The month of June saw us and other Voices for Health partners including Uganda Health Marketing Group (UHMG), Partners In Community Transformation (PICOT), Forum For Women in Democracy (FOWODE) and HEPS-Uganda taking the #SilenceIsDeadly campaign to four regions in the country; East, West, North and West Nile.
The campaign is a deliberate effort to empower young people with the skill and capacity to bravely address their reproductive health challenges, in search for redress and in the long run, stamping the challenges out completely. Seeing the young people dominated crowds that turned up on 1st June for the launches in Eastern and Western Uganda, and on 22nd in Northern Uganda and West Nile, it is easy to understand the necessity of the campaign.
However, there is always an eyebrow raised when the word empowerment is mentioned. It is indeed ambiguous, and for us to be at per with this read, we will have to break it down. Empowerment by our definition is simply a word that answers the question ‘What must be done?’. It refers to the steps taken and guidelines put in place for a certain goal to be reached.
Seeing as the Silence is Deadly campaign is out to empower young people, here are some of the tips we picked over the four regional launches for us all to reflect on and achieve the end goal; a society where young people can freely enjoy their reproductive health rights so as to reach their full potential.
First, each individual should make it a point to be the person young people can easily open up to. You will find that fear and lack of trust are key reasons why young people are often silent about their challenges. By cultivating a friendly and understanding relationship with them, you provide such a huge platform for them to talk to you, you become a channel that can help them seek workable solutions. In Busia District, Mr Wandera Joseph, the acting deputy headteacher at Buchicha Primary School explained this more closely.
“I have taught many students, and I have learnt that sometimes they prefer to be understood. When you see one coming late more than twice, don’t punish them. Rather understand why. They may have a problem and have no one to talk to” he mentioned.
Whereas it is key for us to be the young people’s comfort zones, it is equally important to often remind young people that they are solely in charge of protecting their lives, as the Mbarara Woman Member of Parliament, Mrs. Rosette Mutambito remarked at the launch of the campaign in Western Uganda.
“Our youth, we love you because you are our young and energetic. Don’t engage in risky behaviour like unprotected sex. Stay safe and seek information to stay educated about making life choices.” She said. Through such constant reminders, young people are kept in check since they have a reference point to make key life decisions.
If you can sing, string a guitar, or dance and there is a huge audience following you, then you have societal influence. According to Preacherman, a Gulu based musician, this kind of influence can be used not only to remind young people on how to keep themselves safe, but also advocate for better services and policies for young people.
“We sing and people listen to us, so if we put messages that can make young people’s lives better, then we make a positive contribution” Preacher Man noted.
Finally, West Nile was a reminder to service providers and health workers that to end the silence, they need to get out of their comfort zone and approach young people to find out their challenges and provide solutions to them. This was well remarked by Goro Grace, the Koboko District Secretary for Social Services.
“We have been suffering as health workers and getting few people at health centres because we have not been talking to you. Now is the time to end the silence together” she noted.
The ball comes back to your hands now. As a member of the squad, a health worker, opinion leader or in whichever position of social standing you hold, you have a role to play to ensure that we shoot the silence on SRHR, and we hope you are playing it right.