From shattered dreams to championing the rights of girls

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Sharon shares a moment with children who play near the club.
Sharon shares a moment with children who play near the BRAC ELA club in Kimwanyi-Mulago.

Note to readers: this blog contains an account of sexual violence

Growing up, I always wanted to study hard and become a doctor. However, my dream was shattered at the early age of sixteen, when a very good friend of mine, Immy, decided to sell me out to an older married man for a few shillings.

I was on my way from school when this man, who was our neighbour asked me to escort him to Immy’s place. I led the way to Immy’s place without suspecting anything as it is an offence in my community to disobey elders; plus, he was a married man and our neighbour. I trusted him without suspecting a thing.

On getting there, Immy offered to make me a cup of tea and excused herself, leaving me with this man who then closed the door and suddenly pounced on me. I was very shocked, angry, sad and very bitter. I tried to fight him off and scream for help in vain.

I was wondering where my friend was, only to find out she had made a deal with the man and betrayed me. Afterwards, Immy found me crying and pretended to care. I fell for this act and asked for her advice. She advised me to stay quiet because of what my parents’ reaction would be. Scared, I did not tell anyone else about it and Immy became my go-to person.

Over a month later, I was feeling unwell with a lot of nausea and Immy suggested that I go for a malaria check-up. I got to the hospital and found out I was pregnant.

Over a month later, I was feeling unwell with a lot of nausea and Immy suggested that I go for a malaria check-up. I got to the hospital and found out I was pregnant. At this point, I felt my world collapse. Since I had enrolled in high school, I had been my mother’s only hope as all my other siblings weren’t in school. My mother was a squatter and had been earning peanuts working on people’s farms. She had raised the four of us singlehandedly and I wanted to be her pride. Now all this had been destroyed; my pregnancy was a disgrace. It was now even more difficult to convince my mother that I did not willingly have sex and that I was raped by the 25-year-old neighbour who had now disappeared.

I, however, had to move on with life and accept this new reality. I was going to become a mother, yet I was still a child! It was really difficult living with all the negativity and criticism that came along with being pregnant at such an early age, and the fact that I was a disgrace to my family. I pushed through the pregnancy and finally had a baby boy. Now, this was a new phase of depression. I was still young and needed my mother, yet I had also become a mother now.

I was going to become a mother, yet I was still a child! It was really difficult living with all the negativity and criticism that came along with being pregnant at such an early age.

I had lost hope in life until a cousin of mine visited and noticed how bad my circumstances were, and asked me to come to Kampala-Mulago with her to get a job and try to sustain myself and my child.

Even in Mulago, I was scared, secretive and I believed that nothing good would ever come out of me. I remember being tempted to go and dump my child on the street, or even sometimes take my own life. Luckily for me, my cousin was there to try and help me through this situation although I never really paid attention to her. I always felt like nobody would understand my situation. I had no confidant and sometimes I would hold my child so close and cry my heart out.

My life-changing moment was when staff from the Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) club of BRAC found me as they were doing their rounds in Mulago. It was hard to believe that this was a coincidence! It was like someone had told them about a depressed teen mother somewhere in Mulago. This must have been God trying to rescue me from my suffering because for the first time I got some hope after they spoke to me.

The ELA team asked me if I wanted to go back to school but I felt like I needed to learn something that would put some food on the table for me and my child, so I opted for skills training. I enrolled for a hair dressing course for six months and completed it.

In August 2018, I was appointed a mentor by the ELA team and this introduced me to several other girls in situations similar to mine. Interacting with these girls has opened my eyes to numerous challenges facing children, especially the girl child. It is a really tough world out there for some girls that are going through unbelievable situations like being abused by their own parents and some being forced into early marriages.

The kind of change I would like to see in the world is for the girl-child to not endure the injustices society has forced upon her.

The kind of change I would like to see in the world is for the girl-child to not endure the injustices society has forced upon her. I believe that if we all come together and empower the girl child, injustices like rape, child motherhood, and child marriage will end. My advice to young girls or teen mothers is to open up to people they trust. I appeal to students to stay in school and parents to advise their children to be careful even around people they are familiar with. The government should also set up youth centers where we feel free to report such cases without fear.

Before joining ELA, I was sad, lonely and devastated, but now I am confident, and even mentor others. I share my experience with other people to learn from them, and for the unfortunate ones that are or have been in similar situations to have hope and know it is not the end of the world.

I am living a better life as a volunteer with the BRAC ELA club in Kimwanyi-Mulago as a mentor of female youths between 12-20 years. I hope to start a hairdressing shop and raise my child so that he never has to go through anything that I endured while growing up.

 

Sharon is a volunteer with the BRAC ELA club in Kimwanyi-Mulago, Uganda. 

The BRAC ELA clubs in Uganda are supported by UNFPA under the joint UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage.

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