Thursday, January 2, 2014

Manuela....our newest staff member

This is Manuela.

She is Fount of Mercy's Community Health Initiative Program Associate.

She also was one of our beautiful scarf models this year!

Manuela is the newest member of Fount of Mercy’s (FOM) local staff.  She completed her diploma in Social Work and Social Development in January 2012, and came on staff part-time later that year.  

We are happy to announce that, thanks to a grant we received this year, Manuela became full-time this year!  

This work is truly her passion.  In her own words, Manuela states, “I love my job so much, as part of my job is to develop people in my community.”
So, what does Manuela do with FOM?  And, why is it so important?
In Uganda, women and young girls are often marginalized.  Culturally and historically, women have been treated as possessions; being valued as commodities for their fertility and their usefulness in the home and garden.  As teenagers, they are often given for marriage to older men because the family, who struggles in poverty, will receive a bride-price in return.   As older women, they can be a part of a plural marriage, in which a man takes many wives. However, he cannot provide for them all, let alone all the children he creates with them.  They suffer as much from poor self-esteem as they do from physical need.  As a result of these [and many other] problems, a cycle is created.  
A family’s poverty leads to giving of teenaged wives, who have not finished high school and don’t know basic information about their own menstruation, reproduction, birth control, and/or disease such as HIV/AIDS.  Combine this with the fact that, culturally, it is inappropriate for a girl to talk to her own mother about these topics.  It would be ideal if a girl confided in an aunt or teacher.  Unfortunately, more often than not, a girl will turn to her peers whose knowledge base is equally lacking. Many will enter either a formal marriage or an informal sexual relationship without the knowledge they need to protect themselves and prevent situations that will escalate the hardships in their lives. These include unplanned pregnancies, plural marriages, abandonment, disease, abuse, etc. As a result, a cycle is created in which misinformed young girls grow up into misinformed women who give birth to a new generation of women who lack that same information. 
Manuela combats this problem by hosting what FOM refers to as “Girls Camps” for groups of adolescent girls.  She goes into a community and mobilizes the local female youth by using the local schools and community leaders.  Then, they meet with Manuela and she gives them life-saving information. The curriculum used in FOM Girls Camps is designed to combat the dangerous cycle of misinformation concerning women's bodies in Uganda.  These myths can lead to unplanned pregnancies and HIV infection. The goals of the classes are to replace myths with facts, and to create a generation of women who educate and empower each other.   

Manuela has also developed a Boys Camp to be taught alongside the Girls Camps.  We hope to implement this course in 2014.  Women’s quality of life in Uganda is often dependent on how the men in their lives treat them. If boys are taught to respect and value the girls in their life, then later they will become men who value and respect the women in their lives.
In order to affect more and more girls and boys, Manuela also teaches what FOM calls a “Life Skills Course” to adults who work with youth.  The adults can then teach the course in their own communities.  The curriculum she uses is based on seven principles of behavior change developed by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS).  The belief is that once individual motivation is in place, then skills can be implemented and information given to create a positive life change in youth.   These positive life changes include effective communication, decision-making, thinking, managing emotions, assertiveness, self-esteem building, resisting peer pressure, and relationship skills.  This course goes hand-in-hand with the Girls Camps, as once a youth possesses these life skills, they can take the information from the Girls Camps and have the confidence and tools to apply it in their own lives.  The hope is that women who understand their bodies, their health, their relationships and their lives as a whole will be able to make decisions for themselves that are healthy and positive. 
Manuela is the perfect liaison for this work.  She not only has the educational background, but the heart and the understanding of what it is like to be a youth and a woman in Uganda.  She has also overcome the hardship of growing up without her parents.  As many Ugandan children do, Manuela lived with relatives.  This can often be a hard situation, as many times these “extra” children are last on the extremely long list of priorities, so they don’t receive school fees, adequate medical care, clothing, or even food.  Manuela has worked hard to earn her diploma and hopes that her job with FOM can last for a long time and she can pursue more schooling.  

We hope so too!