On the 19th and 21st of January 2022, the Uganda youth and adolescent health forum (UYAHF) held several school outreaches in Kalangala and Isingiro, respectively, on SRHR information, SGBV, and teenage pregnancy as part of the Power to Youth Program.
The outreaches were held in four schools, two in each district, including one primary school and one secondary school respectively. The key objectives included: raising awareness among adolescent girls and young people about the magnitude of teenage pregnancy, child marriages, and sexual violence problems, as well as how to prevent and manage these issues; to bringing youth-friendly services and accurate sexual reproductive health information closer to adolescent girls and boys, and to create a plenary of adolescent girls and boys.
We met with 400 students and teachers from Kibanga Primary School and Bishop Dustan Secondary School in Kalangala, as well as Nakivale Secondary School and Kyezimbire Primary School in Isingiro, where issues of SRHR were shared, teenage pregnancy, and SGBV, among other topics.
During a discussion on factors that lead to teenage pregnancies and child marriages at Kibanga Primary School, pupils said that the COVID-19 lockdown exposed them to risky behaviors and dangerous people in the community, such as rapists and bad peers groups.
“A big man came to me and asked me to sleep with him and said he would marry me while we were at home during the lockdown, but I refused.” A 14-year-old girl from Kalangala’s Kibanga primary school narrated.
Another 16-year-old girl mentioned how her village friends would always invite her to join them for an evening walk to the trading center, yet they would always go meet with fishermen.
While leading the session, Mr. Haruna Musa, the UYAHF communications and innovation person, encouraged the other pupils to emulate their peers and be bold when faced with such temptations.
“I know many of you have stories to tell about your lockdown, but I want you all to be brave and bold like these two of your friends because that’s how you’ll survive.” He added.
Haruna further encouraged the pupils to immediately report such incidents to their teachers, parents, or the police so that they could be assisted.
During the outreach session at Kyezimbira primary school in Isingiro district led by Edith, a power to youth change champion, one of the pupils narrated how her parents forced two of her friends to marry during the lockdown.
Edith then told them about the dangers of getting pregnant and married when one is young, such as losing one’s future due to dropping out of school, the risk of death while giving birth, and community rejection, among other things.
“Say no to those men who come and try to persuade you to have sex with them, even the teachers,” she continued, “because if you get pregnant, they will abandon you and you will lose your future and become a mother at a young age.”
While facilitating a session, Leah Okecho Grace, a UYAHF program officer, urged students at Bishop Dustan secondary school in Kalangala to be friendly and loving to their classmates who are young mothers and have returned to school.
“Make the school a safe place for them; don’t laugh at them because some of them never wanted to get pregnant or have children at such a young age. Be their friends, interact with them, and encourage them to study because, like you, they have a dream, which is why they decided to return to school despite the challenges,” she advised.
Books Before Babies clubs were formed at the end of the outreaches, and five club champions/representatives were elected. Books Before Babies is a fun platform for young people to amplify their voices on key issues that affect them, including SRHR, SGBV, and MHM, among others.
In the schools, the champions, with the help of teachers, will organize regular sessions to freely discuss, share experience, and psycho-social support on the SRHR issues that affect them. The teachers in the various schools are committed to ensuring that the Books Before Babies clubs are vibrant and active.