Sanyu Centre for Arts and Rights brings Victoria’s narrative of her life as a teenage mother and student. Victoria is one of the participants in the “Taking back my Pen campaign. In partnership with Urgent Action Fund- Africa, SARI is implementing the “Taking back my Pen” campaign to advance the right to go back to school for girls who have been forced to drop out of school. The campaign is working towards improved strategies that advance girls’ rights at the national and local government level, increased public support to promote girls’ right to go back to school, and a movement of girls/youth groups, associations and networks that regularly convene and amplify the human rights of girls.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, my life took a drastic turn. The school lockdown affected me the most. The first weeks after the lockdowns were good. My parents had some savings so there was enough food. However, my family started struggling because my parents had less income. There was less food at home, father and mother were constantly fighting, and there was so much tension at home. It was not the happy place we knew from childhood.
As a teenager, I felt lost. The future before seemed fuzzy and I needed someone to be there for me. I envied a neighbor who seemed to have it all together. On one hungry day, he saw and gave me some delicious food and soda. That felt like heaven to me. He told me that starving a beautiful girl like me was sacrilege. He promised that he would take care of me so I need not be afraid. All I had to do was to help him with some house chores and I would get all the food I wanted. My young heart skipped with excitement at the thought of having good meals. A few weeks down the road, this man lured me into the sexual act. He promised that I would not become pregnant. I didn’t know any better about using contraceptives. We did it twice and my conscience troubled me. I remembered my Christian upbringing and I knew that I had sinned against God and my parents. I decided to leave the comforts of good food and keep to the cassava and water served at home.
As consequence would have it, I discovered that I was pregnant after three months and a half. The doctor at the nearby clinic diagnosed me when I went for treatment because I had started falling sick quite often. My mother told me to abort because she could not stand the shame. My father was very angry and the rest of the family hated me. They told me that if I didn’t do as they said, I would stop going to school. I didn’t go for the abortion. When I gave birth to my baby girl, the man responsible for my pregnancy disappeared from the village. We had no way of tracing his whereabouts to date. I was always in tears at home seeing that all my dreams had s gone down the drain.
Then one day in March 2022, a youth leader in our community reached out to me to participate in training sessions that were being held by an organization that I came later to know as Sanyu Centre for Arts and Rights- SARI. SARI was working with a youth group using performing arts to train them in their rights, reproductive health issues, life skills and other very interesting things. Many of the participants were young girls, some with babies, and other young males. We also participated in meetings with our local leaders and parents where we discussed issues of teenage pregnancies, school dropouts, and gender-based violence. We also made performances through drama and dance on the same issues. My father was among the people that came to the community meetings. After the discussions, we had a talk at home and he decided to take me back to school. I was elated. Though I had fears about how fellow students and teachers would treat me, I was determined to use the second chance given to me that not so many girls in my state had.
As a youth group, we continue to meet to share experiences while learning different things and doing performing arts. Having such groups in the community is very important. I am now in my senior four and preparing to sit for my Uganda Certificate Education level. My family is supportive; they take care of the baby when I am at school. I call upon parents, local leaders and organizations to keep supporting girls to get back to school and provide counselling, especially for those who got unwanted pregnancies. In this way, we will secure our rights and our future.
Compiled by Sylvia Nalubega
Sanyu Centre for Arts and Rights.