My name is Francis Ssuuna and at Christmas I met with my 12 year old sister Phionah, who has just completed her Primary Leaving examinations. We talked about her future and it has prompted me to think about this subject and raise some issues which people may not realise in a blog. I am a member of the Butterfly Project in Uganda, which trains young people to be social entrepreneurs.
Uganda is an East African country, with many natural resources. Ideal for tourists with its year round warm sunshine, one might think that Uganda had every opportunity in its favour, but instead we live in a land where there are many problems. Two different groups of people live alongside each other – middle class rich people, common in urban areas and impoverished people from urban slums and remote rural areas.
The difference in income makes a huge impact on the way these two groups live. This also means that each group of people have their own way of tackling problems and this can have a massive effect on their Children. Let me give you an example. A child falls ill with malaria, which is extremely common but a high risk to the child. A rich middle class family will immediately take the child to the hospital for medical attention. Parents living in the slums will wait hoping that the children recover, as many don’t have medication costs easily at their disposal. In the rural areas it can be worse, as local herbal medication is the first choice option, if the disease worsens. The issue in both cases is lack of money, poverty, which forces a course of action which is generally wrong.
For girls, this poverty can lead to further dangers – loss of Education, early marriage, being forced to look after yourself at an early age. Girls can lapse into prostitution very easily and there are no shortage of men prepared to take advantage of young girls, many of whom are HIV positive.
In Slums and remote rural areas girls are always considered in monetary or prestige terms, not as individuals with their own purpose in life, as parents choose to marry them off or sell them for sex. The fact that their parents live in poverty means that this negative culture has developed over many years into the way people live. A girl is born, taken though the Primary level by the help of the Government (Universal Primary Education) and this system of education is truly free in the rural areas and transforms her life. However, once she has finished Primary at the age of 11-14, then poverty means that she has nowhere to go as far as Education and her future are concerned.
This is the time when she hopes to go for secondary education, as a way to improve her chances in life. However, this is impossible for her because there is no free secondary education. This girl’s dreams now end here at 14. This will not only make her pessimistic but will change the way she thinks about her future in a negative way.
In most cases these girls are forced into work to pay for their school fees, if this is possible at all. Their salaries will usually not be enough to pay everything they need, and this restricts the speed they can progress through secondary school or makes it impossible. Some girls choose or are encouraged into prostitution thinking that it is the easiest way of making money for the good of their future. They don’t think twice on how negatively it might affect their lives; they lost their conscience hence they don’t think it matters. Obviously these girls end up being infected with HIV/AIDS, which most likely kills them.
At 14 years, a girl can bring money into the family through a bride price (dowry) when she gets married. Poor parents will have no strategy for their girl’s future other than getting her into marriage at an early age. They don’t care how painful it is for the girl after all, this is the way it is in these rural areas. When married these girls might be abused by their husbands, for example caning. The men proudly do this because they know their wife has nowhere to run. The fact that her parents were paid from the dowry also gives the man enormous control over their wives.
There are so many girls in Uganda living this kind of life, and as a change maker I am looking for your help on how I can help them get into secondary. This year my project, the Slum Run, will help more girls than we have before, so I hope now you have more understanding of the reasons for supporting girls.