UGANDA: My Experience in Youth Empowerment and Self-Care

By SJ Gillespie

With the tussle and stress of life, it’s easy to overlook proper self-care. Last July, as a Planned Parenthood Global Youth Ambassador, I traveled to Uganda to explore the topic of youth empowerment and self-care with the intent to bring lessons learned back to Buffalo.

Planned Parenthood Global sees a healthier world reflected in the eyes of every young person and is dedicated to providing the opportunities and tools to make that vision a reality. As part of this vision, the Global Youth Ambassador Fellowship program provides young people engaged with a Planned Parenthood affiliate the opportunity to work with a reproductive health service and/or advocacy organization that partners with Planned Parenthood Global in Africa. This fellowship allows them a unique opportunity to learn through direct experience, make lasting connections, and apply this experience in a funded project at home.

I was placed with Planned Parenthood Global’s partner, Reach a Hand, Uganda (RAHU), an innovative sexual and reproductive health and awareness (SRHR) youth-focused edutainment organization. I supported RAHU’s efforts for 16 days based in their office in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. After traveling through Amsterdam on two very long flights, the seven-hour time difference revealed an exciting new space in Kampala. The city, adorned with red roofs from the red soil, is fresh and beautiful especially at night with lights sprinkling the hillsides. One thing I admired about Ugandan culture, which came through in music I listened to, was the strong pride apparent in being Ugandan. And I think what makes RAHU a brilliant youth empowerment organization is their ability to integrate music and popular culture into their SRHR health communication messaging to appeal to young people. One of the projects RAHU is leading leads and will soon roll out is a girls’ empowerment music video, a collaboration with with music artists. Start to finish, it’s a production with healthy lyrics, visuals, and community impact.

Over my 16 days, I engaged with RAHU staff to explore tools for healthy youth development of SRHR attitudes, skills and knowledge. I helped support two weekend “FLY, Do Your Thing” anti-tobacco school activation events. The day-long events bring games and social bonding activities, surprise Ugandan music artists performing top-charting music, and youth taking the stage to showcase their talent; all in an effort to promote healthy decision making. During my second weekend with RAHU, I supported delivery of “Get Up Speak Out (GUSO) Share 101” a media training that advised journalists and stakeholders on strategies for communicating SRHR topics to their audiences. The GUSO fellowship took place in Jinja, Uganda, known as the base of the Nile. From my time in East Africa and witnessing the brilliance of RAHU efforts to the majesty of the Nile, I became reassured by the theory that humanity arose from this region of land, the “Pearl of Africa”.

One of the challenges faced by enough youth of color in the U.S. is a lack of space and assurance to understanding their self-worth and own inner brilliance. Self-care remains an overlooked public health topic, yet the need to emphasize self-love and acceptance exists as the essential foundation to healthy relationship development, informed decision making, and resilience to life’s challenges, especially as to relates to navigating sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

There’s a philosophy that in order to offer healthy self-care guidance, you yourself must practice self-rejuvenation. During my experience, I snuggled in some self-care in with a chance to take a yoga class and did tons of self-practice and meditations on my apartment patio looking out to the beautiful mountain ranges of Kampala. With RAHU, my interests in exploring afro-centric, promotion-focused health messaging, manifested as a photovoice project titled, “You for You, Uganda”. Photovoice is a public health tool where a collection of photos are meant to advocate for a call to action. For “You for You, Uganda,” I traveled to three community-based RAHU partners to interview young Ugandans on their self-care practices. After our conversation, participants received a mini instant film portrait to help affirm self-worth. The “You for You, Uganda” exhibit will be showcased at RAHU’s 2017 Intergenerational Dialogue Event in Kampala, Uganda in November. Multidisciplinary professionals, community members, and SRHR stakeholders will convene to explore the topic of self-care.

At my core, I believe sound SRHR attitudes, skills, and knowledge are critical to building resilient individuals and politically aware communities, making accessible health care service and community-based education critical to healthy generational development.

This fall, I’m excited to offer SRHR & self-care workshops known as “Galactic Magic” to interested teens, newly arrived to the United States. As a major resettlement city, Buffalo has welcomed over 10,000 people since 2003, a 95% increase in foreign-born city residents. With the GYA experience, I aim to offer culturally-aware, promotion-focused health education to Buffalo, New York’s recently immigrated black refugee community, many arriving from Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and Central Africa.

Applying lessons learned with Reach a Hand, Uganda, Planned Parenthood of Central & Western New York, in collaboration with Native American Community Services will offer Saturday Academy workshop at Lafayette high school starting on October 7, from 10am-12pm. Over the course of several weeks, youth will create their own photovoice projects, sew sustainable menstrual products, and explore accessible self-care activities. The engagement, centered on youth access to sexual and reproductive health information, will end in a Photovoice Gallery Reception showcasing youth creativity.

If you are interested in registration, learning more about these “Galactic Magic” workshops, or see opportunities for community collaboration, please contact:____________________.
SJ Gillespie is an Outreach and Education Specialist for Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York. She is one of three Global Youth Ambassadors for 2017-2018.

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