Make Your Experiences Count. They Can Change the World.
LET’S BRING ALL OF OUR KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCES TOGETHER.
TOGETHER WE KNOW MORE. TOGETHER WE ACHIEVE MORE. TOGETHER WE DO BETTER.
Published: April 5, 2023
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected communities worldwide in a number of different ways. Millions have fallen ill, lost loved ones, or have faced social and economic hardships. In Uganda, the government reacted to the pandemic with the world’s longest school closure, leaving children to study from home for nearly two years.
Apart from the deep disruption that this has meant for the educational progress of children and young people in the country, the closure of schools has also had the effect of increasing teenage pregnancies on the national level and particularly in the West Nile Subregion of Northern Uganda.
Research carried out during the pandemic by the Nordic Africa Institute has shown that overall rates of SGBV against girls increased drastically during lockdowns, leaving “girls in close proximity to perpetrators within homes and neighborhoods, and […] unable to access help”. In addition, the United Nations Population Fund UNFPA sees the lack of education on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and some parents giving their daughters in marriage at an earlier age because of financial hardship as factors in the increase in teenage pregnancies.
In early 2023, PALM Corps together with partner organizations RICE-West Nile and SPACE started activities on a 2-year project funded by the European Union called PRETTIER (Prevention and Response to Teenage Pregnancy through Life Skills, Income, and Formal Education Re-Entry).
Project activities will take place in communities of West Nile’s Zombo and Madi-Okollo districts, with the overall objective of both preventing teenage pregnancies and building the resilience of out-of-school girls including teenage mothers. They include sensitization of the whole community on the issue, reintegration of teenage mothers to schools and skills trainings for youth who decide not to rejoin.
The following is a discussion with the implementing team of the project, consisting of Keliky Tom Gladys (Consortium Programme Manager), Acema Ben (Project Manager and Child Protection Officer), Kwiocwiny Faith (Skills and Development Officer) and Amute Darwin (Digital Communications Officer). They explain why the project is important and how they will try to address the complex issue of teenage pregnancies holistically.
Roman: Thanks, everyone. So, as a first question to the group: Why do you think this project is important at this moment in time?
Gladys: I think it’s been almost two, going to three years now after COVID. This has greatly impacted the global action towards teenage pregnancy. And based on different findings from government and also at organizational level, there is a high level of teenage pregnancy and school drop-out. And looking at the girl-child empowerment, it’s really low and the percentage of teenage pregnancies, or the prevalence, is negatively affecting them and also affecting the nation.
So, for us, we look at retention, the economic empowerment through skilling for the out-of-school girls, which would alleviate their standards of living, or improve their standards of living through social and also health services. I can add we’re also looking at the capacity building of the stakeholders. We realized there is a lot of gap in the knowledge, especially on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights [SRHR]. The different local authorities will also be trained on these different approaches. Together we join hands to reduce or mitigate the prevalence of teenage pregnancy in the community.
So, we are not only to go straight away to the schools, but the project has also ensured there’s a structure at the ground level that must be enlightened with the different approaches of prevention. So, we are not leaving out the local authorities and the other stakeholders at the district level.
Ben: As my colleague has already stated, we want to ensure inclusiveness in education. We have realized that our parents are so much negligent of their role. We see that the project has come timely because we need to reduce barriers to girl-child education. We see poor parenting attitudes to education. We also see that parents are really forcing girls to get married – especially when COVID came – to get money. So, we also want to reduce on that.
And then we also see the project as being very important at this time, because we want to increase the employability of the girls who have dropped out of school. Because they have missed out on the mainstream education and if they get the second chance to go into a professional skills training, they’ll be able to still get employed, they’ll still be able to make a living and move on with life.
Who do you think are the main actors in the community that need to really understand this problem, learn about it and take action?
Faith: In this project, the major target people we have are, one, the adolescents, boys and girls who have dropped out of schools. Then also the parents, the local authorities, and communities around them, those are the major people we target for this project.
You work mostly on skills, Faith. In terms of skills, what do you think are the greatest needs that have to be met with this kind of project? What are the gaps that you are trying to fill?
Faith: Currently, we are doing a broad survey to find out what’s on the ground in terms of the skilling. But majorly, the basic ones, tailoring, hairdressing, those are the common ones. But looking at the project design, it wants to come up with some skills that are extraordinary, away from what is already on the ground in the market. So, that way when the girls and boys graduate, they can be marketable.
So, the market scan is done so that they don’t all end up in positions that are already over-saturated with people. So that they will be employable because there’s a lack in that specific field.
Faith: Yes, that’s it.
Gladys: Just to add: The focus of carrying out the market scan is to identify what’s the different existing ventures on the ground. And this will inform the different youth who will be trained on the life skills to make a decision on what they can best do, so that they don’t only concentrate on what is already saturated in the market. So, that way they can choose what the community may be interested in. Maybe tailors are lining up here, twenty tailors in the same village for example. So, the market scan is to inform the decision-making on what to select to be trained on.
So, you mentioned boys. The project is working with boys and girls. Why is that?
Ben: This is again about the gap. As we said, we see many, many redundant boys and girls. After school they are not employed. One problem could be there’s high poverty. They cannot afford to further their studies.
So, why boys and girls? I’d say this is for inclusion. We don’t need to leave somebody behind once he or she is involved in the project. And poverty doesn’t affect one side, but we realized that the biggest proportion of the support should go to the girls. At the same time, we also added some proportion to the boy-child for inclusion and purposes of gender balance and justice.
Faith: Looking at the current situation, most activities are directed towards the girl-child. Most boys are left out. And looking at the performance of the recent A-Level results, we realized that the girls perform much better than the boys.
So, meaning more attention is on the girls than the boys in the schools. So, when we try to incorporate a little percentage of the boys in these activities, it will try to bridge the gap, so that they’re not unattended. To promote that sense of belonging in them too.
Obviously, there’s a role of boys too in teenage pregnancies. In terms of educating do you approach boys as well and how does that work? Because it’s a pretty delicate topic, right?
Gladys: Actually, under the Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights [SRHR] approach, we’re to ensure that this training is both targeting girls and boys. So, as we are mainly tailoring trainings to girls – about maybe menstrual hygiene management, teenage pregnancy or prevention – the boys as well have to get this knowledge. Maybe if someone’s not feeling OK and if someone has stained the clothes, for example, how do you ensure to talk with respect to this girl and how can the girl get help through the senior female teacher or the head girls.
And we’re also having these Girls Education Movement [GEM] Clubs in school. They will all have knowledge to support each other in school, to ensure someone is not traumatized with these changes within the body.
Darwin, you’ve been working in communication. How is it to communicate about a project like this, because, again, it’s maybe an issue that is fairly delicate?
Darwin: Delivering the progress of this project works on two sectors: One is to the public that is just viewing us or seeing what we’re doing. And then secondly is to the beneficiaries. To the public it is a bit easy compared to the beneficiaries.
To the beneficiaries, it is a collective job for us as a team to make sure that whatever communication that we make out there and any interaction we have with the beneficiaries is very clear, such that they really understand. So that there might still be questions, but less questions of what we are really doing. I think that is the way we try to approach this.
So, maybe just to follow on that, do you feel that there is anything that you have learned already since the project started? Something that surprised you?
Darwin: I have actually learned a lot and I’ve seen a few things that have surprised me. The response of the locals is amazing. And I expected less of that, because I’m someone who comes from here and I know how my people here are [laughs]. They really surprised me and they’re supporting the work.
So, it’s a positive feeling in this starting phase?
Ben: From my side, the positive about this is that the needs that the project responds to are very real on the ground. As said, following our engagement with these people, you really see that the politicians, the technocrats will tell you that this is really an ideal project. Because these are actual things happening in our community.
And then you see the reception also from the community, once we do one thing, the reception is very positive. For example, we went to a school and the teachers gave us the most important issues affecting the community exactly as they are in the project. And the ordinary boy on the street will tell you the same thing.
And negatively: I can see that we are going beyond our bounds with time. Because the people in the community say they need more support with this than we can provide.
Gladys: Yes, just like you put it at the beginning: “why is this project important now?”. During our awareness sessions the different groups of the communities will be drawn together. And so, you find through these sessions people start identifying and making decisions which direction they should take to better their lives.
So, for us the process of awareness and community outreach is the most important to inform the community. There will be mindset change of some people, which is a process but as long as we have people now coming towards us, that will be a success.
The project is important also in the way we support those who want to reintegrate. We are going to pilot how to best support these girls and their families for continuity. So, that not any small thing will make them fall back.
If your family is economically empowered and they can support some of these basic scholastic materials, I think there will be continuity. And our aim is to see this child by the time of the project ending complete her education. As we pilot this, we first want few girls so that we can tailor [the project] and see good services and also have people recognize the value of this education.