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BRINGING VOICES TOGETHER: Creating Safe Spaces for Learning During COVID-19


The Bringing Voices Together (BVT) Project is Girl Up Initiative Uganda’s creative way of responding to the specific issues and needs that adolescents are facing as a result of COVID-19 and lockdown measures. This project aims to create safe spaces for adolescents with much-needed learning interventions on sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender-based violence prevention to contribute to a healthy and proactive community of adolescents.


This idea was birthed from the feedback we received from parents through the psychosocial support calls during which the majority of the parents expressed their deep concerns about their children being idle at home and in the communities. Since COVID-19 hit Uganda, adolescents have been out of school for close to seven months and in this time, they are more vulnerable to negative peer pressure, unintended pregnancies, drug and alcohol abuse, gender-based violence and many other negative behaviors and practices.


The cases of child marriage, teenage pregnancies, and gender-based violence are on the rise in Uganda during this period, with one article finding that there have been more than 2,300 teenage pregnancies in just five districts in Uganda during the lockdown. While our team is responding to these cases, we also saw a huge need to prevent future cases by spreading awareness and knowledge among adolescents in our communities.


Therefore, in August, we launched the Bringing Voices Together Project, which is uniquely implemented through community-based, small dialogue circles covering key concerns for adolescent girls and boys, ages 9 to 16 years in the local suburbs of Kampala.

Girl Up Initiative Uganda is engaging adolescents with activities and learning opportunities where they are- in their communities. We have been able to build on our relationships with community leaders to collaboratively find safe spaces for our learning sessions. Our aim is that this project will build momentum to challenge negative attitudes, practices, and norms that perpetuate gender inequalities while also promoting well-being and good decision-making.

“I have witnessed that a good number of adolescents lack access to right and accurate information regarding SRHR, but through Bringing Voices Together, they are able to get that information, which can help them stay grounded as they await the re-opening of schools.”

- Fiona Ekel, AGP Coach

Through this flexible project, adolescents have access to learning opportunities and a safe space where they can interact freely with their peers and with the different GUIU coaches.


We are currently reaching out to 1,280 adolescents, including program participants in the Adolescent Girls Program, Boy Champions Project, and the Big Sisters Network as well as other adolescents in the communities.

In each community, one of our coaches facilitates discussions with a small group of ten adolescent boys or adolescent girls, following the Standard Operating Procedures set by the Ministry of Health. Before the session, the coaches record participants’ temperatures and provide sanitizer and reusable facemasks to each participant, which they carry with them for all sessions. The masks were made by Mazuri Designs Hub, our social enterprise.


The sessions cover topics like communication skills, peer pressure, human rights, gender-based violence, and sexual and reproductive health and rights. We split the groups into single-sex groups to allow for the creation of a safe spaces for free sharing and discussions.


The BVT program participants shared below what they have learnt from the sessions so far:

“We don’t have to run away from bad peers, but we should also try and engage them into doing good things like going to class.”

- Kasule Herman, 15 years old

“Some of us are not passive. Our parents are just harsh to us. You tell them about something that happened to you and they respond rudely.”

- Rebecca Mirembe, 14 years old

As Girl Up Initiative Uganda, we acknowledge the involvement of different community stakeholders, therefore in the design and implementation of the Bringing Voices Together Project, we have been working hand-in-hand with local leaders and the police to ensure safety, a better understanding of the community and the proper ways for disseminating information and learning for adolescents.

“The program has strengthened our relationship with the children, parents, local leaders and the police, which has also helped us to implement the program better.”

- Sharon Kisuki Naigaga, AGP Coach

The Bringing Voices Together Project has been so successful that in each community we have gone to, more adolescents have shown up for trainings than we expected. While we would love to welcome everyone, we have to follow the Standard Operating Procedures and limit each group to ten boys or ten girls.


This project has also taught us that there are many ways to disseminate accurate information to adolescents beyond in schools. The lockdown has proved to us that a platform, such as the Bringing Voices Together Project, can be used to reach out to adolescents while they are on holiday and for out-of-school adolescents.


In the coming weeks and months ahead, we will continue implementing the BVT to ensure that adolescents receive accurate information in supportive and safe spaces.

 
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