Left behind - 2013 VOF Week 3
Life in Nebbi District for the girl child is not easy. Girls are trained at a young age to understand that boys are superior and that they should always be taken care of. A young boy can even bully a big sister and the parents will just look on.
Nebbi District found in Northern Uganda is one of the least developed districts in Uganda. Situated in West Nile, many times when donors or development partners talk of West Nile, they skip Pakwach and Nebbi District as a whole and begin talking of Arua, Yumbe, and Koboko. In the same breath when they talk of Northern Uganda, they literally mean Gulu, Kitgum, Agago, Pader, Lira and all those districts there in.
The Alur culture, like many parts in Uganda define that boys should marry with the dowry received from their sisters. This has increased vulnerability of the girls. These girls don’t think beyond their village because the ones given opportunities to go far with education are the boys. In many schools in Nebbi District, the number of boys is greater than that of the girls. In Primary schools, there are more girls but as they progress, the number drastically drops. In many families with child bearing mothers, it is a common practice that the young girls stay home to look after their siblings and also baby sit. Those who have reached a certain age must always accompany their mothers to the garden and on coming home, to go to fetch water from the wells that are often a distance and also perform other household chores such as grinding millet and pounding cassava for preparing the meal. A young mother who has no one to leave her child with at home will carry the baby on her back and ensure that after the digging, she will return home carrying a pot of water on her head, a pile of firewood on the pot to enable her prepare a quick meal for her husband. So girls are not seen beyond the home stead. That is where there perceived value ends.
As a result of this culture, many girls think more about marriages as soon as their breasts begin to peep and they start receiving their menstrual periods. This has resulted into many child mothers and many girls dropping out of school. In a typical home, the boy child will be given opportunity to continue with studies even if the girl child is brighter.
What can be done?:
To ensure our young girls are given opportunities in life, we should continuously sensitize the community about the girl child. I have developed a programme together with my friends (Ikirimat Grace) and Acres of Hope Uganda foundation and come September 2013, we are going to reach out to secondary and primary schools in Pakwach on a sensitization tour. This is an effort to awaken the communities on the value of education to girls. I want parents to appreciate and give their children equal opportunities especially for education. We normally say “A female lion can also hunt”. Girls should be taught sex education early to avoid teenage pregnancies and HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted diseases like gonorrhea, syphilis etc.
Acres of Hope Uganda has a good school outreach program which involves American Youths together with other youths here visiting schools and sensitizing the pupils in Primary Schools and Secondary students on the dangers of indulging in sex early.
Personally, whenever I get any opportunity to address the youth and adolescent girls, my message is “Wait until you are ready for marriage/sex”. I share my personal experience where my ‘Prince Charming’ left me in my wedding gown. This guy was quite convincing and the fact that I wanted to settle down, I thought I had met the perfect match but alas, I was wrong. I tell them how we had registered a wedding with a set date which never took place. I tell them how shattered I was and the path I could have chosen if I didn’t have good friends who counseled me. I tell them what I have become amidst all these adversities.
One day after I had given a brief speech to some girls before our skills training in Tye and Dye techniques, one girl commented, “I bet madam is lying, she doesn’t look like someone who has gone through much suffering” and they started having heated debate amongst themselves. One of them had the courage to ask a friend of mine who knew me then and she confirmed that what I told them was the truth. Life is what one makes it to be. Having a positive attitude in life is very important.