The Alice Rowan Swanson Fellowship returns alumni of SIT Study Abroad’s programs to their host countries to conduct human rights projects. Annie Weber is using her fellowship award to implement sexual health and well-being informational camps for young women between the ages of 10 and 16 living around Gulu in northern Uganda.
By Annie Weber
Following weeks of pre-planning and two days of training, our wonderful small-group leaders and our Educate for Change team has completed the first Girl’s Health and Leadership camp. The S.P.E.A.K Up initiative stands for helping girls learn about Self-esteem, Protection, Empowerment, Action, and Knowledge about their bodies, rights, and asserting themselves. We are focusing on four rural schools, each about an hour north of Gulu, Uganda, in order to target the most vulnerable girls.
For those who are not familiar, northern Uganda was beleaguered by political unrest and rebellion for more than two decades until 2006, leaving this region underdeveloped. Topics such as menstruation and sexual/reproductive health are still not taught in schools leaving girls with very little knowledge about their own bodies and rights. We have created this partnership in order to address these issues and to help girls reach their full potential in both school and life.
After 16 hours of interviews with 32 candidates, we chose 12 brilliant young Ugandan ladies to be a part of our leadership team. Our staff and other speakers helped to train these ladies over two days in self-knowledge (menstrual health & sexual health), self-esteem (communication skills), self-defense, and tons of ice-breakers and games to lead their small groups at the camps.
Upon arriving at the first camp in Minakulu, we were so excited to get things going. We started by checking in the 100 girls who had registered. When the girls could barely look me in the face and tell me their names I was nervous about how the camp would go. Would we be able to get these girls to open up? If they can’t even tell someone their name, how will they be able to stand up for themselves when something crucial happens? It took until the middle of the second day for the girls to start opening up and gaining more confidence.
After the second day of playing games, actively participating in class, and small group sessions, the girls started to bond with each other as well as their small group leaders. However, it wasn’t until the closing ceremony that I began to understand the full magnitude of our program.
As Marion, one of our team leaders, led the closing ceremony the girls were following along with her yelling “Speak up! Speak Up! Speak Up!” and our theme song for the camps, “I’m strong, I’m beautiful, I’m powerful…I’m perfect just the way I am!”
I began tearing up alongside other Educate for Change staff members when the girls performed a skit for us demonstrating just how much they had learned over the past three days. Educate for Change will be conducting follow-up visits to each site during next term in order to understand what the girls really learned. We will also be bringing back a Girl’s Club Curriculum so the schools will be able to start their own club to keep these conversations going.
I cannot thank Educate for Change, SIT, the Rowan-Swanson family, and the Kathryn Davis Projects for Peace organization enough for allowing me to help in facilitating these camps. We are really providing these girls with critical information to help keep them safe and to help them make informed decisions in their lives.