Teach us more about our bodies!

5 Mar

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She was the closest friend I ever had while growing up. With a fairer skin, almond eyes and a warm smile, Jane (not real name) was a beauty to behold. We did everything together. But all this came to an end when my parents sent me to boarding school. Jane wasn’t fortunate enough to go to the above-average schools I went to but she received a basic education.

On day, I came home to a shocking story that my best friend had conceived but didn’t go through with the pregnancy. She had carried out an unsafe abortion that almost cost her life. I remember feeling sorry about her experience but never disappointed in her.

This incident and a pregnancy that followed a year later greatly affected our friendship to the extent that Jane hid from me every time I came home for the holidays. She had her first baby at sixteen, and this was the end of her education journey, and she is now a mother to four children. For a long time after losing my friend to early motherhood, I started getting curious about sexual and reproductive related issues.

It created in me a deep desire to find out why girls like my friend “chose” to get pregnant, especially at an early age. I thought it was just a choice- It is actually supposed to be, but is rarely the case among young girls. I was very curious about sexual and reproductive health related issues but was  very shy to ask anyone about it. Even among my friends, it was taboo to talk about such a topic; it’s just the way we are brought up- to believe that sex is something to be talked about my adults. We had the basic female teacher talks in primary school but these sessions were not elaborate enough.

When I finally “achieved independence” to join Makerere University in Uganda, the first thing I did was to enroll for a course about community mobilization and sensitization about sexual and reproductive health at Reproductive Health Uganda. To date, I consider it one of the best choices I have ever made in life. Peer education activities exposed me to some of the harsh realities young girls face in our society, and it presents about a pressing need to educate young people about sexuality and their bodies. I also learnt some of the causes of teen pregnancies, unsafe abortions and school drop outs. During one of the open sessions in peer education, a lady shared;

“I conceived the first time I attempted to have sex with my boyfriend. I wasn’t ready for this baby,” She was disappointed in herself for not seeking knowledge about sex education earlier. However, I couldn’t blame her. I blamed her mother.

“Mother always threatened to banish me from home if I indulged in sexual relations or even get pregnant while still in school.” She added.

Her mother had thrown her out of the house and she couldn’t stop blaming herself for ruining the only chance she had at getting an education.The two stories above represent thousands of such many cases of young girls who have lost bright futures to early pregnancies, and in even worse cases, contracting HIV/AIDS and death.

My country Uganda, the African continent and the world in general needs to change their perceptions about education of the young generation about sex education, their bodies and reproductive health related issues, , especially girls. The world we are growing up in today is very different from that of our parents’ and our grandparents, who set these taboos society is bent to.  Compared to 20 years ago, young people are entering adolescence earlier and healthier, and they are likely to spend more time in school and enter the workforce later. As a result, marriage and childbearing now generally occur later than they did in the past, especially for women. And, inevitably, postponing marriage has meant that sex before marriage has become more common.

According to a Guttmacher Institute report entitled: Protecting the Next Generation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Learning from Adolescents to Prevent HIV and Unintended Pregnancy; adolescent females in Sub-Saharan Africa tend to have sex at an earlier age than their male counterparts, and thus are at particular risk fosr HIV, unwanted pregnancy and other adverse outcomes. In a survey conducted in Burkina Faso, Malawi, Ghana, and Uganda, almost 60% of females have had sex by age 18, compared with about 40–45% of males.

A recent discovery in Uganda reveals that unsafe abortions as the second leading cause of maternal deaths in the country. The reality is that society needs to focus on empowering the young generation, especially girls with education, trainings and all comprehensive knowledge about sexual, reproductive health and family planning for young mothers.

To add my voices to and for the young girls and youth out there that cannot make the right choices for their bodies, I have joined the global advocacy movement. I believe that my voice, with voices of us all combined can make case for the young girls who have fallen victims of early motherhood, unsafe abortions and even forced sexual relations.

I started out as a fun student, and later a peer educator. There is no fun and inspiring thing I have ever done better than telling fellow young people about their bodies and how they should protect themselves from unsafe sex, unplanned pregnancies and general reproductive health. There was something about someone walking to me and asking for more condoms (we used to distribute female and male condoms during peer education sessions) or even just calling to clarify about a certain contraceptive they weren’t sure about. It’s fulfilling.

It’s not too late for you to join the movement. Take a stand this International Women’s Day. Look back at what denial of access to basic sexual and reproductive health education has caused to human development. If you join us now, to commit and ensure that every girl wherever they are gets appropriate, accurate and comprehensive information on sexuality on time, we can still make sure that the young generation maximizes their potential to achieve their dreams without limits. It’s not too late for you to join.

You can sign a pledge of a campaign like this one, join movements making case for the rights of girls from obstacles like early child marriages and school drop outs like this one or join coalitions working together on a common agenda for adolescents and young people to acquire comprehensive sex education and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services that will strengthen our national, regional and international responses to early and unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions and school drops for the brighter future of young women.

Happy International Women’s Day!

This post originally was originally posted here

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Awww, pretty….but will it stop already!

5 Feb

Tales of a fresh New York-er

4 Feb

Originally posted on Atlas Corps blog
Writing about my first week in New York City has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I was torn between giving an account of how each day of the week unfolded, and giving a general description of the entire week. I wrote the first piece on Friday but words felt inadequate to describe what I went through.

Each day was eventful in its own way; some were simply very dramatic and frustrating! And I faced most of these in a helpless state of loneliness and uncertainty that I can’t believe I’ve persevered, triumphed, and now feel stronger. During my struggle to put this piece together, I kept wondering;

Should I begin with the stressful, confusing and emotionally draining ordeal that led to the loss of one of my luggage bags in Washington DC in an attempt to get to the right bus station on time (I first went to the wrong station and later missed my bus)? Or the loneliness I wallowed in during my first day-Sunday in New York City after discovering that the Atlas Corps orientation honeymoon was over and real service was beginning the next Monday? I will skip the Sunday tales of trying to meet a friend’s friend in vain because I couldn’t interpret google map.

My first day at work with Women Deliver is a story in itself. I mean, meeting the first group of warm people in New York was a big deal to me. Since I hadn’t figured out housing, my colleagues decided to give me some time off to look at apartment rooms I had found on Craigs’ list. Not only did I get lost on subway tracks four consecutive times (By the way, this is the most dramatic tale of all), I missed one of my appointments for that afternoon and and I almost didn’t make it to the other.

That night wasn’t any better. I alighted at the right train stop but failed to figure out my hostel street. Forgive me for giving too many accounts of me losing my way. In this particular incident, my cell phone battery had blacked out. I didn’t have any other form of help apart from guidance from people, many of whom didn’t even know Varet Street. (It’s a small, hidden, and unpopular street in Brooklyn). There is this particular lady who even guided me but we ended up in the wrong direction. NYPD rescued me and dropped me at my hostel but I realized later that I had spent 20 minutes in the cold, trying to figure out a place that was just four blocks away. The distress, frustration and fatigue I felt this night is unforgettable. I went to bed past midnight.

The next day, Tuesday was better because I finally found a place to stay, but I will skip the tales of trying to get to the place I now call home. Perhaps, writing about the way my body was reacting to all these events can make a great story. I remember the look on Ochuko’s face when she met me on Wednesday for the Atlas Corps Happy Hour. Machien said I had changed, looked pale and the smile was gone, which everyone including myself agreed to! The Atlas Corps Happy Hour was a great event; it signified the start of a life I was meant to live in this city.

But that’s too much to write about in a week, right?

I will choose to focus on the lessons I continue to learn from each of these experiences. One of them is that New York is a person in itself…such a difficult lover. This lesson applies to living in the United States in general, I guess. I am choosing to take in one day at a time, thanks to Prof Gary Weaver’s session on American culture. So many things make sense now.

I feel stronger because never in my mind did I think of quitting during all these challenges. What kept me going through the week was the hope that better days lay ahead, and that I still had a chance to turn things around! I feel lucky and blessed to work and live in New York.

As we all begin this journey, I pray that God guides us through all our days of service, let Him enable us deliver beyond our expectations and initiate in us a heart of steel through all the trials that may come our way.

Happy service to all Class 14 Atlas Corps Fellows !

To bigger and better days of service!

4 Feb

Between 2009 and 2010, I decided to do something different with my life, something that made me a better person. With the rising unemployment levels in Uganda, and currently above 75%, it is hard for anyone to get a job. One has got to acquire other unique skills besides the degree/s and because of this; I decided to give freelance journalism a try. This was during the second semester of first year in my pursuit of a Bachelors’ degree in Mass Communication at Makerere University.

With guidance from a number of people I treasure to-date; I started writing articles for The  New Vision national newspaper. In no time, I was supplementing my pocket money with a few dollars earned from my published articles, and also building networks. Besides that, I sought other volunteership opportunities from which I discovered peer education in reproductive health. It required me to first enroll for a certificate in community based reproductive health at Reproductive Health Uganda and later volunteer into peer education about family planning, sexual and reproductive health issues-which I all did in a period of less than four months.

For a young, shy and unexposed girl, I found this the most exciting experience of my life. I learnt so much at a personal level, and I am sure I positively changed many lives during my peer education sessions about sexual and reproductive health among communities. The most liberating lesson of all was the knowledge I gathered about one making bodily choices, many youth in the developing world don’t get a chance to get.Of course my mother wasn’t amused to hear that her daughter was teaching people about “how to use condoms” and stuff like that but she later learnt to accept the it. I’ve never regretted the time I spent doing this.

From these two experiences, I learnt the spirit of volunteership and service, and I have since grabbed every opportunity I get to work with teams of enthusiastic people to change my society. I continue to volunteer in areas of women, girls and youth empowerment, tourism and conservation of the environment, among other charity causes. These service calls have now become apart of my struggle to contribute to the change I want to see in my world.

So when I received the good news that I was selected to be part of the Class 14 Atlas Corps fellows, and to serve at Women Deliver; I couldn’t help but feel happy about the path I chose. One vivid memory about the interview with the Women Deliver panel is the moment when they were interested in learning more about my experiences as peer educator and freelancer. I guess it’s the reason I was given this opportunity :)

Women Deliver is an international nonprofit organization that advocates for maternal, sexual and reproductive rights of women, and girl child empowerment. In my days of service here, I will join the communications team to work on among other communication assignments, the “It Takes Two” family planning campaign currently being implemented in East Africa, and the C-Exhange Youth Program for the youth around the world.

An attempt at poetry

25 Oct

I found the “poem” below in my notebook. I must have written it down three months ago. Truth be told, I relate with every single word in it…Its about challenges in life. I am glad I won.

I feel the weight on my shoulders

When he doesnt go to school anymore…

And she departs suddenly,

From those who cant find a common ground for happiness together

 

Its a heavy load because

The days are not productive,

Bringing no wage, and cutting our budgets

Its bussiness to blame

But the fight goes on….”

 

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“A loving heart…

22 Jul

“A loving heart carries with it, under every parallel of latitude, the warmth and light of the tropics. It plants its Eden in the wilderness and solitary place, and sows with flowers the gray desolation of rocks and mosses.” John Greenleaf Whittler

 

3D Biogas digester

12 Jul

Zirenah:

I love this illustration of a biogas digester. Communication about how a biogas digester works just got easier…

Originally posted on Green Heat Uganda:

3D digester seen from the side

3D digester seen from the side

3D latrine hooked to the latrine

3D latrine hooked to the latrine

 

3D Printing made it possible

3D Printing made it possible

 

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