It was December 2010 that I posted an article on my worldpulse journal “High school drop out of girls due to pregnancy and early marriages”, little did I know that someone passionate about making lives of young people in Africa better would spot the article. This was none other than Ms. Sharon Asonganyi the founder of Threads of Our Fabric Project (TOF). Sharon is Public Health professional, based in the United States of America. SHIP team was excited that someone had recognized a problem we had all along endeavored to shared and had picked interest in working with us in making a difference in some people’s lives.
We exchanged mails and soon Sharon was headed to Uganda to visit SHIP and explore ways of TOF working with SHIP; in supporting the Project to be more effective. The SHIP model and other related information had been shared on SHIP face book, world pulse.com and other youth fora.
Come 2nd April 2011, Sharon was in Uganda ready to visit the SHIP sites in Rukungiri District in Uganda. The SHIP team comprising of officials from the Population Secretariat (POPSEC); Ms. Catherine Biira, Ms. Grace Ikirimat, Ms. Stella Kigozi where there to receive Sharon. The purpose of the visits was; to interact with Sexual Health Educators to share their experiences in implementing SHIP; to visit schools in which SHIP has been implemented in order to explore ways of improving SHIP interventions; to update district officials on the progress of implementation of interventions SHIP; to assess effectiveness of the SHIP model tools through practical sessions with students in selected schools. This was following the training of 25 SHEs that was conducted in June – July, 2010.
We met the district leadership and discussed issues pertaining to adolescent RH in Rukungiri. The Assistant Chief Adminstrative Officer, (Mr. Samuel Ahabwe), the District Health Officer (DHO), (Dr. Zepher Karyabakaabo); and the Senior Nursing Officer, (Ms. Katunguka). It was so amazing that the district leadership was appreciative of issues affecting young people in the district. Mr. Ahabwe emphasized that SHIP is a welcome intervention in the district in light of the alarming statistics of teenage pregnancies and increase in rape cases. He said that SHIP had trained 24 health educators from the district, who had been equipped with skills to interact with young people on issues of sexual and reproductive health.
He also added that the SHIP curriculum was good and quite practical to the needs of young people in the district. He however noted that in spite of the very good beginning, the project was faced with challenges of facilitating the SHEs to conduct sessions as planned. He also requested that more SHEs be trained to respond to the needs of adolescents in the whole district.
Together with the SHIP team and some trained SHEs, SHIP and Ms. Sharon Asonganyi visited St. Karoli Lwanga Nurses Training School/Hospital; Nyakibale where SHIP sessions have been conducted since the SHEs were trained. The team also visited Nyakagyeme Senior Secondary School, where some of the trained Sexual Health Educators (SHEs) have conducted sessions on sexual health and HIV prevention.
A small meeting with the active SHEs was convened to share their experiences and this was so exciting hearing firsthand what they had encountered during the sessions with adolescents. Mary shared her experience in implementing the SHE sessions. They said that the skills they acquired during the training had been put to good use through their interactions with students of the Hospital nursing school, St. Charles Lwanga Seminary, Nyakagyeme Secondary school, St. Gerald Senior Secondary School (Rukungiri) and St. Peter’s Secondary School in Kabale. The SHEs were represented by Mr. Musiimeta Albino, Mr. Mukasa Moses, and Mrs. Tumwesigye
Ms. Sharon gave such a brilliant and inspiring talk to the nursing students of Nyakibale Hospital Nursing School. She categorically encouraged the students to respect their bodies and not allow others to abuse them. They said that nursing was a noble profession and that the career success of the students would be determined by the values they acquire and uphold today.
The issues that students expressed as challenges to them included; High rate of teenage pregnancies (as seen from clients at the hospital); High dropout rate of girls from school due to marriage; Lack of parental guidance for young people who end up making wrong decisions ; Distorted values amongst young people and ‘love’ for money which they have not earned.
The interaction with the students of Nyakibale Nursing School was interesting, informative and highlighted additional issues that the young people are exposed to. An interactive session revealed that there are several societal expectations on the students such as; to become important persons; to be well behaved; to provide for siblings and parents as soon as they start working; to be successful; to act as security for parents in their old age; to get married as soon as possible (especially for the girls) .
Regarding the Visit to Nyakagyeme Senior Secondary School; the SHIP team together with Ms. Sharon Asonganyi held discussions with the school headmistress, Ms. Maud Kamugisha on the concepts of the Sexual Health Improvement Project and how it can be used to address the reproductive health needs and challenges of young people and improve their wellbeing not only in the school but also in the district. The headmistress revealed that a number of girls had dropped out of the school as a result of pregnancy, a situation that was quite alarming. She requested that the SHIP project increase its efforts in the school and target the vulnerable youth. Ms. Asonganyi briefed the headmistress on the Threads of our Fabric project and how she got interested in the SHIP project which, in a similar manner, was addressing needs of young people with the aim of helping them lead more responsible lives.
After the discussions with the school headmistress, the SHIP team and Ms. Asonganyi met the students and stressed the need for self value, importance of staying in school and avoiding early sex. The students were engaged in a ‘memory game’ which involved the picking of two similar cards with questions on decision making to enable them understand and appreciate how they can make right decisions in life.
Ms Sharon Asonganyi together with the SHIP team was able to visit the Yo HelProject at Luzira Secondary School in Kampala founded by Ms. Joan who was trained by SHIP and Ms. Jane Biira . Ms. Asonganyi and Ms. Catherine Biira also addressed members of the school Reproductive Health club.
Today the collaboration between SHIP and TOF is growing day by day. Indeed we need each other for strength