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Improving lives of teenage mothers in Uganda

Down in Eastern Uganda in Bugiri, Nabukalu sub-county Robert Mulinda, a resident in a community with a high rate of teenage pregnancy teamed up with a group of social scientist to start an initiative called Young Mothers Health Initiatives Uganda, an organisation that aims at uplifting the status of young people especially young mothers through provision of guidance pertaining to maternal and child health services, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), entrepreneurship and life skills. Most of the activities undertaken in this space revolve around Control, Prevention and Support relying on a few available resources they possess like their network and expertise.

In one of my interactions with Robert (the director of this initiative), he shared with me a story about a pregnant 16 year old friend he once knew who lost her life together with that of the baby due to the fact that she relied on friends maternal advice rather than antenatal care on top of lacking her family’s support and lost a lot of blood before she could get any professional help on her due date. This is what this initiative is up against in this community.

As a prevention measure of future teenage pregnancies, continuous educative sharing platforms among peers have been created by this initiative with an aim of strengthening family support through community dialogues, championing teenage mothers to offer educational talks on behaviour change in communities and in schools as well as sensitization in which they involve community health workers, government stakeholders, parents, husbands and other health professionals to participate in this crucial dialogue.

As a way of improving the social-cultural environment, and in order to avert social stigma for young mothers to feel socially accepted and supported, this team provides solar lighting systems to be used during delivery and to support health workers in labour wards that offer post-delivery monitoring and management of mothers and their newborns in health facilities at night in the community for example in Nabukalu health facility. The team has also trained champion young mothers to conduct door to door dialogues with their peers and spouses to help increase antenatal care visits and health facility deliveries. Backyard vegetable gardening have been supported in this society to help these mothers (as well as those who are lactating or still expecting) to attain cheap value-added diets with locally available foods.

Through offering young people with vocational skills training programs in area of computer studies, tailoring and hair dressing, the initiative supports and works with mothers to help ensure financial stability that will help them support their families, build a foundation for them to run small scale projects and also help them sustain their income. The income earned out of this allows them to afford health care services and meet their families’ needs.

Young Mothers Health Initiative Uganda also actively engages in a number of community interventions including:

  1. Providing the necessary sexual and reproductive health education currently lacking in schools to allow youth to make informed decisions.

  2. Training young mothers to become champions in their communities to conduct community-based health outreaches, teach, inform and counsel other youth about their perspective, their struggles, and how they accessed the support they needed

  3. Holding community outreaches on life change and family support facilitated by partners in health systems, business related fields and law providers to encourage dialogue between them and young mothers.

  4. Involving teenage mothers in counselling, training and teaching them how to grow vegetables in their compound for improved nutrition and income generation as captured in the video below, created by the organization.

  5. Fostering innovative partnerships with existing organizations with similar objectives to create an environment where young mothers can thrive.

Achieving success through the above registered progress, Young Mothers Health Initiatives Uganda goes through a path with thorns that most times test their commitment but they stand still and firm in respect to what they set out to do in their community. These challenges that include;

  1. Working in a community that is locked in unconstructive perceptions about empowerment of the youth young teenage mothers for example the idea of this initiative supporting the mothers to stay in school even after giving birth, the created platform to help the girls make informed choices on things that matter in their life are seen as a waste of time by most elders. To solve this, they have continued to hold community dialogues and meetings and involving all age groups in the community to get involved for them to understand what this initiative is up against.

  2. They have also faced hindrances from elders in organizing their events, outreaches including meeting. Where the resistance efforts surpass those of this initiative’s leaders, they simply go online and interact with those who can manage getting connected virtually.

  3. They are also faced with continued financial constraints most of the times and yet their aim is to reach and stay in touch with the mothers; to monitor and guide them through this transformation journey. In response to this they have counter attacked this challenge by their continued effort to organize fundraising events and also partner with health facilities and community members to help support their activities. In most cases, the initiative members also send out broadcast messages to well-wishers encouraging them to join this great cause through financial support and donations.

From my observation, the community has responded positively to this initiative, something that supports this organisation to this day.

Robert Mulinda; the director of this initiative also informs us that through their community interventions, they seek to uplift young mothers and equip them with the ability to support themselves mentally, emotionally, physically and above all financially in future. As the initiative continues to grow its impact, the team also hopes to mitigate the dropout rate in schools caused by teenage pregnancy as they continue to encourage and advocate for the already existing teenage mothers to go back to school and pursue their once sought dreams, have income-generating projects to support their families and act as agents of change to other young people through their experiences.

As an effort to help support the teenage mothers, they have managed to procure sewing machines with a future prospect of training as many mothers and girls as possible to make reusable pads and therefore create an enabling environment for girls in schools and the entire community to access all the relevant information needed by their target beneficiaries.

In his last remarks, Robert Mulinda; the Director of Young Mothers Health Initiatives Uganda advises us to have a heart for our communities because every young person has the ability and responsibility to be an impact creator no matter one’s family background and concludes by saying “I believe that the best way to tackle any problem is by concentrating on both preventing the causes and continuously working to lessen the effects.”

In the course of writing this powerful story, I have learnt it’s the little things that we often overlook that can help us create the change we all want to see in the world. If we can change the way we all treat and see young mothers, they will subconsciously alter how they view and treat themselves. Statistics have it that in the next ten years, 5.5million children will be born to teenage mothers implying that not only are they part of the future, they are actively rising a future. If we can offer encouragement and support rather than criticism and judgment to these mothers, then we’ll be all positively impacting a future of over 5.5 million people in just a small moment.

A video created by the organisation to show what the teenage mothers have to share in regards to this powerful community-based initiative.

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