Monday, November 24, 2008

Kampala, Uganda

This morning Irene and I gave another seminar to a number of youth groups. Most of the youth either live in, or work in, the slum the clinic is based out of. I discovered today it is the largest slum in Uganda.

They all speak English as a second language, after Luganda, so Irene and I both presented in simple words and tried to speak slowly. Even so, at times there was a need for a translation break. Some of the participants had excellent english, but others struggled. I also gave a presentation on Assisted Reproductive Technologies. Seems farfetched to present those technologies to youth from a slum, some of whom haven't even graduated from high school, and all of whom are in need of basic necessities and jobs. I wasn't sure whether they would understand it, or be interested in it.

In presenting WYA, and following Irene's presentation they all expressed a great desire for knowledge. The needs they feel the most, at the moment, are for seminars, workshops, opportunities to learn and to network. With those needs met they feel confident they can even then create their own jobs and opportunities.

I attempted to present the basic biology of the technologies, and then outlined the areas for potential exploitation involved. During my presentation, I was shocked to see that many of the girls in the room had tears in their eyes and many of the guys also looked quite saddened. The points on the potential to exploit poor women hit home in a huge way.

Speaking with one of the participants afterwards, I learned that transactional sex remains a huge part of Ugandan life, especially here in Kampala. Many children from rural areas are AIDS orphans and people will convince them to come to Kampala with promises of money, they are then forced to beg on the streets or work in prostitution. Rapings and defilement are apparently common at every level; from uncles, teachers, taxi drivers, everyone.

In the schools, teachers will either ask for money or sex in order to give a good grade - if a student doesn't agree then they will receive a poor grade regardless of what they deserve. The teacher will simply assign their grade to another student who does pay or have sex with them. There is no mechanism for students to appeal, they all are aware of the system.

Girls at night will often be raped by taxi drivers or other men around. Breaking into houses is common too, and often the men have guns.

Even girls who get into university will often have one man who pays for their books, another for their shoes, another for their hair, and then their real boyfriend - whom they love. It is not just among poor girls, girls who are somewhat well off but who want something nice sooner than later will sleep with a wealthy older man to get a new dress, new car, etc. There are signs throughout Uganda about getting rid of cross-generational sex.

I even learned today that at the local university there is one older man who will pay girls a certain amount for each date they go on with him. All the girls know that he is ill with AIDS, but because he pays so well many of them will go with him anyways. The younger men, because they don't have such money, have great difficulty in finding a girlfriend. Even the modelling agencies will hire out their models to men as they go on business trips or marry them off to wealthy businessmen. The agencies then get a nice kickback from what the models earn.

HIV has started to rise again, especially in Kampala. The young people are aware that having sex with an older man can kill them, but they see the nice things their friends are getting, they see the celebrities on tv and they ignore all the warnings. The youth who were telling me this aren't sure of what to do next. When the information is there, access to retrovirals is there also although much more limited - then it is difficult to do much more.

Unless they were to get rid of corruption and offer opportunities to the girls and to families instead of transactional sex?

No comments: