Third term is quickly coming to an end for the students in Uganda. The kids are preparing to begin exams, after which they will be on the longest holiday of the year. We are attempting to squeeze in as many classes as we can with some of the local schools before they go on break.
Thus far, we have gone to two primary schools, and are planning one more this week. We are giving talks on health and wellness, primarily focusing our hour long discussion on menstruation, teaching it in a positive light. Giving the workshops has been a lot of fun, as well as beneficial on both ends. Personally, I am learning quite a lot about what and what not to do or say when it comes to addressing a group of 50 girls between the ages of 10 and 14.
The first group we spoke to was at Luwero Boys. We arrived expecting to talk to only girls, as we were instructed, and found a group of both boys and girls seated before us anxiously waiting to be addressed by the group of mzungus. A bit surprised, I questioned the head teacher about the arrangement and before I knew it she was chasing the boys away. Now, arranged upon the grass was a group of 60 or so girls- chatty and intrigued. I greeted them in English, as Madame Jolly interpreted what I said into a language they could better grasp. I must say it was quite noisy; we were situated opposite the main road in Kasana and speaking over the bodas and speeding matatus as well as Madame Jolly’s interpretation…I hope that the girls at least learned a bit.
Towards the end we opened the floor to questions, but received only two: “What if I jump too much” as well as “Why we get pains?” Answering both to the best of my ability, we ended the discussion a bit earlier than I would have liked. But lesson learned- bring a midwife to do appropriate translating.
The next school was Luwero Islamic Primary. I arrived with a tinge of fear, as there was no midwife to accompany us. We waited in the main office for 15 or so minutes, and were greeted through the barred windows every couple of seconds by heads of recess goers bobbing up and down through the barred window. After the “bell” rang (a car tire rim and a metal rod) we were escorted to a classroom 54 young ladies in hijabs.
Emanuel, their English teacher, introduced us and then took his seat at a desk on the side of the room. I would speak, and if there seemed to be a misunderstanding he would rephrase, in English, what had said. I was very excited as it was obvious the girls had taken a class before on reproduction and knew the answers to the questions I asked- so we turned the table to them. At first they were modest and quiet, but as soon as we gave out scraps of paper to write questions the questions came pouring out.
The modest common question was about pains, what they are, and how to deal with them. But others were about breast milk, discharge, and even HIV. This a good note to have for future reference, that when the Q and A portion of the talk arise it is a good idea to have them write questions down. I am very grateful to have had Emanuel, as he assisted the entire lesson and cleared up any misunderstandings on for both the class and myself.
Unfortunately this time we were on a time crunch, as there was a staff meeting happening at the same time. We ended with a wave of thank yous on both sides, and scurried out the door to make it to Nsaasi Village on time. We were late, but happy.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead
It is one of my last days at the beautiful Shanti Uganda birth centre. Suzan, a first time mom-to-be, is labouring in the shade of the garden surrounded by singing birds and the always shining Ugandan sun. I am so proud to see one of our passionate, skilled and committed midwives being with her and giving her new ideas about positions that can ease her labour. She is rubbing her back and helping her to breathe through the contractions. The words she said to Suzan were full of empowering and encouraging messages. Shanti is one of the rare maternity centers in Uganda where mother-centred and respectful care are part of the core values and mission.
In the 6 months I spent in Uganda, I was also working in a government hospital and was shocked by the conditions. There it is common for the staff to be overworked and be assigned work with a devastating lack of materials under miserable hygienic conditions. I have seen midwives shouting at women and slapping them during one of the most intimate and intense experiences in their life. I have seen women left alone in pain in the maternity ward, almost delivering on the floor. The women do not expect any privacy or respectful care during labour. According to the World’s Midwifery Report of 2014, a woman in sub-Saharan Africa is 100 times more likely to die during childbirth than in an industrialized country.
This is where Shanti makes a difference. The Teen Girls workshops and other programs that Shanti has created change the lives of women and girls in Uganda; giving them ideas about their rights and options by giving them the courage to articulate their thoughts and feelings. These projects have a great, long-lasting and sustainable impact on their lives and are vital because of the many challenges that women in Uganda have to face when it comes to pregnancy and birth. There are a wide variety of issues regarding access to health care, transport to a facility, the Ugandan health system, knowledge about pregnancy and birth related issues, nutrition, gender roles and, most importantly, skilled and trained birth attendants. Shanti is facing these many challenges by searching for solutions and responding to the real needs of people in the community. The midwives working at Shanti are blessed to have monthly training, helping them to provide the best maternal care possible. In my last week, I facilitated a training session about obstetric emergencies and neonatal resuscitation. It was a pleasure to share my knowledge with the midwives and see how interested and keen they are to learn more. All of our midwives are working together to accomplish the goal of having a healthy and happy mum and baby... and they are doing such a great job! I am so glad that a birth center like Shanti exists in a rural village in Uganda. I am thrilled to see how it is going to develop in the upcoming years, as Shanti continues the awesome work they do.
Teen Girls Workshop
At the end of an already incredible summer, as one of the last interns to remain at the Volunteer House in Luwero – I had the sacred pleasure of meeting a group of bright, young girls at a local school near Wobulenzi.
Riding shotgun was Joy, one of the awesome midwives at Shanti who was expecting a bundle of joy (quite the namesake!) and collaborated with me over the course of a week to teach, share, and relish in the precious moments we could with such vivacious young girls.
As the week quickly approached, I remember being so frantic. I made a trip over to Rita’s house for a debrief on the previous year’s expectations, any curriculum/information we could include and of course, the art of making handmade sanitary napkins! The whole process felt so grounding. Rita was such a sport to help out despite having recently had surgery but was on the road to a quick recovery. She was certainly with me in spirit!
The day came to presenting the first class prepared by Shanti staff and so Joy gave an in-depth discussion about puberty, physical growth, and reproductive health. Most importantly, she gave great advice to the young girls about being patient with themselves through this next stage in their physical, mental, and emotional development. It’s easy for youth to compare themselves to others and before they know it they’ve adopted a self-image that isn’t theirs. It felt like a critical time for these girls – they had so many questions and best of all it followed by a fit of giggles! The information sessions with Joy was followed by an introductory yoga session with none other than me! I facilitated yoga exercises with the WIGG women all summer but there was something so nerve-wracking about working with young girls who had literally never done yoga before. I was confident in my experiences with yoga to create an ambience with the group that would let them explore new exercises to practice mindfulness, relaxation, breathing techniques, and lastly, a good stretch. I encouraged them to supplement the healthy eating habits that Joy had informed them about with a daily dose of exercise to support their overall good health. It was so well received! I admit, I didn’t want the days to end. We continued the next day with some great discussions on practicing Healthy Relationships with their peers and being able to differentiate between romantic and platonic partners. Ultimately, it was meant to help them make choices that they feel most comfortable with. The empowerment piece of these workshops reminded me of how impressionable I was at their age and having positive older role models truly helped get me through the sensitive time period in one piece. With such warm reception, I felt it necessary each day to stay behind and answer any questions or concerns the young group had. Fellow neighbors came around and hung out with us, listened to some music and enjoyed a wonderful sunset before heading back to Luwero.
It is indescribable how wonderful this experience was for me. I don’t remember laughing so hard with so many beautiful smiles staring back at me. I felt humbled by this experience, to say the least! I didn’t want to leave. If all goes well, I hope to see these young girls again and if I’m lucky, be part of the magic that is the Teen Girls workshop.
Shanti's first Teen Girls Workshop for August started out strong. We got a full group of twenty-five girls, all of whom have heard of our workshop through other members of the community and were anxious to start. Their favourite part of the workshop has been learning about self-esteem and how to bake cakes. Most commented on how excited they were to be able to bake cakes and make some money to buy school materials.
At the end of the workshop a meeting was held with the parents and community leaders in order for the girls to show them what they had learned and how they could help them live the lessons every day. They staged a very entertaining production about a girl who was forced to look for other means of income because her family spent all the money on alcohol and entertainment. Thankfully it had a happy ending through the positive and constructive dialogue between her and her family. It was then decided that a leadership team would be formed with five girls who excelled in the workshop and five adults in the community who committed themselves to become role models and confidants for the success of the girls of their community.
The following is a story of young girl whose life was positively impacted by Shanti Uganda's Teen Girls Health and Empowerment workshop. Today only Global Giving will be matching donations by 30%! Please consider making a donation today and help us give more girls the same opportunity as Justine!
Justine is thirteen years old. Justine is bright and cheeky; a bit mischievous in a good-natured way. She loves to dance and stands out from all the other girls when she dances traditional Baganda dance. Traditional dance is her favorite. Justine wasn’t always such an extravert. Both of her parents died two years ago and when they did she came to live with Nagawa, Florence, traditional birth attendant, village health team volunteer, and Shanti Uganda staff member. Justine was withdrawn and isolated herself from her peers and others. Florence decided to send Justine with her own thirteen year old daughter Peace to Shanti Uganda’s upcoming Teen Girls Health and Wellness Workshop. The girls learned how to use re-usable menstrual pads during their menses, how to say no to early sex, and how to protect themselves against HIV and unwanted pregnancy. They had never had such classes like this at their school and they relished this new information and knowledge. But what made the greatest impression on Justine and was the beginning of a journey of self-discovery for this young woman were the practice of yoga and the participatory use of dance, drama, and sport to convey lessons. Justine discovered peace of mind in practicing yoga and found confidence in her natural ability as a performer. That was one year ago and it is hard to believe Justine was ever a reclusive girl. She is a mainstay of the Shanti Uganda family, and continues to share her experiences and what she learned from Shanti Uganda with her peers. She encourages her friends to also attend a Teen Girls’ Workshop. Justine now participates in the Teen Girls Health and Wellness Workshop not as an bitter and introverted girl but as a charismatic leader and positive role-model for young women.
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