Listening without prejudice
Deeply personal pressures are being shared by Ugandan teenagers in a project that is part of BMS World Mission’s Dignity initiative
Girls can get unwanted sexual attention from teachers. They are told to go to the teacher’s office or classroom where they can get assaulted while their peers play outside.
When they get home, they are expected to do chores until it gets dark, meaning they don’t always get their homework done and risk getting a caning or exclusion from classes as a punishment.
It is shocking and sad to hear of some of the pressures on teenage girls that force them to drop out of school in Uganda.
Girls are also leaving school because of their periods. Problems with sanitary pads or not being able to afford them at all can lead to embarrassing situations in school where the girls are made fun of. Some are even being paid for sex so they can afford to buy sanitary pads.
BMS mission worker Linda Darby heard about all of these issues when she and a group of law students connected to BMS partner the Uganda Christian Lawyers Fraternity (UCLF) visited six schools in Gulu District last month. They also spoke to boys who experience alcoholism at home and have nobody to talk to about the problems they face.
“Boys have no one to confide in,” Linda says. “They can’t speak to their fathers, elders or teachers about issues they are having.”
Linda and the law undergraduates were invited to the schools to lead a new student mentorship programme called Big Brother, Big Sister to help primarily girls, but boys too, by giving them a vital opportunity to be listened to and be supported.
“The student mentorship programme is about reaching out to girls to try to ensure that they have equal rights to education and are achieving the best for themselves so they can have a better future,” says Linda. “At the moment there is such a high rate of girls dropping out of school. There’s teenage pregnancy and early marriages, period problems and abuse by teachers. This is one step towards helping reduce these cases.”
Some pupils shared ideas in their small groups of how their situations could improve. On the issue of periods, there were suggestions of having a shower block where girls could wash, or being able to keep a spare uniform in school they could get changed into. There are plans to feedback these ideas and other findings to schools at the end of the programme.
Big Brother, Big Sister, facilitated by UCLF and another local organisation, was inspired by the national theme for Uganda during the 16 days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence (25 November to 10 December) – ‘ From peace in the home to peace in the world: make education safe.’
This was the first of several visits to the schools that will happen every three months. Everyone is looking forward to their next visit in February.
“All groups wanted us to come back soon and asked us when we were coming back,” says Linda. “The boys said this was the first time anyone had shown interest in their issues which was sad to hear. It was really encouraging that this could really work to help them.”
This article first appeared on the website of BMS World Mission and is used with permission.