I am Phionah Serwanja a Ugandan, born in 1995 here in Central region. I joined this universal group of unsung activists for diversity and inclusion! I would like to talk about myself, work and Country in a slightly detailed aspect so that I can answer some questions which many of you may wish to ask from the distance between us. I am the 3rd born in my family with 12 siblings though the 3 are now died. I belong to a tribe called Baganda and Luganda is my first language.
Since childhood, my life has never been straight forward and easy. I attended the most remote and sub-grade Schools near our village throughout my Primary Level. However, even if the Schools I went through were below grades, my passion for education exceeded the status of my School. I performed very well in my Primary Leaving Exams “PLE” that last exams in Primary as one joins a High School. Upon scoring the 2nd grade in my PLE, of course, the best candidate of that year, I was adopted by a local Scouts group that pledged to sponsor me during my High School. Of course, I had also joined Girl Guides/Scouts Association and active in my troop.
During my High School, I developed the passion for helping the needy and desperate girls in my same School much as I didn’t have the means to meet my dream. In most cases, in my village, girls could be married off at the age of 14, sold to men at the age of 16 and at a value of 80,000 Shillings approx $40.
To me, that was the omen/ odd that made me strong and committed to helping fellow girls in advocacy programs that were run by Plan International, Straight Talk Foundation and United Nations Girls Education Initiative-UNGEI. I believe the invaluable dignity, respect and super-legacy of all women and girls especially “gays” that will never bear a price tag
Also, I live in a Country where the majority believes in the power of angels, Holy Spirit and eagerly waiting for return of their master called Jesus Christ. In this same Country is where homophobia is treated as a sign of faithfulness “so-called” of any Christian or believer in all religious denominations. Homosexuality is treated a crime in Penal Code Act of 1950s and an abomination in their so-called African culture. Regardless of the 2014 Constitutional Court’s nullification of the Ant-Homosexuality Bill 2009 that came in law in latter year, the state/government of this Country has resorted to applying the British law of the 1950s that treats homosexuality as a crime against nature and punishable by life imprisonment or death; this Country is no other than the well known “Uganda” in East Africa.
I am a TreeSister! Yet, for the last 4 years, I have been volunteering with a local Charity that reaches out to the sexual minorities through advocacy, education, livelihoods, rescue activities for the youths who have been disowned by their own families and relatives due their sexual orientation. I have witnessed the value of acceptance, tolerance, inclusion and gender equality. Though this work breeds persecution, bullying and all kinds of inhumane treatment, day after day, I feel determined to do even more for those that can’t fight for their rights! And I am not ashamed to be called a Feminist and gay advocate, for sure, that is what I am!
I lost my job for being a supporter of gay freedom. I have witnessed the brutal treatment by parents towards their children especially girls whenever they learn of their sexual orientation. Many of them “gay women” commit suicide; the least to tell.
Although I was almost losing heart and hope last year for belonging and supporting the female gays, my diehard “Jenny Smith” based in UK learned about the plight of gay sisters and through her network raised over 2500 Pounds within only 3 weeks so as to create livelihood projects for them. Currently our Beauty Center is offering services to the women and training to over 45 gay sisters.
Jenny is a great TreeSister too; whose unmatched support to our groups here in Uganda has grown beyond expectations.
After I received the above donation, we managed to set-up a Beauty Center for women with an intention of establishing a sustainable life for the gay sisters. For example, there is an Organization called Equality Heals Africa that donated land for us where we shall be giving out free tree seedlings to all women, Girls' Schools and others to plant them ourselves. Our Salon or Beauty Center will be shifted to the venue which we named “GenderPark”. Together with you all Sisters indeed, Uganda will change its mindset towards the LGBT.
Below are the implicit objectives of our GenderPark, the first of its kind in Uganda/Africa:
• Ensuring full realization of fair treatment and overall acceptance of all human beings regardless of their sexual orientation, age, sex, ethnicity, color or belief.
• Providing and cultivate support, resources and advocacy to the victims of discrimination, hate and isolation.
• Committed to every person’s right to live in violence free home and have a specific focus towards addressing the cultural hiccups in determining gender equality and equity.
• Restoring and recovering the lost hope of all victims of discrimination who are currently invisible in Uganda and Africa in general.
• Recognizing and averting the absence of accessible emergency services for the victims of rape, homophobia and defilement
• Educating, motivating, and mobilizing women to improve their own lives and communities so as to become subject-experts of their own problems, challenges and solutions to overcome them.
• Providing preventative and educational programs to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STDs among the key populations……hence improving their health status.
• Challenging and combating all forms of discrimination, bullying and isolation.
• Ensuring that we create, maintain and sustain an equal society
The GenderPark, is a venue for all more especially the LGBT living at the margins of the society. Nonetheless, here is the following target group; LGBT community, single mothers, albinos, sex workers, youth in conflict with the law, victims of female genital mutilation, rape and persons living with HIV/AIDS.
GenderPark is an implicitly gay women founded site/facility/center/venue in Uganda or Africa, the first of its kind.
With all the above withstanding, I also lead a music club of Ghetto children especially girls and I am a member of the invisible lgbtq movement in the above Country/Continent of Africa. Without forgetting to inform that I am the Administrator of an informal Activism forum called FAR “Feminists Are Real”.
Friendship to me means, sharing common interests, passion, challenges, risks and dreams with a great commitment of respecting each one’s differences that might exist. It is not a must that friends have to agree on each and every issue before them. It is a situation where secrets are justified when shared with the person you trust. This situation is measured by the ability of both parties to keep their secrets. In Uganda, we have two types of the friendship; street and home friendship. Street friendship is a situation whereby you can’t tell all your secrets to the friend, with fear of him/her breaking the silence. Home friendship is a situation whereby both parties are called diehards. And few fall in the latter category.
Sincerely, I had no particular mentor in my life. Nevertheless, every sad and good experience I had in my life was a great training and mentoring process for me. My sad years more especially, helped me to see how life is never straight-forward or easy to handle. I also realized that, having a dream and working towards its reality is the most challenging avenue of humanity in maturity. Behind me, though, were my sponsors (Stephanie Sonya and Kyle McKinnon) whom I have never seen face-to-face. And sadly, they are all deceased but lived in the American town of Fresno-California.
My biological mother is living on and she used to love me so much. However, she became so hostile to me immediately she realized I was using part of my salary to educate the female sexual minorities who were expelled from Schools in 2013. Till now, she sees me as an outcast and abomination.
My dream is to transform the lives of all gay women and girls living in the most difficult situations. This dream is accompanied by the establishment the GenderPark above. My other dream is to making every woman more productive regardless of her illiteracy challenges or sexual orientation. This is being done my establishing zonal centers for Practical Skills like tailoring, knitting, hairdressing, handcraft and drama in the GenderPark..
I am devoted to inform, educate, and empower the gay women and girls in Africa to accept themselves as equal human beings that have equal rights to live like men or others. That they can too, make this planet a safer haven for humanity based on self esteem together with conserving the environment by planting trees. .
Thank you World Pulse for giving me this wonderful opportunity to share my story.
I love you all,