In March (2021) we started a collaborative project with the charity Mission Direct, supporting their partnerships in Kumi, Uganda, with Adolescent Sexual Health Education.
In our culture you can’t speak about sex in public. In our culture you cannot do a demonstration like how you are supposed to protect a young girl who is receiving her periods. You can’t demonstrate that in public because that is culture, but interestingly enough what we have been showed [today] can help us speak to the young ones and make them understand that this is information that is very beneficial to them.Olupot Patrick Epudu, Youth Leader at South Teso Pentecostal Assemblies of God.
Our model of training has been developed over several years as one strand of our holistic approach to ending period poverty and removing barriers to education.
This training was very necessary because we’ve been having a challenge of teenage pregnancies in our projects and not only in the projects but even in the community, and we’ve felt having been equipped with the relevant knowledge, information, we shall be able to plough back, to teach children, train them and equip them.Achen Sylvia, Project Direct Atutur Child Development Centre
This training was the start of a partnership where we will be assisting Mission Direct partners through mentoring over the next two years as they implement their programmes. The project started with thirty community leaders in attendance of a two-day seminar covering an overview of Sexual Reproductive Health. These leaders represent nineteen schools and projects, and between them, recorded fifty teenage pregnancies in 2020.
The district, as part of the Teso region of Uganda, consistently recorded the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in Uganda, pre the effects of COVID. Estimates vary about the extent the pandemic will increase this, but what the communities are sure of, is that girls are even more vulnerable than ever before.
When discussing Sexual Health, we believe it is important to have a standardised vocabulary devoid of stigma and negative associations. Our partners are careful to highlight potential problematic language with delegates when asking them to describe how they would explain, for example, the menstrual cycle to young people.
This language can be either potentially negative, e.g., describing an unfertilized egg as ‘rotten’, a period as removing ‘impurities from the body’, or ‘cleaning the uterus’; or ambiguous such as periods are a ‘sign of maturity’ or the ‘fulfilment of hormonal balance’.
The Elephant in the Room
In our pre-questionnaire we asked the delegates several questions to ascertain their knowledge and attitudes to sexual health. Like other observations in the district, 63% of them believed contraception was harmful and 30% of them believed contraception caused cancer. This is similar to our study done in 2018, when we assessed adolescent attitudes to contraception and found 31% of pupils questioned believed contraception caused cancer.
One of the beliefs that people have is that contraceptives or other methods of controlling pregnancies, is evil.Pastor Oonyu Emmanuel, Overseer Kumi Child Development Centre
In the seminar we had a local nurse demonstrate and describe each locally available contraceptive, the benefits and side-effects, and the process a health provider should take before recommending a method to the individual.
Family planning is where there are beliefs that somehow this training clashes with. My culture believes that family planning causes cancer, family planning causes infertility at the end of the day, but I have got to realise that this training has given me the best information, because family planning doesn’t cause cancer, neither does it cause infertility, but instead it helps an individual to raise a manageable family.Achen Sylvia, Project Direct Atutur Child Development Centre
I learnt that contraceptives do not cause cancer and that they’re not harmful to human life if the right procedure is taken by the health worker.Akol Oliver, Communications Officer, St Stephen’s Child Development Centre
The attitudes captured before the training and feedback given afterwards highlight how important it is that we continue to facilitate this learning in the communities and help people not fear talking about their sexual health and getting the appropriate help and advice when needed.
This project has been funded by Mission Direct.