woman often presents: Some wise advice I received from my Mum many years ago. “Tell yourself, I can do anything”, and from what I have seen during these three months in Busembatia, they really can.
If you would like to read some of the girls’ stories, please click HERE to find their published content on our blogging partners’ platforms.
One of my favourite photos of the day – girls championing #pressforprogress and other elevating messages about girls for International Women’s Day
The celebratory International Women’s Day event at WIL Uganda was the highlight of the month, and a day that will have continuing ripple effect in the town of Busembatia. My task during the event was to photograph and record everything that was happening, and I was excited to create social media content from the people and activities I would capture that day.
The day started smoothly as I went to pick up girls from Standard High School and we chatted and laughed along the way to the office. The tent and the chairs were being set up as I started going around to photograph people arriving: women in their beautiful traditional dresses, the marching band tuning their instruments, and children from all over being drawn to the commotion we were creating in the community.
Then as the marching band began organizing to start the march, with my camera in hand, a screen popped on my camera: “memory full”. Panic set in as I realized my laptop to empty my camera on was at home – so I ran home to get my laptop and make space on my camera for the rest of the photos and videos to be taken that day. After running back and forth, having more technical difficulties with my laptop, and asking a friend from Canada help me fix the issues, I had already missed a big part of the marching down the street. Luckily after repairing my laptop issues, I was able to hop on a boda (motorbike) taxi and get to the marching band where everyone was walking. Thanks to team-work (team members photographing for me), and assistance from my colleagues, I was able to get right back to recording videos and photographing.
The rest of the day went very well and we were almost taken to tears with some of the speeches and presentations that were both inspiring in their messages to everyone and empowering for the women involved. We could really feel the conviction and strong beliefs that everyone held there about equality, participation, local involvement, and the importance of this day for the women in Busembatia. Although we were all sweating and exhausted from all the running around during the day, we were proud to call the event a success and we were pleased that the large size of the event attracted much attention and mobilization from all sorts of people in the community. I was also happy to find that some of the posts through our social media outlets had reached record numbers and that support and mobilization through the Internet was another by-product of the event. We hope the women and girls involved took from the day as much inspiration and high spirits that we did.
Participants of the teen voices programme from Townside High School and facilitator Bethan Williams, pictured outside WIL Uganda offices on International Women’s Day
The 8th March has increasingly become a day of marked attention and #pressforprogress. A day of celebration, conversation and advocacy of women’s rights. In Busembatia, participants of Women in Leadership Uganda marched to celebrate and mobilise support – and what a vibrant and visible day it was!
To many here was just a normal morning on a normal day, as the cockerels sounded and the sun began to rise. However, it really wasn’t. A national holiday, no work, no school, but why, I asked myself? International Women’s Day was the reply. I was shocked, stunned almost. To declare a national holiday was such a progressive step, I pondered receptivity in other countries I had worked in and visited, and their attitudes towards such a day.
This wasn’t the first realisation I had had since being in country, however it was a large one, Uganda was progressive, Uganda was ready. Uganda was leading a change, right here on my doorstep. I considered what lessons could be taken back, to my own country of residence. Sure, International Women’s Day is a recognised and celebrated day, but a National holiday – how fantastic!
The celebrations started with a march, led by a marching band equipped with trumpets, horns and snare drums around the town, as children, women and men joined the hub of activity and some even came out of their houses to see what the noise was all about! I watched the in-school participants of the Teen Voices programme dance to the beat as they marched with pride, championing signs that read ‘I CAN! I WILL!’.
I had to take a large gulp and swallow hard, this was what it was all about, the reason I was here. For me, the reason the organisation was in Busembatia, the reason International Women’s Day existed at all, empowerment potential, the need and readiness for change, a spark, a vision, hope. The march ended with a congregation of the band, programme participants and the public gathered at the football grounds of local Busembatia Senior Secondary High School.
To follow were inclusive and accessible activities of yoga and football, open to all participants to enjoy, explore and for some, experience for the very first time. Then it was back to the office of WIL Uganda, where a large tent stood with pride, fully equipped with decorative balloons and a PA system with music being pumped out that had already attracted and intrigued many spectators. The afternoon celebrations consisted of an awards ceremony, a bead rolling competition and musical and dramatic performances. There was also a speech from our inspirational director and founder, Cianne Jones, and from prominent stakeholders and community personnel, as well as heart-warming testimonies from participants of the Adult Literacy programme.
I felt engaged and ignited, overwhelmed and blessed to be in the presence of so many empowered, capable and competent women. Future leaders, the real and live proof, of why programmes and organisations like this really matter. In this case, grassroots really is grassroots, and for Busembatia, it seems that this is what impact really means. Sustainable change from the inside, from the people, for the people.
That night, I read a national Ugandan newspaper over dinner, titled New Vision. I was amazed to see a full ten-paged spread on International Women’s Day in Uganda, it’s importance, reasoning and resonance. I couldn’t help but think, if this is happening and replicated in other towns, districts and countries, then the future really is bright!
As well as International Women’s Day being a prominent day in my own personal and professional calendar, Thursday 8th March also meant that I had been as a WIL Uganda intern for a whole month already. As I sat in bed that night, I flicked through my phone gallery to reflect on the days’ activities. My feet were aching from all the marching, but so was my heart – Full and proud with purpose and prosperity, respect and gratitude to all the strong women and girls who are quickly making me feel at home here. Despite the stress and sometimes overwhelming contrast to life back home, the time difference and questioning of what to do next, I felt optimistic and ready, to embrace whatever the next two months have in store.
I arrived from Vancouver, Canada one week ago and learning that my name, Neda, means “no” in Uganda’s language (Luganda) was a great first lesson in living here.
When I first arrived in Uganda I was at the same time excited and nervous, as it is my first time on the continent of Africa. We were first greeted by a welcoming Joseph, our volunteer coordinator, and a driver who drove us from Entebbe to Busembatia in a very hot car ride. That is probably the first thing foreigners need to adjust to: always being hot. Coming from Canada where it is winter it was an especially stark contrast; but I love the warmth and I think I am adapting already. Other new things to adjust to have been: bucket showers (which aren’t too bad!), long drop toilets, chickens, cows, and goat all around us and waking us up, and the mosque’s call to prayer very early in the mornings. Getting a lot of attention because we are foreign is also a new experience I haven’t had since I was in China a few years ago so I need to get used to that again.
However, I’m excited to get acquainted with food tasting differently, modes of communication being different, my perception of time and distance changing, learning new words in a language, building new relationships and connections, learning from a new culture in endless ways, and of course exploring cities like Jinja and Kampala.
I am mostly excited for the work I will get to do and the coordination experience I will gain as a team leader, and learning about the inner workings of a local women’s NGO at the grassroots level. Photography is one of my favourite hobbies so I am also really looking forward to creating content through photography and videos. I hope to grow personally and professionally through my 6 months here and I hope I will take everything that happens with an open heart and a flexible mindset.
Training with WIL Uganda team in the new office location, Busembatia
A smile, that’s what greeted me as I walked out of Entebbe airport undoubtedly with worried eyes, pushing an incredibly heavy suitcase. I had arrived and so had he: Joseph, volunteer coordinator and community mobiliser, and there he was. Happy to help, answer any questions and already, evidently equipped with a wealth of knowledge on the task I was about to undertake and on all the emotions that were running through my head as an international intern.
After a gruelling journey from the UK, with a stop over in Ethiopia, I was keen to make the journey to my placement location. I had so many unanswered questions and thoughts I had constantly pondered during the weeks in the lead up to my departure. Will it be a bucket bath or shower? A long drop or toilet? Will I make an impact? Will I feel like I have accomplished something? What will it be like working for such a small grassroots organisation? How will this differ to academia and previous experiences of working within international development in other countries? Was I making the right decision? Could there ever be too much of a good thing?
Green, everywhere. Open expanses of mountains and trees, green, everywhere. The radio was playing and our driver was laughing away, pointing out places of interest as we drove from Entebbe to Kampala, Kampala to Jinja, Jinja to Iganga, and Iganga to Busembatia: home for the next three months.
It was dark, so very dark when we arrived. The journey took around seven hours and I was glad to be out of the car and stretch my legs. Suddenly, weeks of wondering was met with reality. Here I was. The first night, I slept like a baby, tucked up in my mosquito net and morning came around too soon. But it was straight to the office for day one of three in training on the organisation policy and procedures, its values, my role and a culture and language session on life in Uganda. Slowly I met the WIL Uganda team – each individual had a story and a smile to share.
The days passed and so did my anticipation, I was slowly starting to see why Uganda has so frequently been named ‘The Pearl of Africa’. It shines, its people shine, so warm, friendly and welcoming.
Monday came around and that meant the final day or training – orientation. With Joseph’s assistance, team leader Neda and myself went to Townside High School, Standard High school, Busembatia Health Centre 3 and Busembatia Town Council to meet the local stakeholders and arrange an introductory assembly to engage the young people ahead of starting sessions next week. Then it was back to the office for an afternoon of organisation and emailing partnering organisations to re-engage and plan for the months ahead.
It’s day five in Busembatia today. I am still processing everything. Getting used to the food, the heat, the long drop, the bucket baths, being a musungu (white person) and getting to grips with the specifics of my role and the task at hand. Yet, I already feel welcomed and have a high sense of calmness about me, in why I am here and in what lies ahead.
Today, after having a refreshing bucket bath and drying my hair in the sun with my morning coffee, I took the seven-minute walk alone to the WIL Uganda office. Instead or organising the week in my head, photographing the cows and goats on my journey, or worrying about whether I was saying ‘Wasuze Otya‘ (Good morning) correctly, I took a deep breath and smiled. Suddenly the worries were not worries anymore. I was present. And ready for whatever the next three months had in store.
Hailing from the UK, it is incredibly easy to take British ‘sex-ed’ (Sexual Education) classes for granted. From a young age, we are provided with a clear and informative programme which discusses contraceptives, puberty, sexually transmitted infections and how to prevent unwanted pregnancy within a safe and open environment. Though eyes may temporarily glaze over during lessons and laughter may ensue during a condom demonstration, it is clear that this sustained mission to teach British adolescents about how and why they can make informed decisions about their bodies and sexual health is both necessary and effective. Honestly, it’s effectiveness only became crystal clear to me when I began this internship at Women in Leadership and I found myself reminiscing about how teachers once engaged us in the topics using visual aids to accompany detailed talks on anatomy, puberty and STIs.
I thought I had mentally prepared myself for the myths and cultural barriers to teaching about family planning, teenage pregnancy and a range of other topics, but the concerns and worries articulated to me were a far cry from what I had expected. A few years ago, the Ugandan government started the ABC campaign to fight the spread of STIs and HIV – A for Abstinence, B for Be Faithful, C for Condoms. This abstinence-focussed approach may have initially helped to reduce the prevalence of HIV but has also resulted in many communities remaining uninformed about contraceptive options and rumours surrounding their safety to proliferate. During SRH sessions many women and girls share their worries about using long-lasting contraceptive methods such as the oral contraceptive pill, implant and IUD – a repeated belief is that contraceptives cause cancer and infertility. These myths spread to younger generations; within in-school sessions girls and boys told us they believed that contraceptives burnt the throats and digestive systems of teenagers who used them. When we asked classes to share their knowledge of contraceptive methods, some provided correct answers but other answers included soda, paracetamol, different perfumes and body lotions as contraceptives. Even after sessions were complete, some children approached us to ask if contraceptives really were safe to use; their parents and other family members had told them otherwise.
In a country which continues to fight high HIV and STI rates, the need for Sexual and Reproductive health education is clear. The 2017 UNAIDS Global Review Mission to Uganda reported that young people, particularly girls between the age of 15-24 years are disproportionately affected by HIV infection: the prevalence of HIV among adolescent girls stands at 9.1% compared to a national prevalence of 7.3%. Shockingly, two young women are infected with HIV every hour in Uganda.
Educating the community on the best ways to prevent HIV transmission is critical, and acts as a fundamental part of the SRH programme facilitated by Women in Leadership interns within health centres and schools in Busembatia. The programme involves ‘myth-busting’ inaccurate information, whilst providing clear and accurate information on family planning options, the dangers of unsafe abortion, teenage pregnancy, consent, female genital mutilation, STIs, HIV and Gender Based Violence.
If you are interested in delivering the programme in Spring/Summer 2018, applications for the role of SRH are now open, click here