Today marked the start of our first complete day of site visits and meetings. We met many young, professional advocates who all share this desire to determine the future of their country. Some were highly educated with university degrees and others were former sex workers with no formal education. All of these women shared the desire to give back to their community and prevent other youth from risks they faced and from ever feeling hopeless or uninformed.
Despite seeing extremely impoverished areas and being confronted with stories of abuse of young teenage girls, I never left a site feeling depressed. Instead, talking with the people on the ground and recognizing the fierce pride in their initiatives left me with the impression that young Ugandans are embracing their accountability to fellow countrymen and women eagerly. This feeling of responsibility in the face of inadequate resources leaves me with great respect of their devotion and just as hopeful for the future.
We started the morning meeting with the outgoing Ms. Uganda, Monica. Like any other beauty queen, she was beautiful, statuesque and well-poised. Additionally, Monica is a positive local role model, often visiting village schools promoting the importance of school attendance and establishing rural based orphanages. Recently she channeled her energy into starting the Nurture the Future orphan foundation.
Monica lost her father at young age and her mother in her late teens. She confided that the death of her mother occurred the week of her important end of year exams and it was nearly impossible to study because she was very close with her mother. If it wasn't for her older brother encouraging her to study, Monica could have easily been another of the common orphan/drop-put statistic. Instead, having experienced and struggled with the loss of her parents, Monica has become both an advocate and activist to help fostering education opportunities for all children, especially orphans. Her courage is a great hope to the children she meets.
From there we met former sex workers who with the help of the Ugandan Youth Development Link (UYDEL) have been able to find other sources of income to support themselves. Based in the outskirts of the city, UYDEL works with former commercial sex workers, providing vocational education like hairdressing. Often, children from the rural areas flood to find jobs in Kampala but they are deceived and forced into unpaid labor jobs. I was shocked to find out that sex workers are paid just 30 cents, just enough for a snack and juice from the street vendors. In the Chimumbaza district where these woman live, I met a young woman who was a former sex worker but now teaches other sex workers how to braid hair and offering basic business skills so that they can re-enter society with some skills to generate independent incomes. For the UYDEL staff, her story is an example of a success story and gives hope that many other young women can become empowered.
Many of the young women and children who I saw today have seen many traumatic events and are thankfully able to get various psychosocial and health counseling. Seeing them in the clinics and centers gave me hope that they might be out of harm's way, hopefully having already seen the most difficult years of life.
The investments the social workers and activists have in their causes are integral to ensuring that more children attain access to education and get off the streets. When I asked what UYDEL could accomplish with more money, the answer was simply "education".