We are located right outside of Mweena, a small village (Fishery Landing Site) on Bugala Island in the Kalangala District, a beautiful chain of islands – known colloquially as the Ssese Islands – within Lake Victoria in Uganda.
Many families’ struggles in Kalangala mirror the lives of most Ugandans. According to a 2014 census, only 19% of the population of Kalangala has access to piped water, and only 14% has access to electricity, most others having to purchase Tabooda – disposable, gas-powered candles – in order to see at night. The main source of information is radio, which 40% of households do not own. And almost 10% of households don’t even have a toilet facility, and even if they do, 40% cannot afford to dispose of solid waste properly.
No easy access to public health facilities, no easy access to police, no easy access to post.
It can be a very unsafe and unclean world to call home.
Education, a salvage to many nations, but here, many struggle to get access to solid teaching as well. Almost a quarter of the population is illiterate. 84% drop out before completing secondary school.
Perhaps it’s because to get children to secondary school, two-thirds of households have to travel outside 5 km from their home. For almost 40%, the distance doubles.
Perhaps it’s lack of resources. Classroom sizes of 50 children or more make individualized attention almost impossible. Add to that 29% of people who will develop multiple disabilities during their lifetimes – physical, learning, mental, or social – and the inadequate availability of educators to accommodate for that. According to a 2014 study of four Ugandan districts, 90% of children with a disability “do not enjoy their rights to survival, development, protection and participation.” It would make sense why so many would fall out even before adolescence.
It is certainly an uphill struggle for children from the moment of birth – two thirds of the population were not issued a birth certificate and aren’t even sure of their birthday. And that’s just considered a minuscule problem to children who have access to both of their parents. 9% – that’s over 1,600 children – are living without parents. A third of those children are under the age of 9.
And the population most at risk are young girls. Men are dominating the resources. Men are heading the households. Some young girls are making risky and harmful decisions in order to survive. For some, the decisions are made for them.
Girls Under Age 20 in the Kalangala District
And finally, there is the not-so-hidden threat of HIV. According to the Uganda AIDS Commission, 34% of those who want AIDS support services – testing, counseling, and treatment – are unable to access them, and while the National Priority Action Plan has reduced childhood infections below its target level, people are still getting infected, suffering, and dying due to a general lack of education and awareness. According to a study by UNICEF in 2015, the rate of AIDS-related deaths in adolescents has more than doubled in 15 years, resulting in more than 100,000 teenagers losing their lives in 2015.
When young girls are entering into these relationships in order to survive, they are unknowingly risking their lives to a man who may unknowingly carry the virus.