289 Kilometers west from the capital of Uganda, Kampala, lies the remote district of Isingiro. Geographically, the place is hilly with almost impenetrable feeder roads which make trekking from one place to another very hard.
Naturally, such an environment in a developing country, turns out to be a host of many problems, amongst which include; young people especially girls dropping out of school and ultimately being married off since they do not see value in education and little is done to bring services closer to the people. This makes it worse when it comes to looking for the next health centre when you’re in need of services like sanitary wear.
As Uganda joined the rest of the world to commemorate the World Population Day under the theme Harnessing Uganda’s demographic dividend: Invest in teenage girls, Real Agency for Community Development (RACD) together with Reach A Hand Uganda(RAHU) and UNFPA trekked the remote district to create awareness about teenage pregnancies and menstrual hygiene.
From the different parts of the district, the movie- “Consequences”, was screened in eight high schools namely Aisha Girls High school, Bireere Secondary school, Masha Seed secondary school, Rugaaga Modern Secondary school, Ngarama Secondary School, Endiizi High school, St John’s Secondary school and Isingiro Secondary school.
“Consequences” is a 54-minute film that tells the story of Rita, a 16 years old living in a high-density urban area in Africa. She is bright, talented, and has a steady boyfriend. She will soon graduate from secondary school and plans to go to university. Life is good – until she discovers that she is pregnant. Through Rita’s story, “Consequences” offers adolescents insights into the reality of teen pregnancy and urges them to consider either postponing sex or taking precautions to avoid getting pregnant.
One student Daphne Katusiime, from St. John’s SS couldn’t hide her. “I learnt that we girls need to abstain from sex and I advise my fellow girls to abstain from sex. If I was ritah, I could have told my parents and see how we could help each other.” she explained
After the movie screening, a total of 24 focused group discussions were held by the RACD team with support from RAHU peer educators and staff with the students in each of the eight schools on topics ranging from under age pregnancies, relationships, menstrual hygiene and HIV/AIDS. During the discussions students opened up about the challenges they face in their communities in regard to their Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights concerns.
From the discussions, key among the drivers of early sexual debuts among teens were; curiosity, peer pressure, lack of parental care and lack of clear SRHR information/sex education to the young people all which expose them to risks of teenage pregnancies, early marriages, high mortality rates, HIV/AIDS infections, bulging school dropouts rates and high dependency syndrome from these child led families.
The team had an opportunity to carry out interviews with teenage mothers that are being supported by RACD, one of the beneficiaries under the RAHU SRHR Youth Fund through economic empowerment programs for example wearing wearable items like bangles which they sell to earn a living . They shared their life experiences as teenage mothers and used this chance to call upon fellow young people to “abstain from premarital sex and concentrate on their books” as one Kobusingye Mackline who is now 21 years old put it.
Biting poverty, famine and lack of care from the fathers have left many of these young mothers and their children stranded with no hope for a good and healthy life. However some of these have showed interest to go back to school and have picked courage and desire to reach out to fellow young people in order to address teenage pregnancy concerns through counseling sessions conducted in youth clubs at schools and villages.
As a take away from the outreaches, there is need for continuous follow up on young people with the right knowledge, information and skills to enable them make right and informed SRHR choices in life.