Meet Joan. She is the one in the middle. She and 51 other girls from her school attended ISEE’s reproductive health workshop today. These workshops usually last about 90 minutes because Anna has to translate all the information but this presentation was only in English and took 2 hours. The girls had so many questions that is was hard to get through the presentation in the amount of time that I did. We collected 41 questions on paper but there were many questions just asked out loud. And while the information in the presentation is vital, the questions are so important as these are the topics the girls are really worried about.
There are always questions about what is “normal”. I bleed a lot, I bleed a little, I bleed often, I bleed rarely, I have heavy flow or I have light flow, my breast get tender, I get pain. Why? Like all girls, they worry that they are not the same as their friends or sisters and so they are abnormal. This is one big myth I have to dispel.
The next set of questions start with “Can I get pregnant if…” I have just finished bleeding, it is my first time, I wash myself with Coca Cola, I have candida for 1.5 years (this one was new and I strongly advised the girl to seek medical treatment to cure her candida), I am producing that liquid (lubrication) from my privates before sex, I have not started my menstruation.
My answer to all those are YES.
Lots of questions about the pill today. This one was new though: Some people say that birth control pills are made from dangerous substances like nuclear weapons so can’t they destroy a girl’s reproductive system leading to cancer? Wow. Where has that come from? There were two questions that were the same about the pill. I told them to make sure they got the pill from a reputable clinic and to make sure they are in packages.
Then one asked, “Why do some girls do pulling?” Pulling? I has to ask Anna for clarification. This is the practice of pulling the genital folds to make them longer. I said that I didn’t really know why they did it except maybe the culture thought it was more beautiful. Joan asked, “You don’t do it in your country?” I said, “No. We believe that women are beautiful the way they are made. The way you are born and the way you become as a woman is beautiful. You do not need to do anything to make yourself more beautiful.” She nodded enthusiastically at my reply.
Is it true that whites can cure HIV?
If a boy invites me over and I know he is home alone, is it safe?
How can you keep yourself safe apart from abstinence?
How can you know if you are still a virgin?
Is it true that the ring that they put in you to prevent pregnancy can burn your fallopian tube leading to death?
I was told that you must not use a condom at the first time of having sex because it is painful. Is it true?
I always do a condom demonstration which makes the girls giggle and gasp in shock when I tell them that they can have them to use on the boy. I explain that the act of having sex is a lot more intimate than the putting on of a condom. When I took out the condom and showed it on the tip of my finger, Joan asked if I was going to show how to use it. I reassured her that I would.
One girl asked about the female condom so I showed that as well. Now that gets a lot of giggles and gasps, especially when I compare the two condoms side by side!
As we were winding up with the questions about sex, Joan submitted another piece of paper. She asked, “As a student, am I allowed to use family planning methods so as to protect me from pregnancy.” Oh my goodness my dear, please do. Girls will get kicked out of school if they get pregnant but also if they have condoms or pills in their bag because it means they are not abstaining from sex. I told her directly, “If you are not abstaining which is the best choice always, then you must use condoms. They will keep you safest from pregnancy and from HIV as long as you use them the way that I have shown you. Abstinence is the only way to avoid these things but the condom is the next best way.” That girl is most certainly having sex. I hope that my talk will help her avoid pregnancy.
The kits were a huge hit again and the girls were trading undies and bags to have just the right colour and size that they wanted. The girls from last year said that the knickers were somewhat big so the new ones we have bought are smaller but stretchier.
Anna said the presentation was good because the girls were asking a lot of questions and the message was clear. I did not follow the old recipe for the presentation and moved into information bits based on the questions that were asked. The only question that I didn’t delve deeply into was, “What religion do you belong to?” I replied, “Does it matter? All women must learn what I have spoken about as we are all the same. My religion does not matter.” I did, however, tell them that I am a secular Buddhist. Huh?? “See? It does not matter.”
I thanked Joan personally for asking so many good questions and said point blank to her, “Use a condom.” “I will,” she replied.
I felt a bit rusty to begin but I think maybe it was better because it was more natural. Another presentation awaits tomorrow afternoon!
This morning, we delivered the instruments to the students at Kiwuliriza and they were very excited! Grace hopes to have a small demonstration for me before I go. I think that would be wonderful.
We went to the school to meet with 10 candidates for the Mama Nguvu program, 5 wanting to do a salon business and 5 wanting to tailor. Only 8 showed up. We had hoped that they might be interested in a collective but they are very leery about trusting each other in a business venture as many have already been burned in such programs. I think that if we want to do collectives, we have to present it as a different project where a group of women can apply for a collective business venture. It is certainly something to think about for the future.
It was heartbreaking to hear one woman speak about her struggles as a woman in Uganda. She is 39 years old, a single mother of 4, and she is trying to survive with her current salon business that she started. She wants to add more equipment because then she can have students who are learning the trade who come to her salon for practical experience. She makes money from the school and from their customers. She said to us, “You know, as a woman in Uganda, we face many challenges. HIV is very high and women they will get it a lot. I go to my salon and I work to be able to make little money for the food for my children but I also need to pay school fees and rent and it is hard. Sometimes a woman, she decides she will go with a man. This will help with some little monies. But then she becomes positive or pregnant so this is not a good decision. But sometimes there is no choice. Thank you to your organization for coming to support the Ugandan women. It is very good what you are doing for us.”
Oh my goodness. How do I respond? I told the woman that our organization knows the struggles of the Ugandan women which is why we do what we do. I also told her that we know how strong Ugandan women are and that we respect them very much. She just nodded her head.
I wish we could sponsor them all! We have over 80 applicants. I keep looking at the pile of the ones who are still under consideration and I struggle finding criteria that makes one woman better than another. How can I judge? What gives me the right to judge who is more worthy? I tell the women that I wish I could sponsor them all but that I cannot because of lack of funds. They all smile and thank us for considering their application.
So now I go back to the pile of papers and try to decide. How would you choose? Could you?
How can you help? We need more sponsors. The women this year are hairdressers, tailors, popcorn makers, a chicken farmer, caterers, ground-nut butter makers, restauranteurs, and even an event planner who wants tents for events. The cost to sponsor a woman ranges from $100 – $500. Use the Paypal button on this website then send me an email and let me know if there is a specific area you want me to try to focus on. Anyone anywhere in the world can sponsor using the Paypal button. It’s not too late to make the difference in the life of a Ugandan woman and her children. I will make it happen if I have to not sleep for the next 10 days because I have to shop until I drop. Promise!
Have a lovely Wednesday.