By Nicole Belanger: Monitoring and Evaluation Intern
It is 5am on a Monday morning and Milly, an 18 year old girl from Lusenke village, rises and goes about starting her day. This morning however is different than any ordinary day. Milly wakes with more enthusiasm and excitement, as she is on school holidays and today is the first day of the Shanti Uganda Teen Girls and Empowerment workshop. Milly, like many other Ugandan girls who participate in the workshop, face challenges in order to attend. She must rise earlier to complete her domestic work because as one of the older children in her household she is expected to contribute to the family and carry more responsibility. She finishes her work and walks the 4km to a local primary school where the workshop is being held. There she is greeted by 23 other young females, all ebullient and eager to learn.
Ritah, Shanti Uganda’s agriculturist and teen girl’s leader, facilitates the workshop and creates an interactive and comfortable learning environment for the girls. As a mother of four young daughters she is personally invested in improving the health and wellbeing of young woman in Uganda. The ages of the girls in the workshop range from 10-18 and as one of the oldest participants, Milly stands out as a leader. She is able to provide advice and support for the younger girls, something that she did not have growing up in a male dominated household.
When asked about some of the difficulties faced by young women in Uganda, the girls respond by speaking of death and disease, poverty, lack of opportunity and poor health care centres. When the question is directed towards Milly, she raises her hand and answers “rape and early marriage”. These challenges are the reality of young women in Uganda, and across the world. But during this week, the week of Shanti Uganda Teen Girls Workshop, the girls are given the opportunity to focus on themselves and explore their future. They are able to discuss how to combat these challenges rather than be burdened by them.
Many topics are discussed throughout the week, ranging from sex education, healthy relationships, nutritional health, menstruation and confidence. For most of the girls, the highlight of the week is the sessions on reusable sanitary pad making. Milly has been particularly looking forward to the pad making as she and more than half of the other participants are unable to purchase the necessary sanitary products during their menstruation. Many of the girls mentioned that making pads is a skill they would like to teach their friends who were unable to attend the workshop. The pads are made of materials that are easily accessible for girls in Uganda.
The week drew to a close and the days seemed to go by quickly as they were filled with exciting activities. The girls played netball, learned yoga, sang songs and learned how to make delicious vanilla cakes which they would serve at their graduation ceremony. On the final day, family and community members joined in celebration of the girls completing the Shanti Uganda Teen Girls and Empowerment program. The girls had voted amongst themselves to elect a committee for community leadership, to monitor and take responsibility for each other, and to pass on and teach the information they had learned from the workshop to others in the community. Not surprisingly, Milly was elected as the president and chair leader of this committee. Her mother and older brothers watched Milly be selected by her peers with so much joy and pride.
The girls who leave the workshop do so as more confident and independent females than when they first arrived. Each one of them was able to take something out of this week that will stay with them as they grow into women. It is young individuals like Milly who remind us that girls are the future of our generation. Through the Teen Girls Workshop and Empowerment Program, Shanti Uganda is prioritizing women and providing women-centered care, recognizing the potential in young females and giving them an avenue into creating a new and brighter future.