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Uganda, 30 May 2017: UNICEF Adolescent Empowerment Programme provides hope to adolescent girls from South Sudan

© UNICEF Uganda
A mentor from the adolescent girls' programme talks to the refugee girls in Bidibidi refugee settlement

By Proscovia Nakibuuka Mbonye

On a Wednesday afternoon, a group of adolescent girls in Bidibidi refugee settlement in Northern Uganda gather at a playground for a soccer game, while many others prepare to cheer the players. They are all energized and looking forward to the game.

It is difficult to tell that some of these girls previously went through horrendous situations when the war broke out in their home country, South Sudan. Games such as these are among the activities that the UNICEF supported programme for adolescent girls organizes weekly to enable the girls heal from these past traumatic experiences.

Faidah Dede, the Chief Mentor of the Programme, also commonly known as Mama (mother), affirms that sports, drama, songs, cultural dances among many activities, help clear their minds and help them connect back home. “Sports helps them forget their worries,” she adds.

Assumpta Ding (names changed), 17 years, is one of the adolescent girls attending the match. She is not there to play but to watch and cheer up her peers. She is eight months pregnant! She can’t contain her emotions while narrating her story. It is a sad one. “I watched people including my own brother being slaughtered, during war and I was raped. “As you see me right now, am pregnant like this. I got this pregnancy during the war and up to now, I don’t even know the person who raped me.”

Back home, Assumpta was attending school but when the shooting escalated they were told to go home and while there, a group of men attacked her home in the night, tied her up and raped her. Shortly after the incident, Assumpta and her family had to leave for Uganda to find some peace. The situation in her country was bad.

“When we arrived in Uganda, I didn’t know I was pregnant until I joined school. I only discovered I was pregnant when I was already four months into the pregnancy,” she narrates. What bothers me most is I don’t have any support from my family. Instead my mother is angry with me, saying I could have planned with the man who raped me. It makes me feel so bad because she is the only one I have and yet she is not supportive,” she continues.

Assumpta is due next month and her dream is to go back to school after delivery. “My hope is in school, please help me go back to school. It is was not my own making,” she pleads. Assumpta speaks highly of the mentors who have counselled her, encouraged her and ensured she attends antenatal care sessions at the health centre and promised to support her with vocational training after giving birth to her baby.

Aminah Mohammed (names changed), 18 years, is another adolescent girl enrolled with the programme. Her story is not so different from Assumpta. Aminah was also raped during the war, by an unknown man. As she grappled with pregnancy, the war escalated and at seven months, her family fled the country for safety.

“The stomach was big, I couldn’t run or walk faster, my feet were swollen but we managed to make it to the border,” she narrates as she breastfeeds her son. But one day, while sitting alone in our little compound, a Mentor from Danish Refugee Council (DRC) paid her a visit her and announced that she qualified to join the adolescent programme. DRC is an implementing partner with UNICEF.

Ever since Mohammed joined the programme, she has received a lot of counselling and supplies like sanitary towels, clothes and other things. She is optimistic that under the UNICEF supported programme, she will receive skills that will enable her earn a living. “I like the mentors very much. They give us a lot of hope. They tell us that things will become better tomorrow and they encourage us a lot during the sessions, Mohammed asserts. “The mentors also provide us with small note books and encourage us to write our dreams and aspirations.”

These and many other adolescent girls are among the thousands of refugees that have been uprooted from South Sudan due to conflict. The UNHCR estimates indicate that approximately 11,620 (10 per cent) adolescent girls and 15,065 (13 per cent) adolescent boys have arrived in the country and are settled in the various refugee settlements in Northern Uganda.

Faidah Dede mentions that the UNICEF supported programme targets child mothers, children with disabilities, child headed households, school dropouts and unaccompanied minors, aged between 10 to 19 years. In Bidibidi settlement alone, the programme is supporting 448 adolescent girls – 172 school drop outs, 146 in school and 130 child mothers. Unlike adolescent boys, these refugee girls are exposed to abuse, sexual exploitation, and lack of parental support, domestic violence, and child prostitution among other risks. Fortunately, the mentors who have been trained to provide psychosocial support, are gradually changing the lives of these girls. Dede says that she has seen these girls transform from nothing to something. “When we provide counselling, encouragement and basic training to these girls, they become resilient and start to move on with life,” she firmly says. She continues to say that the programme has enabled the girls get a network where they encourage each other and learn from each other. They also have a chance to interact with the nationals who are part of the programme.

Dede is very optimistic that the Adolescent Girls Programme will change the lives of the refugee adolescent girls forever. The programme will soon be expanded to provide vocational skills like tailoring, beading, farming, hair dressing, etc, to the beneficiaries and this will greatly empower the girls. “Investment in girls has a multiplier effect. “Once you empower a girl, she becomes an empowered woman who will empower her family and once her family is empowered, the nation is empowered,” Dede concluded. Assumpta, Mohammed and all the other refugee adolescent girls always look forward to their weekly sessions, to learn as well as the engage in the various activities.

 

 
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