Brenda (not real names) is a vibrant young woman. If you look at her today, it will be hard to imagine that some years ago, she was on the brink of despair and ready to give up on life.
Brenda lives in Kiteso, Kasese Municipality. She is an orphan. Both her parents died when she was still young and she had to find a way to survive.
“At the age of 17, I was taken by a friend to Kampala to work as a house girl. I got a job at a home of a man who was not married. This man raped me several times until I started living with him as his wife,” Brenda says. Months down the road, Brenda got pregnant. When she visited the hospital she was told she was HIV positive. She had to break the news to the man responsible, and the reaction she got was devastating.
Her friends were kind enough to give her money for transport and she returned to Kasese, where Good Samaritans helped her to go to TASO Kilembe hospital. When it was time to give birth, tragedy struck again.
“I gave birth to a dead child,” Brenda says. “I stayed in the hospital for some time waiting for my death because I knew nobody was coming in to help me. None of my relatives bothered about by existence. At that time, I prayed to God to take me very fast because I did not want to get in too much pain and yet I had no body to help me,” she says as she breaks into sobs, recalling her past. Not all was lost though and someone took pity on her.
“One day, Madam Rose Mary Kagoda who was visiting the hospital sympathised with me and took me to her home. Madam Kagoda is a Rotarian and counsellor. When she found me at the hospital, she asked about my details and why I was there alone. When I told her my story she was touched and that is why she took me to her home,” Brenda narrates.
Ms Kagoda immediately contacted National Youth Organisation for Development (NAYODE) who helped Brenda to get medicine and food which enabled her regain her health. Ms Kagoda says she contacted NAYODE because members in the organisation always act fast whenever she requests them to respond to an issue.
“I saw that this innocent girl was in danger, that is why I contacted them and good enough they responded very fast,” said Ms Kagoda.
Brenda’s life improved tremendously. “NAYODE would give me a tin of Penta sure nutritious food imported from New Zealand which has helped me regain my energy. I was also taken through sexual reproductive health rights sensitisation and connected to the Good Life Project for more counselling and treatment. I could not have afforded this without NAYODE which I am told is being supported by Independent Development Fund (IDF),” Brenda says. She adds that she is happy and feels better, and that the counselling has enabled her to get back on track with her life.
“I now feel hopeful about the future,” she says.
“The last two years of support received from NAYODE has enabled me to start up a small market business that supports my basic needs,” Brenda says with a smile, adding, “I have now left Madam Kagoda’s home and I live and sustain myself. I often go to her to thank her for rescuing me. I plan to gradually save some money and enrol for a salon business course or handicraft and value addition skills,” Brenda says, clearly hopeful about the future and ready to grab opportunities that come her way.
What other people say about Brenda
Brenda is not the only one who is happy about her improved life. Even those around her are happy to see how far she has come. Mr. Yasin Tumwine, Executive Director of NAYODE says, “What I liked about Brenda is her positive attitude and resilience to fight for her life. When she was still sick, she would carry her mattress and come to attend the sensitisation classes. She doesn’t suffer stigma.”
Another project supporter also praised Brenda’s will to help others who are going through what she suffered, saying: “Whenever we go out to the community for sensitisation, we go along with Brenda; she requests to be given a slot to share with girls in similar situations. She inspires the community when she shares on issues of sexual reproductive health rights, HIV/AIDS, procedures on seeking police redress and empowerment. She says that once you have some income, one cannot be lured into jobs that compromise their rights.”
Brenda is but one of many girls in Kasese who have suffered defilement. Data shows that defilement is Kasese is still high with 37 cases being reported to police every month according to the 2015 Police Annual Crime Report. The fact that most of the cases go unreported makes dealing with the challenge an even bigger problem.
Even then, IDF and her partner NAYODE have been dealing with this problem by putting in place measures to prevent such occurrences, and also, to enable the victims to overcome the trauma and other challenges associated with defilement.
According to the Uganda Police Force (UPF) annual crime reports, registered defilement cases increased from 8,635 in 2008, to 9,598 in 2013. Victims of defilement are rarely prepared to defend themselves simply because the perpetrators are close to them and most often are trusted adults or those in charge of their lives. Worse still, when this happens, the victims seldom report because of the stigma associated with the act in most Ugandan cultures. Stella (not real names) one of the supported survivors of defilement in Kasese district under the project implemented by NAYODE is one of those who kept quiet. She says, “When I was raped by the strangers, I could not report. I feared how people would look at me including my own parents. It was not until I got pregnant that I had no option but to report to my parents.”
Although the cases are many and sometimes hard to get to the bottom of, IDF and NAYODE continue to seek out these young girls who need all the help they can get because a difference made in one girl’s life, is a difference made in a family.
“When I told the man, he chased me from his home without paying me. This man came from Hoima so I took my friends to his home to ask him to pay me so that I could return to Kasese. We were told that he left the place and we could not trace him,” she says.