How champion parents keep adolescent boys and girls in school
“I have been counselling the girl. I encouraged her not to drop out of school."
2019 was a traumatizing year for Sharon Dipio (not real names) but this has not deterred her from pursuing her dream to become a midwife once she completes her education.
With the support of champion parents (fathers and mothers), her parents and community members, Sharon – who was raped when she was 14 – is hopeful that one day, she will realize her dream. Her only concern is that with the schools still closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, she is not sure when she will start school again. Sharon is in Primary 6, and in 2021, she would be completing her primary education.
“Many girls in my community have been married off. Even my own sister ran off with a man at 17 years. But for me, I want to continue with my education once the schools re-open. I want to become a midwife. These people are important because they save the lives of pregnant women and the unborn child,”
UNICEF through Trailblazers Mentoring Foundation (TMF) with funding from the David Beckham Foundation identifies and trains champion parents in communities who sensitize adolescent boys and girls and encourage them to stay in school. David Beckham Foundation funding is channeled through the United Kingdom National Committee for UNICEF. Each school in the community has three champion parents.
The champion parents provide counselling and advice, and liaise with local authorities and police when girls are abused. Godfrey Obulejo, a champion parent in Pagirinya village says that when Sharon’s parents alerted him about her rape, he informed the police who worked with the health centre in the area to provide Sharon with post-exposure prophylaxis to reduce the risk of HIV infection and an emergency contraceptive pill. The case was expedited, and the culprit has since been sentenced and jailed.
“I have been counselling the girl. I encouraged her not to drop out of school. I talked to the neighbours and parents to support their daughter, and warned them to never discriminate against her. She is fine now and has been going to school until the lockdown was initiated due to COVID-19,” says Obulejo.
The closure of schools is worrying Sharon who has tried to revise schoolwork from home.
“When I don’t go to the garden, I revise my books. Sometimes I listen to the radio when teachers are teaching but they are too fast. It is difficult to write any notes. I just listen in. I can’t revise my notes in the night because we do not have electricity,”
She says while showing me her science notes. I mention that she has a very good handwriting.
Sharon, a member of the Girls Education Club at her school, says they were taught how to communicate well, be assertive and make reusable sanitary pads. The club was established by TMF with UNICEF support and funding from David Beckham Foundation.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Sharon meets with fellow girls to discuss how they can protect themselves from early marriage and teenage pregnancy. During these discussions, the girls also talk about the importance of education and how they can stay in school.
Champion parents in Sharon’s community established a Girls Education Club, which is also open to boys. “The champion parents give us advice on how to stay safe. We discuss our challenges and identify possible solutions. We take part in music, dance and drama and learn traditional dances and poems,” says Sharon.
Obulejo says schoolchildren also use the Girls Education Club to compare notes on their respective subjects. The club meets on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
With a supportive system at home, in the community and through local leaders, many girls and boys can be protected from violence and abuse. Even though the champion parents tend to focus on girls who are the most vulnerable, the boys are not left out either.
Sammy Poro, Adolescent Development Specialist, UNICEF Gulu Field Office, says boys are allies to the girls and all the adolescent-related activities in northern Uganda target both sexes.