Wednesday, June 5th
I arrived in Uganda yesterday to a downpour of rain at the Entebbe Airport. After three flights and over 24 hours of travel, I was simply glad to touch my feet back on solid ground. Although I am finally here, it still doesn't quite feel real—it's as if I could sit up at any moment and realize that I am actually back in the U.S., having a very vivid dream. Only that never happened—I'm actually here.
Immediately, I come to realize a dual reality that will undoubtedly be with me throughout my entire time in Uganda. On one hand, I am a clear outsider. I inevitably command attention every street that I walk down, every room that I walk in, and every time a young child screams Muzungu! (white person) at me. On the other hand, Ugandans are genuinely, and without fail, incredibly welcoming and friendly. I was welcomed by Sumaya, who works at a nonprofit organization in the Iganga area and who has been an invaluable contact throughout my months of preparation, at the airport, after she drove four hours to meet me. Everyone that I have met so far has made a point of telling me not only "welcome," but that I am "welcome in Uganda." I am so excited to embark on this two-month journey, deepening my connection with this wonderful community and meeting incredible people who remain relentlessly committed to the fight to end sexual violence in Uganda.
Friday, June 7th
Attending Sexual Violence Prevention Sessions in Local Schools
Today I attended two educational sessions on sexual violence prevention, one at a primary school and one at a secondary school, led by Sumaya. It was fascinating to take in how the subject was taught at different ages, as well as how both groups of students received, processed, and responded to the information presented to them.
At the primary school, students were gently introduced to the issue of sexual violence and were first asked to define all terms: "sex," "violence," and finally "sexual violence." Students were eager, curious, and participated enthusiastically, but traditional gender roles and stereotypes were evident. Students mostly defined "sexual violence" as "bad acts carried out during sex," which cannot be argued. Once asked to list different types of sexual violence, students successfully named examples such as rape, child marriage, defilement, and coercion. However, students also named "lesbianism" and "homosexuality" as forms of sexual violence.
I was a little alarmed by these answers at first, but quickly had to remind myself of the deep social conservatism of Uganda and the fact that a queer identity was punishable by death just a few years ago. Furthermore, one student said that one could avoid sexual violence by "fearing God." This reveals the deep religious roots of Ugandans, as well as the government's overarching goal of attempting to preserve Uganda as a "God-fearing nation with morals and virtues." In the end, however, students came away with a clear sense of what sexual violence is, the impact that it can have on one's physical, emotional, and mental health, as well as how it can be prevented. One student said that her main takeaway was that we must report sexual violence immediately and that she did not feel protected enough by the Ugandan government as a young girl.