UYAHF Adolescents' Health Clinic
"I would probably be in the streets of Arua doing prostitution, or suffering sexual abuse had it not been for the SHESOARS project," Joan said with teary eyes
Joanne Christine, 18, is one of the community-based trainers (CBT) in Omugo refugee settlement, village 2, under the SHESOARS project in Terego district. She is a South Sudanese refugee who came to Uganda in 2016 with a sick mother after fleeing war in her country. Two years later, her sick mother was taken by her uncles as her health declined, and ever since, she and her three siblings have never been able to hear from them.
“I am the mother and father to my two siblings. Since they took our mother, we have never heard from them again. I tried to go to school but had to drop out because I had to fend for my siblings”. Narrated Joan.
In the attempt to provide for her siblings, Joan, like many other vulnerable girls, has done a lot of casual work, including volunteering as a Village Health Team, where she was always pressured to have sex by her supervisors’ and sometimes colleagues as a way of keeping the job.
Hundreds of vulnerable girls at the settlement face sexual abuse from men who claim to offer support.
“I gave up; I was not ready to sleep around with men because initially, I wanted to go and do prostitution in Arua, but after knowing that was riskier, I remained back and looked for other alternatives, so accepting sex for work now would feel like the same prostitution I wouldn’t go for. Due to the continuous pressure for sex from the people I worked with, I had to quit and leave my fate to God,” she explained.
Despite quitting the VHT volunteer role, Joanne’s passion for community work did not die, and now it was time for her to speak to other girls about the risks of sexual abuse.
“I had no knowledge about sexual reproductive health, but deep in me, I realized that if I did say no to sexual abuse, I could also sensitize other girls to say no, and that is how I started holding small sessions with girls, mainly telling them to say no to those men asking for sex,” Joan added.
Coincidentally, this was the time when the SHESOARS project was looking for young people to work with as Community-Based trainers (CBTs).
“Out of nowhere, I received a call from Oweka Gloria Diana, the SHESOARS project officer, asking me to go to Arua for a training on SRHR organized by CARE. I was so excited, and honestly, that was the turning point in my life,” she stated.
“The training created an opportunity for me, but uniquely, this time with no strings attached like it was with the others. It is from there that I became a CBT. We also underwent several other trainings that equipped me with knowledge in financial management, record keeping, investment including Youth Saving and Loans Association (YSLA),” she revealed.
YSLA LED SESIONS
As a SHESOARS community-based trainer, Joanne, like many others, is responsible for mobilizing young people into groups, holding weekly training sessions on financial literacy, and saving, and then setting up saving groups known as the YSLA. Community-based facilitators engaged young people through weekly YSLA sessions using the YSLA curriculum as one of the interventions utilized by the SHE–SOARS project.
“I hold weekly sessions with 30 young people, including adolescent’ girls and boys, young mothers, and pregnant girls. UYAHF gave us a saving box, and we have now formed the YSLA and the young people have started saving.” She added.
“We are 30 people in the saving group, 27 have already started saving. In total, our saving is about four hundred thousand shillings and seventy thousand has been borrowed by some members who have invested in small vegetable and pancake making business. The social fund is fifty-two thousand. For those who have borrowed, I have been able to follow them and ensure that they put the money to the right use”. she asserted.
Apart from supporting adolescent girls through the saving groups, Joanne has also been able to send her two siblings to school with the monthly facilitation she is given for holding sessions. She now plans to open a small boutique later this year, which she hopes will be a sustaining venture for her sibling’s tuition and her welfare.
“I feel fulfilled that I am now able to make my siblings go to school. I am hopeful that I will also return to school one day, but for now, through my savings, I want to open a small clothing boutique in October. I already have three-quarters of the money needed,” she revealed.
I am grateful to UYAHF and the SHESOARS for offering us the platform and transforming the lives of many girls in the settlement. She says that through the saving initiatives, a lot of young girls have changed their mindsets from wanting to depend on men for basic needs, and she is hopeful that many lives are going to be changed.