By Agnes Kyotalengerire
Every year New Vision, in its Woman Achiever Awards, recognises the unsung heroines, those women who have gone an extra mile to improve the conditions in their communities. In the ninth edition, New Vision, in partnership with UNFPA, is recognising women who have made tremendous contributions to education, especially helping girls who have dropped out of school due to pregnancy or other reasons, to go back to school or attain any form of skills training to better their lives.
In low tones she passionately talks about teenage girls. And from her facial expression you clearly see the love and determination she has to mentor teenage girls and deter them from
things that derail and lead them into early pregnancy and dropping out of school.
“Girls in our own homes face a lot of challenges yet we parents are too busy to talk to them,” says Lilian Kamanzi Mugisha, the founder and director Teenage Girls Forum.
Kamanzi’s work of inspiring the girls to reach their full potential, to understand, value and assert their rights to be safe and successful in the world started in following her daughter’s illness. In 2002, Kamanzi’s daughter who was eight years old by then started fitting and was diagnosed with focal seizures. During the time of receiving treatment, Kamanzi says her daughter remained home and was lonely. To keep her occupied she requested her neighbours to allow their daughters come to her home and give her daughter company.
The girls would come home every Saturday. Gradually Kamanzi made friends with them and they began talking.
“The girls were open to me and we would discuss many things ranging from health, academics and social life,” she recalls adding the girls continuedgoing to her home even after her daughter had recovered. They grew to trust her and bonded with her to the extent that it became like a teenage club.
It was at that time that Kamanzi felt that she should start something that can bring girls from different backgrounds together to discuss things that affect them.
“I realised that many NGOs were caring for vulnerable and underprivileged teenage girls and women, others handling issues of domestic violence, rape and HIV. Yet the urban girls staying with their parents may never get a chance to share their challenges,” she says.
Kamanzi consulted different people and came up with a name that would not make girls shy away. She called it Teenage Girls’ Forum.
Kamanzi began by meeting the teenage girls in her own home. She would call up friends to entrust her with their teenage daughters. On October 4, she held the girl’s day out.
“I was targeting urban teenage girls in government day schools because I knew of the challenges and derails they encounter on their way to school as opposed to girls, who are in boarding,” she explains. Kamanzi says her first school to engage was Makerere College.
“Being a parent at the school, Kamanzi had heard many stories of girls eloping with men, which made her realise how vulnerable the girls were. After sharing with the school administration her intensions, she was given a go ahead to mentor the girls; talk to them on issues to do with their health, rights and encouraging them to remain focused.
Kamanzi has counseled and mentored many including those who had dropped out of school and run away from home because of their involvement in sexual relationships.
Kamanzi with some of the teenage girls she trains. Photos by Agnes Kyotalengerire
Kamanzi’s pioneer teenage beneficiary was Janet Mukasa, a senior three student by then at Makerere College School. Mukasa who commuted from her father’s home in Wandegeya would get derailed on her way to school and back home. She got involved in bad practices and eventually dropped out of school.
However, all was not lost for her. Kamanzi took her to her own home and kept her for two months studying her character, counseling her without judging her. Mukasa reformed and went back to school and she is now in Senior Five.
Since them Kamanzi has continued to counsel and mentor teenage girls and nothing can stop her. Todate, a total of about 300 teenage girls have gone through her hands.
“I realised that a lot of teenage girls have potential. They are blank and you can write anything on their blank minds. When good things are written on their minds they become better,” she affirms.
Kamanzi annually organises camps during holidays of about 50 girls and teenage girls’ summit every August. She has held camps at Vision For Africa, Banana Leaf in Entebbe and Adventure Park in Mukono.
The camp activities include; sessions about economic literacy, saving and girls are taught to do things that can earn them money for example how to bake, jewelry making among others so that they are not lured into sexual relationships for monetary benefits.
During the camps, the girls also mentor each other and over time start to appreciate one another, regardless of their different backgrounds. She takes them through a bonding session and teaches them how to love each other.
Every January before schools open, she organises girls’ day out. She brings role models to talk to the girls. She engages them in different topics, how to manage boarding school, about their health, goal setting, study plans and career guidance. During the discussions, the girls are reminded about self- respect.
Depending on the girls’ background; what the parents tell her, Kamanzi visits the homes and talks to them. The girls open up and together they forge a way forward.
Kamanzi says all the girls she has mentored have stayed in school, graduated and some are working.
“I am proud to see the girls transformed compared to what they were when I first met them,” Kamanzi adds.
She encourages the girls to do things they like and develop their talents. It may be learning a language or how to play a guitar.
20-year-old Husna Najjingo and a second year student at the university says she joined the Teenage Girls Forum in 2011 when she was in Senior Five. Through attending camps, Najjingo says she was counseled to be decent and have high self-esteem.
Kamanzi says her challenge is acceptance. She says building trust in many girls is difficult. Some feel she is spying on them to give information to their parents, so confiding in her and opening up takes time.
Girls from different backgrounds are hard to bring together like during the camp session, yet Kamanzi has to make them feel equal and appreciative of each other.
Kamanzi says the teenage girls she has trained are her ambassadors. The girls will also mentor their peers and siblings even when she is unable to do so. Besides, she does not work alone, she has trained staff who support her.
Kamanzi says the other strategy for sustainability is good will. Many children organisations have learnt of her work and appreciated it. They call me asking when they should take teenage girls for the next camping session.
Elsa Mugyenzi, the youth co-care worker in charge of the youth at SOS children villages Entebbe often send their children for camps.” “The programmes she takes the teens through have enhanced their social development as they navigate through the adolescence stage,” Mugyenzi confesses.
Do you know any woman who has mobilised or used her own resources to spearhead programmes aimed at promoting girls education, especially helping girls who have dropped out of school due to pregnancy or other reasons, to go back to school or attain any form of skills training?
Nominate her by sending her name, her telephone contact, her area/community of operation, what she has done/is doing and your name and telephone contact to Woman Achiever 2014, New Vision, P.O. Box 9815, Kampala. You can also email:firstname.lastname@example.org; or by SMS type achiever (space) her name and telephone number, and send to 8338