Young Ugandan Leila Nassanga is a university student, a youth leader – and a U-Reporter
By Maria Nabatanzi
International Day of the Girl Child is 11 October. This year’s Day focuses on innovating for girls’ education. Smart and creative use of technology, policies, partnerships and, most of all, the engagement of young people, themselves, are important for overcoming barriers to girls’ learning and achievement.
Leila Nassanga is a university student, a youth leader and a passionate advocate for girls’ education. She is also a U-Reporter.
KABOWA RUBAGA, Uganda, 22 October 2013 – Leila Nassanga distinctly recalls the negative attitudes people had about her dream of becoming a civil engineer, when she was a young girl growing up in Kabowa Rubaga.
That part of her childhood weighs on her heavily. Leila feels strongly that positive changes in policy and communities’ perceptions have been made, but society’s idea of the girl child needs to change, as well. “Society looks at the girl child from history,” she says. “When a girl stands up for her values, it is seen as a sign of disrespect to adults, especially men.
“Girls keep quiet because they fear what society will think of them,” she adds.
Youth leader, U-Reporter
Leila has completed her higher diploma in civil engineering from Kampala Polytechnic, and is now studying at Ndejje University. She is a volunteer youth leader at a community-based organization, Girls Education Movement, a role that has made her feel that young people must have a voice in their communities.
Leila has also become a U-Reporter. To Leila, U-Report is “a strategy that can add value to young people’s lives. They have issues and they fear to speak up, they don’t know where to get assistance.”
U-Report is communications technology developed by UNICEF Uganda and launched in May 2011. Since its inception, it has been revolutionizing social mobilization, monitoring and response efforts. The initiative equips mobile phone users with the tools to establish and enforce new standards of transparency and accountability in development programming and services.
By sending the text message ‘join’ to a toll-free number and submitting a few personal details, anyone with a mobile phone can become a volunteer U-Reporter, sharing her or his observations and ideas on a wide range of development issues, including education. There are now over 230,000 U-Reporters like Leila in Uganda. The average age of subscribers is 24.
Passion, dignity and respect
Recently, U-Report conducted a poll that included questions on early pregnancy and education. Responses highlighted the vulnerability of girls in Uganda, especially in districts like Katakwi, where Leila says she has seen young girls’ dreams crushed by limited guidance and information. “Puberty makes them vulnerable,” she says. “They look like a woman, but still think like a girl.”
With a lack of services and little community support, she continues, parents are afraid to speak up on behalf of their girls. “In communities with a history of instability, families think of the girl as a way to gather wealth,” Leila says. Or, “She gets pregnant, and they negotiate instead of pursuing action because they don’t want to cause trouble in their communities. The girl ends up leaving school.”
Leila’s inspired to keep working with girls by helping them to stay in school and take advantage of their opportunities. She has dreams, and she encourages other girls to follow theirs.
“I would like women to pursue their dreams with passion, dignity and respect,” she says. “Through my work, I empower young girls by counseling them and teaching them life skills so that they avoid bad situations.
“[T]hrough U-Report, young women can learn the significance of making sure their voices are heard.”