Gemma Munday is the stories lead at Restless Development. She recently visited our Get Up Speak Out programme in Jinga, Uganda and spoke to Ester.
This blog is part of a series in collaboration with our corporate partners, IP Integration and Virtual1, who recently visited our projects in Uganda. Our dedicated partners continue to support Restless Development, ensuring young people can solve the biggest challenges they face. Keep an eye out for 4 more blogs in this series in the coming weeks!
In Uganda, rates of teenage pregnancy rates are the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa with over 25% of teenage girls falling pregnant a year.
Ester fell pregnant last year with her first child when she was 18. She then had to drop out of school because she couldn’t afford it anymore.
“After realising I was pregnant, I left home and moved in with my boyfriend. Neither of us have a stable income. It is difficult, if we don’t get the money we go hungry and don’t eat.“
Ester (left) and Florence with her baby, teenager mothers, part of the GUSO project, Jinja.
On top of these challenges, Ester is stigmatised in the community. She says,
“I am never given priority, I am often ignored and not valued in my village because of the scars on my face.” Ester suffered burns to her face when she was caught in a fire when she was just 3 months old.
Recently Ester has joined a women’s group in her village, set up by Restless Development volunteers, “Volunteers organising the women’s group were going door to door and told me about the opportunity to join.”
Ester, teenage mother, GUSO project, Jinja
Ester signed up and has been part of the group for four months. These volunteers are recruited from the area and trained to run workshops for teenage mothers like Ester.
Restless volunteer GUSO, Ester (teenage mother, Florence (teenage mother), GUSO volunteer.
“The volunteers teach us about sexual health and maternal health. They taught us how to use condoms and I hope to never conceive again when I am not ready and to never get STIs. They also teach us business skills, such as how to plan for our business, how to manage your business and how to save.“
One of the ways earning a living becomes feasible for these mothers is through the training they get from Restless Development volunteers to set up saving groups, “We save together, so if someone’s business isn’t going well they can get support from others in the group. I am proud that I was selected as the treasure of the group. It feels important that I was chosen to fight the stigma. As a group we want to use our savings and the skills we are learning from the women’s group to start a business.”
Ester (right) with Restless volunteers, Ester is a teenager mother and part of the GUSO project, Jinja
The volunteers also run sessions in the community about inclusivity to reduce stigma for teenage mothers.
“If you get pregnant and are not married, society laughs at you and looks at you as a failure. In my community, there has been a big difference since the project started. I have been supported and given counselling. I know now that pregnancy isn’t the end of your life, it has encouraged me so much.”
“I now know I can stand up and speak up for my rights, whatever the situation, whatever the challenge is, I can stand up. I have the right.”
Ester, a teenager mother and part of a teenage mother group on the GUSO project, with a Restless GUSO volunteer
Florence, teenage mother with her baby, GUSO project, Jinja
Ester is one of over 2,392 young people who received training on the Get Up Speak Out programme in Jinja last year.
Meet the volunteers who are working in Ester’s community:
Laura, Get Up Speak Out Volunteer, Jinja
“The biggest success are health centre talks where health professionals come and talk to people about sexual health and rights issues. We have been able to reduce teen pregnancy and girls and young women are now able to get up and speak for their rights. Young people are able to walk to the health centre for services and advocate for more services at the health centre.”
Laura, GUSO Volunteer
“We are benefitting so much from the skills and experience. It is overwhelming. When I am done I know I am going to a full package for an employee because I am implementing a project. It is tough dealing with people because sexual health and rights is a very sensitive topic. But with the team we have built, and of course the support from the staff, we are able to see results. It really impacts lives, not only us as volunteers but everyone in society.”
Waiswa, Get Up Speak Out Health Entrepreneur, Jinja
“I was trained by Restless Development. From there I was given health products, at first on a loan as a health entrepreneur, now I am treating people in my village. I go door to door then give referrals to those I meet who I cannot help directly. I refer them to health units where they can get more treatment. We sell products at a cheaper price compared to the clinics so people can access these services and protect themselves.”
Waiswa, health entrepreneur on the GUSO project, and Restless staff member Oliver, Jinja
“We normally go into villages and ask our friends, especially young people, we set up dialogues where we meet and go through the challenges they face. We ask them and teach them education concerning their health status. We normally sell our commodities in the dialogues. Girls fear even to talk to their parents to help them with what they need (sanitary pads). Among my products I have the reusable sanitary pads and I give these out and show people to use them.”
“Before I was selected, I had nothing to do. I couldn’t even afford to leave the village. After being selected people respect me because I am doing great work. I made friends even beyond my district. I am not the same person as I was before.”