It is not uncommon in Uganda for girls get pregnant at a very tender age and often times their male counterparts are out of the picture. Actually, in most cases, it is very hard getting teenage boys in the discussion about such a topic because they are not the ones who get pregnant. They feel they are less concerned.
When a girl gets pregnant, her life takes a dramatic turn. She may drop out of school, be disowned by her family or even married off. This is never the case for the boys responsible for the pregnancy; their studies are never hindered nor do their parents ever doubt their innocence. Others have gone ahead to deny pregnancies or even flee from their villages and schools; the case is however different for a group of boys at Buhimba Technical Institute (BTI) in the western district of Hoima.
Kawooya Mugagga, 23 years, a second year student pursuing a National Certificate in Agriculture at the Institute was inspired to counsel his female counterparts against teenage pregnancy having learnt lessons from his own experience.
“I was in my first year at this institute in 2016 when I got into a relationship with one of the girls here. She got pregnant and was suspended from school. Her friends, scorned her, she lost confidence and was always lonely until she was pushed out of school,” Mugagga recollects.
Confused about the next move and uncertain about her parents’ reaction, Mugagga’s then 18 year old girl friend vowed to abort the baby so she could be accepted back into the institute and society.
“In the first place I had been hesitant to take responsibility and always avoided her. I didn’t care about her feelings and didn’t mind what she went through until I learnt about her thought to have an abortion that I felt touched. I realized I could do something to save both her future and probably that of her baby,” he says.
In the meantime, he sought counseling from one of the girls who headed the Reproductive Health club at the institute to seek guidance on how she could be helped.
This was a club my friends and I always ignored yet it had helpful information for us. This club, among other activities; sensitized girls on how to avoid unintended pregnancies by avoiding unsafe sex, prevention of STIs, and having control over temptations that could make them drop out of school.
These issues are there to help girls stay in school and not us the boys; he thought. But this time he realized he needed help too.
“The girls counseled and advised me to stand- by- my girlfriend; counseled me about safe sex through demonstrating the proper use of a condom, abstinence and responsibility. They also cautioned me against making the same mistake,” he says, the experience opened his eyes and he was now ready to take the right decision.
After convincing his girlfriend to have the baby and return to school thereafter, the 23 year old was inspired to help many other girls avoid unintended pregnancies.
He also wanted to protect his male counterparts at school from making the same mistake.
In his second year, Mugagga was set out to head the club with guidance from Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU). This would advance his ambitions to fight teenage pregnancy both at the institute and in his community.
RHU is a nongovernment organization committed to increasing access to sexual reproductive health information and services especially for young people to lead healthy and productive lives.
At the moment, Mugagga is the deputy chairperson of the reproductive health club at the institute. In this club, Mugagga and his colleagues act as peer educators who guide and counsel their fellow peers.
In his role as a peer educator, he shares his past experience with both girls and boys who have just joined the institute and sensitizes them on how to avoid unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections especially HIV..
Similarly, he teaches the male new comers at the institute the importance of abstinence and the proper use of condoms in case they fail to abstain.
“I have since supported my girlfriend even after she gave birth and i was able to talk to the administration to have her return to school with our baby who is now five months. I ask my parents for money so that we can pay one of the ladies here at school to take care of the baby while we are in class,” he adds.
Mugagga is not alone at the institute, his senior who is the chairperson of the reproductive health club Shafik Atugonza, 19, is more passionate about counseling new arrivals and other teenagers about unintended pregnancies.
One instance is when Atugonza picked on a female student at the school who was being discriminated by her fellow girls shortly after testing positive during the routine pregnancy check-up at the school.
“I decided to help her. I supported her during her last days at school because fortunately the school administration had agreed to let her finish her final exams. As a leader of the reproductive health club, I stood by her and cautioned her against the dangers of abortion and she accepted to carry the baby till birth,” Atugonza recollects.
Also, Atugonza uses such examples during health talks with other girls at the institute especially about the likely outcomes if they did not abstain and also cautions those who stigmatize such victims.
“The training we get from Reproductive Health Uganda as peer educators on counseling skills especially for our peers is what has enabled us to fight the challenge of teenage pregnancy and we shall also ensure to do the same when we return to our communities at home and even when we leave school,” Atugonza speaks with passion.
Sharon Kyosaba 17, one of the club beneficiaries says she had started missing class and coming to school occasionally until Atugonza and Mugagga sat her down and advised her against the direction she was taking.
“I had just joined this institute in 2016 when a man started making advances at me. He told me to stop school and run a business he would set up for me. He even promised to marry me. Having received counseling from the peer educators at school, I asked for more information about him and that is when he revealed to me that he was married with children,” Kyosaba says.
At her age, she is thankful that the boys helped her realize early enough the mistake she was about to make, one she would have regretted her entire life. She had never had the chance to have such a conversation with anyone including her parents.
Mr Akoki Anyamo, the Institute’s principal acknowledges the role played by the boys at the institute saying they were stuck with the challenge of teenage pregnancy because they had no serious guidelines to censor the students.
“So, the girls got pregnant and some would even abort which we have realized has since dropped with the help of the club… there also is an attitude change. We have since asked the students to form clubs and a member of staff to work with them. We get one evening every week where the students meet and discuss especially their behaviors as adolescents. At the moment, the school has 50 girls out of the 130 students.But as much as the number is increasing, we no longer have cases of teenage pregnancies,” Mr. Amanyo notes.
Current statistics by the Hoima Municipality local government indicate that the rate of adolescents (10 to 19 years) who give birth stands at 17 per cent.
BY LILIAN NAMAGEMBE