GirlBe is a non-profit initiative dedicated to addressing the struggles of girls in Uganda. The organization was founded in 2011 by Rehema Nsanyiwa as an 18-year-old school dropout. Having had a fractured past in ways she still feels uncomfortable to share, she ran a community embedded program that excelled in providing girls in low income communities with a safe and fun space to commune, study and participate in creative practices. Her vision was to forge another way to raise these girls from backgrounds of fear, into adults of courage that will uplift their communities by addressing the issues that affect them and the people they care about.
Two years ago, Rehema realized that a lot of girls in her community were getting pregnant way too soon before completing their education. The consequences were harsh and unforgiving. The girls had no choices and opportunities to alter their destinies from desperation. From the 13-year-old Sara, who was a beneficiary of GirlBe to the world vision narrated Suzie who face life with constant fear, judgement, shame, stigma and hardly any second chances to try again.
Through a thorough needs assessment, we attempted to further understand the struggles of teenage moms in Uganda. To analyze this problem, we reviewed its existing literature, held personal interviews with teenage moms and the initiatives trying to address their needs.
The Uganda Demographic Health Survey (UDHS) report 2016, shows about 25 per cent of adolescent girls aged 15-19 years were already mothers or pregnant with their first child.
Being a teenage mother in Uganda has profound heartbreaking consequences. It robs girls of their childhood, disrupts their flow of going to school and makes them out cast in their own homes. Most teenage moms in Uganda are survivors of sexual abuse. In many cases they are accused of “bringing it upon themselves" by “dressing inappropriately" or being alone in lonely places. In most cases once a girl gets pregnant; her priorities drastically shift and succumb to the numerous struggles of everyday life.
UNICEF notes that vulnerable girls become moms before they’ve even had a chance to fully experience their teenage years. Often times they suffer from violence, exploitation and sexual abuse.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization also reveals that Uganda has the highest female school dropout rate in East Africa; with only one out of ten being able to go back to school to complete their education after pregnancy. This leaves a huge number of young girls around our neighborhoods stuck in abusive early marriages and hopeless lives. The high rates of teenage pregnancies are attributed to poverty, demeaning cultural practices such as child marriages and low likeliness of advancement in education.
Additionally, according to Uganda’s annual crime and traffic safety report for 2011, 7,690 cases of rape were recorded in just one year. This has increased child pregnancies, early marriages, HIV/AIDS infections and high school dropout rates among teenage girls in Uganda.
In Uganda today, not only do some cultures deliberately marry off teenage girls to fetch financial support from the bride price due to poverty, but also, do schools immediately terminate their education in case of pregnancy. Pregnant teenage girls are regarded as a curse and a mark of disgrace.
For example, our dear friend Maria that got pregnant at 13 was sent away from home for being an embarrassment. Since she had nowhere else to go, she got married. There are many more girls like Suzie Nassuna, as narrated by World Vision also pregnant at 13, dropped out of school, now lives in a slum in a small rented house, no skills, only vending charcoal and washing people’s clothes to survive.
Honestly, they have no fair chance at redefining their destiny. GirlBe focuses on teenagers like Suzie and Maria, aged 13 to 19, who have gone through crisis pregnancy, dropped out of school, have been rejected by their families, schools or communities and are looking for opportunities to reconnect to themselves, repair their fractured pasts and forge a way to a promising future.
Our program is the first secondary school for teenage moms in Uganda. We want to re-integrate them into school so that they can have a chance to complete their ordinary and advanced education with their babies without shame or stigma. This will prepare them for higher education, creative expression and entrepreneurship.
Our overall program is 6-year long because we believe that in order to change the mindsets and behaviors of the teenage moms; who have been abused almost all their lives, this period of engagement in the core transformation process is required to guarantee the impact we are looking for among teenage moms in Uganda.
If the teenage moms complete their six years of high school and express an elevated sense of self, they’ll have acquired;
SELF MASTERY, knowledge and the understanding to apply themselves or start initiatives to serve their communities immediately by addressing the issues that affect them and the people they care about.
QUALIFICATIONS to continue through higher learning to develop their professional careers.
COMMUNITY of individuals with a shared vision, motivation and resources to achieve it.
PRACTICAL SKILLS AND STRATEGIES that they can apply to become self-sufficient.