Promoting Menstrual Health & Hygiene

Savings Groups Promote Menstrual Health

Adolescent girls and young people have come together to promote their menstrual health and hygiene, which is one of the leading sexual and reproductive health care challenges faced by women of reproductive age in the refugee and host communities in Nakivale and Oruchinga refugee settlements. It is for this reason that Shared Action Africa supported 30 adolescent girls and young women to form a savings and lending group that they named “Oruchinga Youth Protection Group”, with a membership of 25 girls and 7 boys.

The group was initially formed as a savings and lending group to help members pool their meagre savings on a weekly basis, but also as forum through which members would be provided sexual and reproductive health counselling and services. It is through subsequent meetings, where members noticed consistent absenteeism by female members around the same period every month, that the leadership decided to find out from their members why they were not attending group meetings on a regular basis.

It was then revealed by members that lack of access to sanitary pads during menstruation hindered them from joining group activities, and it is for this reason that they jointly decided to seek training on how to produce handmade sanitary pads.

To support their efforts, Shared Action Africa provided them UGX 150,000 which they used to buy some materials that they are using both during training, as well as in the production of reusable sanitary pads for their own personal use and for close family members.

“The sanitary making group activity has not only strengthened the social connectedness of members, but it has improved the menstrual hygiene and health of members. This is because we not only meet to save and lend out to each other, we also meet to receive education on how to promote personal hygiene during menstruation. We are working hard to improve our skills in the making of sanitary pads so that we can grow beyond making sanitary pads for our own use into turning it into an income generating activity for both individual members as we as for the groups.

We are grateful for the support provided to by Shared Action Africa and African Women’s Development Fund. We plan to share this knowledge with other youth led groups so that they can also have a group activity that does not help them bond, but also addresses their menstrual health because we also believe young people are the best agents and drivers of change amongst their peers, and the community they live in.”

Empowering Health Workers

Arinda Isaac’s story | Empowering Health Workers to Provide Youth Friendly SRHR Services.

Increasing the utilization of sexual and reproductive services is greatly dependent on the positive attitude of the health workers towards its provision to young people of ages 15-24. It is for this reason that Shared Action Africa is amplifying the contribution made by Isaac Arinda, a health worker and advocate for increased utilization and access of sexual and reproductive care of adolescents and young people at Nshungyezi HCIII in Oruchinga refugee settlement. Prior to receiving specialized training, Isaac had a very poor attitude towards adolescents and young people that sought sexual and reproductive care at the health facility where he worked. Like other members of his community, he though that providing contraceptives to young people was tantamount to promoting promiscuity among these age group. However, after the training he provided, it was he has been one of the biggest advocates for adolescent sexual and reproductive rights among his peers.

“As health workers, we often are not interested in helping young people access sexual and reproductive health care due to our own personal biases, beliefs, and prejudices. Prior to my training on adolescent sexual and reproductive health care and rights, I was among those health workers would decline to serve young people because I believed I would be perpetuating moral decadency in our community. However, after learning that access and use of SRHR services is a human right, but also that it works as a preventive measure against several societal evils such as unplanned and teenage pregnancies, I was won over.

It is for this reason, that when the first youth friendly space was established at Nshungyezi health facility, I applied to be the person in charge of managing this space. I am therefore happy to be working in partnership with Shared Action Africa to provide counselling to the youth and I feel honored to be the person privileged to pilot such as initiative that will have a lasting impact among our communities. This is because when young people are offered an opportunity to access services and information concerning their reproductive health, we would be mitigating against early childhood pregnancies and are rampant in the settlement.

I am confident this will happen gradually because I am part of the team that is promoting voluntary family planning among young people, and also encourage them to not only conduct regular testing for HIV, but also advise them to always use protection whenever they uninformed about their partner’s HIV status. However, for those that find themselves in a situation where they have had unprotected sex, we provide them with not only emergency contraceptive but also encourage them to seek Prep treatment to prevent HIV infection.

However, while we have established a youth friendly corner at Nshungezi HCIII, we need further support to help equip it so that young people are encouraged to come and come interact with others as they are counselled on their sexual and reproductive health care and rights as well as receive services that meet their needs. There has been an integration of youth friendly services in outreaches as this gives the youth a chance to confidently show up and participate in health education talks. We have also allocated Saturdays as a special day for them to attend to the youth. “

Isaac Alinda, offering counselling on sexual and productive care to a young lady.

Mukundwa Ejidiya

I regret why I Married Early

Mukundwa Ejidiya | I regret why I Married Early

Mukundwa Ejidiya, 18, is a Rwandese refugee residing in Michinga 1, Oruchinga settlement, in South Western Uganda. She dropped out of school at the age of 16 because she couldn’t wait to marry her boyfriend and also start a family. Although she lives a life of regret, she feels that her confinement in the projects of Shared Action Africa (SAA) console her from overthinking and stress.

“Before I chose to get married to my boyfriend at the age of 16, I was a Primary Six student in one of the community schools in Oruchinga refugee settlement. All was going smoothly until tension from school fees thickened its nerve. I was left in the dilemma of either pressing on with studies or moving in with my boyfriend to start a family. When I was won by the latter option, I conceived in a short while and gave birth to my first child.

Months later, I started experiencing unbearable marital issues that left me with a life of regret. Regardless, I am thankful for the project that SAA extended to the youth in our settlement. I’m now more informed and aware that health facilities exist for people of all ages. Each time I need services from the health facility, I ask for a referral form from one of the peer educators. I am now on family planning and this has helped me to ensure spacing of my children. I have a reason to take care of my child until he is five years old for me to think about having another child again.

Surviving and Healing from Sexual Assault and Trauma

Krematic’s Story

KREMATIC’S STORY | Surviving and Healing from Sexual Assault & Trauma

Krematic a 23-year-old survivor of rape is rebuilding her life through the psychosocial that she is receiving through the Youth SRHR Friendly space created at the Rubondo HCIII facility in Nakivale Refugee Settlement in southwestern Uganda. At the age of 18, Kremestic, a Congolese refugee was sexually assaulted at age of 18 as she returned from school. At the time, she did not know how to access information and support to take the steps taken to immediately following a sexual assault. For instance, to get the care she needed to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and never found justice for the crime committed against her. Consequently, at the age of 23 she is still picking up the pieces after this traumatic experience that happened 5 years ago. She was banished from her home by her parents due to the stigma associated with raising a single mother coupled with the burden of caring for an additional person in an already resource constrained environment.

The sexual assault impacted my lives in so many ways that I struggling to recover from. I was chased from my home, and I had to find shelter for myself and my child. I was not ready to become a mother and had no support. I was interested in pursuing an education with the hope of improving our lives as family, because it is very hard to survive as refugees in another country. I struggled to find employment and take care of my child at the same time. It is not until I heard about the Shared Action Africa and the programs, they were implementing in my village that I got interested on how I participate to help with my personal healing, and also help others that might be going through the same struggles recover and start a support group that will help us bond around specific activities that we could do together like starting joint income generating activities or forming a savings and lending groups from which we would access small loans to meet our financial needs.

After receiving training from Shared Action Africa on various topics related to adolescent sexual and reproductive care, and learned about how to prevent unwanted pregnancies through emergency contraception, prevention of STIs, particularly HIV through Prep, menstrual hygiene among other topics, I was motivated to serve in the capacity of Peer Educator and Advocacy Champion. Serving in the capacity of advocacy Champion, I am part of Youth SRHR Collective, that brings together 170 other adolescent girls to advocate for spaces to be created at some health facilities so that the young people like myself can access sexual and reproductive health care in a safe environment. Also, through the knowledge acquired through attending group meetings where we are sensitized by our rights to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the services available at the health facilities, I not only counsel my peers on the same subjects, but I more empowered to make informed decisions, in case I encounter the same situation as I did five years.

In addition to being part of team of committed young people making a difference in our community, I am also earning a monthly stipend from providing SRHR related services to my peers. Similarly, through training provided by Shared Action Africa, I joined a savings and lending group through which I can access some small loans, whenever I have a financial need.

I am particularly happy with the reflective community dialogues conducted for adolescents together with their parents to discuss subjects related to sexuality, a subject that is culturally never discussed by parents with their children. I am very supportive of this activity because if my parents had an opportunity to participate in the same, I would probably be living with my parents now. Such programs are important to change the mindsets of our communities about allowing adolescents and young people to access sexual and reproductive health care to improve our lives.
I would like to urge Shared Action Africa to bring us vocational training programs for single mothers like me so that we can get a second chance in life.

Thank you, SAA, for changing our lives and my community.

Amplifying Young Women’s Voices

Amplifying Young Women’s Voices | Reproductive Justice

On International Women’s Day, March 8th, 2022, Shared Action Africa, celebrates the young women and men at the forefront of advocating for increased access SRHR services that are tailored to the unique needs of adolescents and young women. The ongoing campaign is supported under our advocacy initiative known as Arise for Reproductive Justice for Refugee Girls in Nakivale and Oruchinga refugee settlements and host communities in southwestern Uganda.  The advocacy efforts are aimed at influencing the creation of youth-friendly corners at the health facilities where adolescents and young people can access SRHR services without fear of reprisal by their communities. Access to youth-friendly SRHR services among others is aimed at preventing the occurrences of early and teenage pregnancies among young people like 17-year-old Berita Byukusenge.

Beritah a refugee from Rwanda with her 9-month-year-old baby in Kiretwa village

Beritah, like many young girls, became pregnant during the prolonged school lockdown of over 14 months to curb the spread of the COVID-19 disease. Due to lack of access to information about reproductive health, peer pressure, and the need to access basic needs such as food, clothes that could not be provided by her immigrant parents from Rwanda, she fell under the influence of a married man. She got pregnant and her relationship with the married man deteriorated and was characterized by emotional and physical abuse, Simultaneously, Benita was expelled from her home by her parents and sought refuge with an older woman in another village. In exchange for a roof over her head, Benita is working in the old woman’s banana plantation. Benita’s experience could have been different if she had had access to a safe place or environment where the youth can access information on sexual and reproductive health.

“I became pregnant because I lacked knowledge on sexual and reproductive health care. If only I had access to someone I trusted to talk to as well as a safe place where I could access information without shame and fear of ostracization from my community. My situation would have been different because as a teenage mother, I not only have to take care of myself, I also have to provide a home to my nine-month-old baby. To earn a living, I work in the banana plantation of an elderly woman in our village. If only I had information on contraceptive use, I would not be a statistic of early and unwanted pregnancy. One uninformed decision has forever changed my life.”

Beritah with her baby in the banana plantation where she works to earn a living.

To reduce, the high incidences of teenage/adolescent pregnancies among refugee adolescents, which is at 8.7% according to Makerere College of Health Sciences, Kampala, Shared Action Africa is working towards a shift in practice, behavior change, and policy implementation towards increasing access and utilization of SRH services for girls like Beritah.  To this end, a Youth Collective for SRHR was created to partner with others and advocate with others for youth-friendly spaces for SRHR to be established at all health facilities in Nakivale Refugee Settlements. Similarly, the project identified and trained Peer Educators whose role is to mobilize and educate their peers to foster positive behavior change geared towards increased utilization of sexual and reproductive health services that are tailored for adolescents and young people. Young people such as Benita and others like her, are not only willing to share their stories but also serve as change agents within their communities to influence behavior among their peers to utilized youth-specialized SRHR services. And it is for this reason that we celebrate them this International Women’s Day.