Writing from my hotel room in Nebbi District in the Northeast of Uganda, with sounds of pouring rain soothing my soul and relaxing my mind. Just laying down after a long day of work feels so good. Sometimes, everything just feels so right here. Last night, as we drove back on a bumpy road from a marketplace an hour away so some ladies could buy some Congolese fabric, I was smiling to myself. Feeling alive with each bump. With these inspiring women that I am surrounded by. And yet, at other times, I still wonder what I am doing here. The rollercoaster of emotions that can overtake me. Learning to see them as passing by, and continuing to move on.
I am on an advocacy field trip with women from a sexual and reproductive health coalition, funded by Amanitare (based in South Africa). MEMPROW is the organizing group, and we are joined by representatives of other coalition organizations that consist of a women’s lawyer organization (FIDA-Uganda), an LBT group (FARUG), a political leadership group (FOWODE), a gender advocacy group (Akina Mama Wa Afrika), and a women with disabilities group (NAWOU). We all drove together in a stuffy van from Kampala and shared stories, opinions, and drinks J Everyone is so smart and brave in their work. For the past two days, we have visiting with district officials, teachers, elders, school girls, and district councillors to discuss the problem of girls’ retention in schools, particularly due to teenage pregnancy and early marriage.
All the stakeholders have been very receptive of the message because they know that they are seriously lacking behind on national and international standards for girls’ education. MEMPROW conducted a needs assessment before we came and found that only 30% of girls continued past elementary school. When we talked to the girls today in small groups it was clear that no one, besides their friends, sits them down to talk seriously about sex. Although, we only had about 45 minutes, all facilitators did a great job of teaching them the link between unprotected sex and pregnancy, and the importance of staying in school while still making the girls laugh.
Throughout all these activities, I have been taking video and picture recordings and helping as needed. Today, I had some technical breakdowns, with my camera battery dying, then the memory card too full. I had a couple of backups that worked and I am now compiling everything on my computer. I really hope that we will be able to use the video and create a DVD to illustrate the work being done. Most importantly, I have learned how these feminists advocate with local leaders and teach controversial issues to young girls. They are very tactful in their strategies and allow the people to come up with their own solutions to their own problems rather than prescribing a certain recipe for success.
For instance, through our group work we found out that there are many young girls and boys under the age of 18 going to discos and drinking and taking part in transactional sex. I was in a group that was tasked with establishing bylaws and ordinances to address the problems. I was really trying to stay quiet because it wasn’t my place, but when they started creating a bylaw about how girls’ skirts have to reach their knees, I had to say something. I would never forget when I got in trouble in junior high for rolling up my PE shorts, and still believe that we should be able to wear what we want to wear. It is no excuse for a man to rape a woman. After I said my comment, I felt a little ridiculous because I was so used to the rights we have in the US and didn’t relate it to the laws in Uganda or international conventions that Uganda is a signatory to. Thankfully, my co-worker Enid, stepped in and mentioned that if you look at what Ugandans wore before colonial times, you notice that they wore practically nothing besides beads and a little leather and they rarely raped one another. A little bit of cultural sensitivity goes a lot way. I tried to not be hard on myself for what I said, and took it instead as a learning opportunity for how I can engage in these conversations for the future.
Also, as much as I came here wanting to teach yoga and meditation techniques, I have learned that it is a slippery slope. It seems to be more taboo to talk about these things than to talk about LGBTQI people. When I start to explain it most people, they move on quite quickly to something else and don’t seem interested. However, last night I spoke with a co-worker that I will call Charlie for the sake of anonymity, who told me that most people think that yoga and meditation is about worshipping the devil and is against Christian believes. Charlie did Transcendental Meditation back in the 1990s and wants to get back into the practice. I gave Charlie one of my Thict Nant Hahn books to read and hopefully we can continue to have these conversations and possible meditate together in the future. For now, I will continue my home practice and when I get back to Kampala in November I will do more research.
Well, the power just went out. Expected at this time I guess. Thank god for my headlamp otherwise I don’t know how I would get around. Till next time my dear friends! And please, feel free to post comments or questions. The biggest thing I have learned as a MEMPROW Girl is to always speak your mind with eloquence and thought.
All the beautiful and intelligent ladies from the Amanitare Coalition!