Saturday 22nd October, saw many ladies come in to the Kinawataka site of Reach Out Mbuya HIV/AIDS Initiative to attend a meeting for the mothers below 25years who are termed as young mothers. These, are a fast growing group of people especially due to the fact that some girls drop out of school, are unemployed and idle, which increases their chances of not only engaging in sex that could lead to contraction of HIV but also early pregnancies, bringing children into a miserable world with hardly enough support from their equally young mothers.
The session started with a presentation from Salome Amali, the Legal adviser who took the ladies through a session on human rights and urged the ladies to consult her in case of any issues that concern their rights so that they may get assistance.
She reminded them that they had a right to be with their children and could always get assistance in case their children were being forcefully taken away from them .
“The paternal grandparents chose the names for my child” a 20 year old mother responded when asked about who named their children and whether they knew that they had a right to name their children. Se was not the only one, most of them responded with comments like, “The father dictated the names”, “They refused the name I had chosen for my son.” This is the case of many of the young mothers within the society.
Salome went ahead to advise them on how to process the vital birth certificate which would be required at most stages of their children’s lives, either to register for school or for passports. Birth certificates are also one way of authenticating the children’s names.
This legal education allows the girls to access legal help and assistance in case they are unfairly treated, as is the case of this young lady, though not a client of Reach Out, but a resident in the area that Reach Out operates.
Angel (not real name),a mother to a 6 month old son, was abandoned by the father of her son after he realized that she was pregnant, he accused her of wanting to destroy his marriage and family, a family he had not told her about while he was courting her. She was devastated because he abandoned her while she was pregnant.
“I would love to work, but my child gets in the way of the odd jobs I get, when I tell them I have a 6 month old son, they tell me they can not take me on. He cries a lot and interrupts my work yet I have no one to leave him with.” – Angel
That is the case with many of the young mothers, having to tend to their babies without any stable source of income to sustain them.
They were told about the Reach Out Initiative of Saving groups called Village Savings Loans and Association Schemes where different groups can come together and save a certain amount of money weekly, after which can be shared among the members. Such an arrangement would allow for the young mothers to be able to borrow from the group without a high interest rate so as to create capital for projects that they may engage in.
Reach Out as an organization also recognizes active members in these groups and can offer support whenever possible, for instance by adding capital to the business, if one has bags of cement, they may buy 2 extra bags to boost the income of the members.
One of the Senior Nursing officers, Josephine Ssekintule went ahead to talk to the girls about HIV, since the number ranged from positive to negative, she reminded the negative counterparts that in spite of the fact that they are negative now, that could change in the blink of an eye especially if they were in sexually active relationships.
She went ahead to educate the girls about how to protect their babies from contracting the virus which can be transmitted pregnancy when the mothers fall ill and are nnot treated early or cared for well, during delivery and she advised them to go to hospitals for safe delivery, breastfeeding where she urged them to exclusively breastfeed the babies while giving the the syrup recommended by the doctors to prevent them from contracting HIV, among others.
She also trained them about the best practices of family planning and urged them to space their children well in order to be able to give them the best in life. She also reminded the positive mothers of the need for disclosure, which not only allows the positive partner to adhere well to the ARV’s without missing but also allows for the negative partner to protect themselves from infection.
Agnes (not real name) a commercial sex worker, also a client of Reach Out living with HIV, between 10,000- 20,000 Ugx a day in her trade and though this is an amount that can sustain her, she is a single mother with two HIV positive children and if she doesn’t practice any family planning methods, she could easily have more children that would burden her. She urged the other ladies to embrace condom use as it not only protects them from HIV but also from un-prepared for pregnancies.
Sarah Nassolo a Child care Assistant and staff of Reach Out and also the coordinator for the event that day, tasked the girls to be agents of change in their community, reminding them that this program was meant to empower them to make informed decisions and be the change in the community through taking up the opportunities like savings and vocational training that can be availed to them by Reach Out.
They then agreed to meet again next month and bring more young mothers to benefit from these activities.
There was also voluntary counseling and testing for those who were not sure of their status.