In December 2018, UNICEF Uganda hosted 22 adolescents and youth from West Nile, Karamoja, Busoga and Buganda sub regions to learn about the power of advocacy to create change. They shared experiences and challenges they encounter in the strive to get an education. Their unique experiences will contribute to the development of a Regional Youth Advocacy Guide to help adolescents and youth become effective advocates for change.
“My aspiration in life is to become a doctor. I really want to see a reduction in the number of cases of child marriage, teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS among adolescents. It is vital to have all parents sensitized on dangers of child marriage, teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS. It is vital to work together to see that all adolescent girls in Uganda are equipped with skills on how to make local re-usable pads and skills on how to manage body changes so that they can stay and complete school. This workshop has helped reorganise my thought process on how to plan for this to happen in my community, my district.” Dorcus Econi, 16-years-old, S.2 Aria Secondary School, Arua District.
In Uganda, many adolescent girls face numerous vulnerabilities and have been victims of negative social norms. Three out of ten girls have experienced sexual violence in childhood (Uganda Violence Against Children Survey: Finding from a National Survey, 2018). The adolescents were therefore oriented on identifying issues that affect them in their schools, communities and broader environment as well the reporting channels they can use when they identify any VAC cases.
Participants took time to learn about the principles of policy engagement which helped them understand the broader legal framework. As they work with leadership at various levels in their communities, it is important that the adolescents understand the existing bills or policies available to support the protection of adolescents from harmful social and cultural norms such as child marriage, teenage pregnancy and child labour.
“I am an active member of Music, Dance and Drama, debate clubs and served as the Head Girl for the student body. I have learnt the importance of one being armed with facts and a plan to know how best to advocate for positive change that permits vulnerable adolescents complete their education to become active and productive citizens of their nation. The Government White Paper, is a bulky document and though we struggled reading and understanding it, in the end we appreciated the exercise of making recommendations for a child friendly version.” Fatuma Hassan Napeyok, 18-year-old, Kangole Girls Secondary School Napak District.
The participants also learnt how to better apply the principles of participation and some shared experiences on their participation during meetings with teachers in schools and in communities to discuss issues that affect their vulnerable peers. They promised to seek opportunities to interface more regularly with various stakeholders like Members of Parliament, participate in community dialogues and radio talk shows. They appreciated the importance of active participation and the need to attend community meetings which provide space for adolescents and youth to speak out and provide insight to their leadership on the progress and prevalent challenges that exist in the need for collective redress.
“Being an advocate as an adolescent is important. I have learnt how to support initiatives aimed at eliminating child marriage and teenage pregnancy in Uganda. This workshop has made me understand better how we need to work hard to promote the equality between girls and boys.” Jonathan Mseko, 19-years-old, S.5, Buzaaya Secondary School, Kamuli District.
The participants had an opportunity to visit a local project by Straight Talk Foundation to learn more about advocacy within the NGO sector with a special focus on the HIV/AIDS adolescent programme.
“Working with the NGO Straight Talk Foundation, I have been involved in community work that helps to ensure that adolescent girls attain quality education to enable them live a better life. I am pleased to see that this site visit has helped my fellow adolescent participants learn better how to get involved in advocacy work that would create results in enabling them to finish school or be part of a business venture and earn an income that would permit them develop their community.” Abraham Lokeon, Junior Journalist, Napak District.
Participants watched 12 short video clips with experiences from adolescents in 12 districts. They learnt that fellow adolescents in other parts of the country also face the same challenges such as lack of school fees, unsupportive parents, unsafe spaces in communities that prevent children from attaining an education. They recommended solutions to address the challenges.
The workshop concluded with a session during which adolescents produced two murals representing their week-long learning experience and the future they wish to see.
“I am now convinced that by pursuing my dream to become a teacher in the future I can play an influential role to convince all parents to send their children to school. I hope to see a Uganda where all children especially girls stay at school and completing their education to become important leaders to develop Uganda,” Raphael Nelly Achia, 16-years-old, P.7, Maaru Primary School, Kotido District