As l began my journey to Uganda, l had no clue what l was getting myself into.  That was the beauty of my entire journey: all l knew was how l would use my expertise to change the status quo of women in my new home, Katakwi, a district in the country’s East.  I have recently joined ActionAid Uganda as their gender response and public service advocate and l am stationed in Katakwi Local Rights Cluster.

Both before I entered Uganda, and after, I found that whenever I told people that I was moving to Katakwi, I would receive looks of shock and awe.  That’s because Katakwi is a district once known for insurgencies, back in the days when the Karamoja people were capturing livestock and land from the people in that community.  The Karamoja cattle raiders and different rebel groups worked in the area to topple the government of President Museveni.  The Karamoja are nomads who live in far eastern Uganda and they raid neighbouring tribes for cows.  These people have a belief that that all cows belong to them and since Teso people counted their wealth in cows they targeted them.  In 1990 Teso region experienced the second war just after the Karamoja had left (bbiuganda.org). The last of the insurgencies came in 2002 under the attacks of Joseph Kony of the LRP. Today, the name Katakwi signifies poverty, high teenage pregnancies, school drop-outs, child marriage, poor education, and rampant gender-based violence.

As I went through the report ‘Are our children learning?’ (Uwezo Uganda sixth learning Assessment Report, 2016), l broke down in tears.  It was evident to me that I had a lot of work to do.  Of Katakwi’s students between the ages of 7 and 13 only 21.3% of Grade 2-7  were competent in grade 2 English reading and numeracy.  This simple meant that only 21% of students in primary school could read Grade 2-level work.  The district had the lowest numbers of teachers in the country and, accordingly, a poor pass rate of students in standardized tests.  This went some way towards explaining the high rates of child marriage, teenage pregnancies, and school drop-outs in the area… and it broke my heart.

It became clear to me that education was the key to ending all these inequalities faced by women and girls.  I have to work towards improving the education system in my community, which will allow me to then contribute monumentally towards ending child marriage by keeping girls in school.

Katakwi is a very patriarchal community, with little to no opportunity – let alone priority – given to girls.  As I walked in the dusty roads of Katakwi, l began to visualise the life these young girls and women were living.  I took a walk to the Women Protection Centre run by ActionAid. My work also involves capacity development of psychosocial workers in the protection centre. I also offer advice on various cases that are reporting working together with the women protection centre staff to ensure justice is served. It was in that moment that I almost quit my job and fled home, back to Southern Africa where l had not vividly experienced such cruelty.  Gender-based violence was real, and it was standing right in front of me. 

The 4-year-old boy was burnt and beaten, with a shaking body of broken limbs.  We began to speak, and I unearthed the story of his suffering.  He, like his mother who sat beside him – badly beaten and nonsensical in her shock – was a victim of his father’s rage.  I was then emotionally disturbed and angered; I felt violated as a woman and as a human who wanted nothing more than justice, and was infuriated that there was nothing l could do in that moment to undo their shared suffering.

It is then that I realised I needed to remain in that community and work towards making it a better place.  I might not be able to change everything that needs changing, but I believe in the power of collective effort.  There are a lot of things that need to be changed in Katakwi, and I am confident if we all make a conscious effort to contribute acts of kindness everyday, the world will become a better place automatically.

As I begin my work with ActionAid International Uganda using the Human Rights-Based Approach, l want to empower those women and children to stand up for their rights.  I want to help girls stay in school by setting up safe spaces for girls and mentorship programs.  I want to do all l can to ensure that no child should lose their limbs to violence.  I want every boy and girl to know and believe that no child should be a mother to another child.  I want to break the cycle.

This is the story of my earliest days in Katakwi, but l am positive that next time you read from me, it will be a story of change.  It will be about how you and me have helped a girl child stay in school.  It will be about how we have reduced the cases of gender-based violence in a community that seemed insurmountably violent.  It will be about how the women in this community have been economically empowered towards independence.  The best will be when men police each other to end gender-based violence.  The future President of Uganda, African Union Secretary General, and United Nations Secretary General will all one day be from Katakwi.  This is all possible if we collectively work together, and I am now more determined than ever to be a part of the difference Katakwi will undergo.

 

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