Through the eyes of a Ugandan Teen...
This is a guest blog written by Mebbo Anderson and Jenn Karina (Anderson)
It is my pleasure to introduce you to my beautiful, intelligent, tenacious daughter Mebbo (Membo) Anderson. I (Jenn) have had the honor of sponsoring her since she was 5 years old (now along with two other amazing families who came along side to make sure she has all of the support needed). I invited Mebbo to guest blog this month, to share a candid, raw perspective of how Covid has been impacting the youth of Uganda from a teen point of view. My request was that she used her own words, her unfiltered, real thoughts, and to share without worry of how it comes across.
So buckle up folks, as you hear first hand from one of our amazing youth on the ground in Uganda. Mebbo (who many know as Membo) is 15 and in the equivalent of 10th grade. She is an extremely dedicated student, and has dreams to change Uganda and her home community. She is one of the most driven people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.
To clarify her writing I am including my commentary in italics. This is not This is real life, raw necessarily a feel good post and we left it unfiltered for a purpose. I believe that sometimes we have to just hear truth so we know how to pray and how to help. This is one of those rare opportunities to get a real glimpse into the lives of those we love and serve. And as always, I am available for any questions. Simply ask.
Here we go.....
Mebbo, can you share with our supporters your perspective of how Covid is impacting the lives of the youth in Uganda. Don't hold back, I want your words to be yours. Don't worry about offending anyone, I want the real story. We won't fully understand unless we hear the truth.
So actually it has been a really tough journey that many people have failed to accomplish their dreams because of this covid.... When schools were first shut down in the first wave we didn't consider this serious as we expected for things to return to normal very soon. Most students survive at school because there is free food, clean water and even schools honestly keep us busy that some stuff falls out of our minds like relationships. Just imagine schools being closed, now you have to stay at home and wait on that chance of one meal for a day to pass with no food. There is no soap at either. Who will sacrifice the little money for food to buy you soap or pads? Of course no one! And you can't get even mad at anyone because you just have to see the situation and understand. Not like when you are at school where you are given free pads, soap , food and all those amazing stuffs and above all good advice.
I imagine is has been frustrating to not be able to move onto the next school class because schools are closed and there is not way for you to move up to the next grade in a timely manner. Tell us about this...
Imagine asking yourself am I supposed to be in the next grade this year? Now look at me all grown and I have to repeat this freaking grade just because this virus hell? When do l even know they will open schools again?
I am hearing that students and their families are losing hope of their growing kids especially teen daughters to go to school and complete their education before they become adults. How is that impacting the girls? Culturally, many girls are married off early, so I imagine that this is adding to that stress.
Girls are thinking, now what should l do? Maybe let me get myself a boyfriend to help out with somethings like meeting my needs. Oh my heavens, little did you know about the worst consequences of relationships and Ugandan local boys believe that when you give a girl money then you must have sex with her. Now girls go for that without any protection resulting into pregnancy, some girls decide to run away and go to look for some jobs in Kenya in order to stand for the family or as a part of abstinence. I was supposed to be completing my ordinary level at high school next year but because of Covid l don't know when that will even be. Most girls are getting married because they feel they are already grown and tired of waiting for school because they keep on postponing dates of reopening schools. Levels of hunger have deeply increased because our parents can no longer have any access to the markets to sell their peasantry goodies or even get some living blockers.
So peasantry goods are the things families sell to get money like crops they grow or soap they make, etc... What do you mean by living blockers. I am not familiar with this term. Let me explain it this way using you as an example. You are the boss and you want to buy something locally like let's say a cow or banana plantain or anything from the locality. Since you have some money, you just ask someone (blocker) to look for that product you need and he bargains on his own. You give him the money then he buys and brings it to you so the little money maybe he told you it is 1.2m ($342) a cow you gave him 1.25 ($357) so the 0.05m ($14.29) is his to use as transport and his paycheck. That's what blockers do.
I understand that now. Can you tell me more about how all of this is affecting youth in Uganda? I am writing more about girls because it's very hard for girl child's education in Uganda. Just imagine your parents selling you out for marriage just because they want money (dowry) only worth $150 dollars and there is absolutely nothing you can do. When you have a young mind mostly when you didn't get access to join schools like Shikhuyu (Hands of Action's School) where you are trained to defend yourself in all aspects if life.
So, you are saying that girls are often sold into marriage against their will for a dowry paid to their family, sometimes just $150. And there is little to nothing they can do about it, especially if they never received an education from a school like ours where our staff teach against child marriage and teach the value of educating both boys and girls equally. Is that correct? Yes, but It goes beyond that so even when you are well informed, as a girl at times you fail because the family will be like blaming you for any lack in a family. So girls have it more difficult than boys, as they are seen often as a way for the family to survive through a marriage dowry. What about boys? How is Covid impacting them? Boys run to Kenya to hustle. They look for a living (job) like get some money for their future. They say let's wait for the government to open schools but, the government continues postponing! Some dudes are relatively hard working and they make some good amount of money in just a few months. But you know when you have never been handed money in your life, and surprisingly get a chance, woah?! Some people forget their dreams and start saying now why should l even go back to school?? That's how they end up getting married young and fail in life.
The lure of making some money when they have suffered hunger and hardship must be very tempting to these teens. Now with the shut down of schools and no plans for when they will re-open, I imagine this problem is getting bigger and bigger. Is there any hope, Mebbo? What are some of the other things that have been affected by Covid? Spiritual growth has been affected. We had really gotten the chance to believe and trust in Jesus as we were at School and we would pray everyday but since lockdown many have backslid! It really is horrible over here now. Talk about child labour! oh my God! For the orphans and these kids living with step-parents it's worse you cannot run to escape! As some will say - look at this chick! Where is the food you used to brag on at your school? You gotta work for what to eat here! Only God knows for real (the horrible things the children endure)
So our school provided emergency food rations to the students to take home, but nearly no other schools in the country do this. The problem of child labor is getting out of control again in Uganda. I am seeing it on the news and in many posts by other Ugandan run organizations. How is Hands of Action different from these other schools and how are we impacting the welfare of children? But, all in all we really appreciate God for the greatest gift ever seen! Hands of Action has fought most of these challenges at least to the best. During the first wave of Covid, the number of pregnancies where mob (huge) simply because l think we were not ready to address this, but now at least Hands of Action has provided a lot of things to keep the students busy at home. This stops them from loitering everywhere by giving printed assignments to students and they have to present to the school after three days. The studies require serious research. But providing food to at least every family this is the best of all! Parents get to posses that little love for their kids because definitely if you start mistreating me l don't give you my food! Training technical skills like tailoring (sewing) to some parents and some students as for girls they have learnt how to make their own pads, providing soap to the school and paying visits to the unprivileged.
It's so encouraging to hear that all we are doing is making a difference, Mebbo! Yes, we are so proud that we have a pad program for girls and have also trained girls and women to make pads. And we have come to realize the importance of soap for hygiene. In America, we take soap for granted, but in Uganda it is a highly sought after commodity that many villagers cannot afford. This had become even more important with the pandemic. Our staff also pays visits to the students, especially those at highest risk for trafficking. This not only encourages the families but also helps Hands of Action to monitor for abuse and neglect while school is out of session. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about Hands of Action or the hardships of life in Uganda? Yes, above all Hands of Action has trained us to be patient and always put God's will first. Plus knowing where you came from, what your background is and hating the life you grew up with at your parents house has also helped most of us to reach today...
Tell us more about hating the life you grew up with? What does that mean? It's like you have to hate seeing your mother being abused by the nurses just because she didn't go to school, or she is being denied access to borrow food from the shop because the seller thinks there is no hope for her to pay tomorrow, gardening for long hours but no food out of it, begging for water on the way and no one gives because they judge. Some may say she has HIV since she is completely skinny, walking for miles just to look for some medicine for sick kids.
Those are all things that many families face daily in Uganda. Denial of access to basic provisions, and being looked down upon and abused and hurt by others. Seeing your mom go through things like this must break the hearts and spirits of the children.
Yes, and now you feel like you don't even like this life, not even a bit of it! I don't want to go through what my parents have gone thru instead l have to be the one to rescue them and bring a new hope and joy in their lives!
Also many kids hate the life that their parent have come to accept, like only seeing the worst in their children and they even think it is best like forced marriage and denial of rights.
Yes, I understand that forced marriage and denial or basic rights has been practiced for generations, and some families think this is normal. How has Hands of Action worked to changed this in your opinion? Teaching about God is the first priority HOA has done in all the kids around her and yes this has helped them to fight any spiritual obstacle. The provision of utilities like pads, food, soap, clothes has created some change and an improvement in the lives. For example, when a girl gets access to some of these goodies they rarely ask their parents for help. It's important to know that when you ask your drunk parent for help they will say... l was married that age l never depended on my parents so you better figure it out yourself. The school sometimes teaches this girls on how to stand for themselves when they are forced into something that is a hindrance for their future. (Though child marriage is illegal, it is a common practice. Our school educates children and families on the law and our staff even bring families to trial if they sell/marry off their underaged children). By standing on the truth and telling your parents that if you force me into this you will be imprisoned, it helps prevent some marriages. Parents get scared of imprisonment, and girls are saved from this practice.
Mebbo, I have loved hearing your point of view on all of the issues and challenges we have talked about. Thank you so much for taking the time to educate us from your perspective. I am so proud to call you my daughter. I cannot wait to see how God uses you to change so many of these challenges as you get older!
About the Author
Mebbo Anderson attended the Shikhuyu Needy Care school all of her elementary and middle school years. She serves as one of the elite youth staff of Hands of Action International, serving as an official interpreter and assistant to Jenn Karina (Anderson).
Her dreams are big! She wants to become a Surgeon, as surgeons are in deficit in Uganda. She also wants to be an entrepreneur and to serve as an audacity of hope (boldness, fearlessness, with courage) to her community.
Mebbo now attends Buddo Secondary School in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. She was moved out of our school and the village for her health and well being. She is closer to good health care facilities living in Kampala. She returns when Jenn is on the ground to serve with Hands of Action, and also keeps her fingers on the pulse of the village through former classmates, family, and Hands of Action Uganda. She visits her home village as much as possible.
Mebbo has a Dad who is a farmer, Mom who also farms and is leader of a women's group, and incredible sisters all pursing their continued education and working to better the lives of others in Uganda and abroad.
Mebbo is a born again, on fire for Jesus Christian and serves the Lord with every breath she takes.