A story of determination of one to lift up the many #PressforProgress

You might predict for this years International Women’s Day theme  #PressforProgress I will be sharing with you stories of strong women who have triumphed over adversity to succeed in fighting the good fight for women everywhere. I will be amongst you reading those social media feeds doing quiet high fives in my head, saying  “Gooooo Team!’’ however given I prefer the less predictable option, you will instead read something different from me. So, in celebration of all things women…. the story I bring to you is about a man….

 

Grab yourself a chocolate of some description and take a moment with me on a story about..

 

“ Where one succeeds, a whole community succeeds”

 

In the light of day a young girl cries on the side of a road covered in stains from her own blood, her vulnerability on show for all to see. You might think what the girl is crying for…..does she cry for embarrassment, for shame ? Does she cry because she doesn’t know what has happening to her? Does she cry knowing her family is poor and cannot provide her with basic needs to conceal her maturity? that she will miss school? Does she cry knowing that whilst she is only twelve she could now be married off to a man three, four times her age? Or does she cry because she was born in a developing country and also born female? Perhaps she cries for all of these, only she will ever know.

 

A man notices her as he was passing and rather then walking on he chooses not to ignore her and he stops. He chooses to help, he chooses to do more ….not just for this young girl but  for all girls and women of Uganda.

 

Two years ago Ben Serunyigo returned home to Mpigi district of Uganda after completing graduate studies. It was here he would find the young girl crying in the street, trying his best to comfort her during this time (a difficult task for any man at the best of times let alone the worst of times) Ben did not shy away from the taboo topic that most try to avoid. Instead Ben assisted the girl to a local market in the hopes of finding sanitary pads. As they walked it became clear to Ben the young girl knew nothing about reproductive health.

Helping the girl home he discovers, although not surprisingly given the girls lack of knowledge of menstruation that her family and school friends all shared the same confusion and fear of the natural developments of their bodies. Ben could see first hand these girls lacked any access to support, education or basic needs. It did not take much to find that there was no sign of things changing any time soon and so Ben took it upon himself to make a change.

 

From a chance encounter of one girl to establishing a Non-profit Organisation called Uganda For Her (U4Her). This story is about Ben and his mission to press for progress by lifting up women to equal standards of men in Uganda.

 

 

To fix a problem you first have to know how big the problem is, as fixing one area may not fix the problem at all.  Ben uncovers the reality of millions of girls that are denied basic human rights simply because they were born female leading to greater impacts to the community and development of women in Uganda.

 

Girls of Uganda having observed generations before them know the importance of an education in obtaining employment for social and economic independence. Girls are not on the same playing field as their male classmates simply because their bodies change when they reach reproductive maturity.  One week out of every month and with no money to buy sanitary pads girls will miss school  because they have their period. Accounting for an average 60 days a year this disadvantages her education and a chance at a future with options. 

Remembering back to the little girl Ben met on the street  we recall she lacked any education on menstruation. Feeling scared, confused and with no support, the desperate will resort to using leaves and other unsanitary means, often resulting in an infection this being the best case scenario.

At worst, girls with no education and little options available to her might be made to marry very young or turn to prostitution in order to pay for basic needs we take for granted in the developed world.

With problems stretching as far as any person’s imagination that prey on the vulnerable…The magnitude of issues weighing heavily on Ben’s shoulders.

 

By way of making a step in the right direction Ben founded U4Her. The organisation at its basic core provides education and support to women and girls of Uganda. Offering programs in reproductive health, education, leadership and economic empowerment, they are providing hope to the community and a new start for some women that would not otherwise be able to find employment.

 

In just two short years, U4Her has distributed 890 reusable sanitary pads and trained 3000 girls in reproductive health and this is just the beginning!!

 

A current campaign called Pads4Her was inspired by one of their interns after returning from the field seeing first hand the impacts of girls without access to pads. Through a small donation drive they were able to buy sewing machines and employee two women from the village to make reusable pads. Their sustainable model is all about lifting women up and in turn teaching others, where one succeeds, the whole community succeeds and soon more women will be trained in making reusable pads.  

 

Whilst this is only a small drop in the ocean  of issues,  it is a step in the direction of positive progress to a better future then by doing nothing at all. As the momentum grows so does the progress of the impact they are achieving.

 

U4Her is demonstrating how investment in women can build strong communities. U4Her is excited to showcase to their supporters (and to the world) the progress their hard work has made so far by hosting a Leadership Summit later in the year. The summit will be for women with focus on leadership and empowerment. U4Her hopes the summit reaches out to as many women as possible as they spread the word of hope and empowerment.  Watch this space!!

 

I sense we are only seeing the beginning of what is yet to come from U4Her and excited to see further progress over time as their mission continues to strengthen.

If you are feeling that fire in your belly and want to become a change maker or perhaps you just want to learn more about what they do, please visit their website and stay in touch with their journey at www.uganda4her.org

 

 

On a personal note, I’ve known Ben for little over a year, I have heard his stories of sleepless nights and constant challenges he faces as daily sacrifices to the great cause he founded.

With a family of his own and a recent addition of a newborn baby, Ben juggles the demands of husband, father and change maker.

Ben would share with you the road has not been an easy one and anticipate there will be further bumps ahead as he continues to navigate toward a better world where girls of Uganda are gender equal with the same access to basic rights.

 

One of the many reasons why PurFound is supporting U4Her this year for International Women’s Day #PressforProgress  is not only the gratitude for the tireless work the staff and volunteers do for the women of  Uganda as evidenced in the projects they run but also how through the success of one proves how it can help the many.

With a mountain ahead of them, they continue to press for progress for a positive future one step at a time. U4Her empowers women to thrive and in turn lift each other up…. these women are lifting whole communities up and it’s a beautiful thing.

 

Ben, from me,  all women in Uganda you serve and women everywhere…we thank you!

 

Thank you for not walking passed that little girl, thank you for demanding action for a better future, thank you for the progress you have already made in such a short time, thank you for not giving in when you discovered the mountain before you and we continue to thank you for your daily sacrifice dedicating your life to lifting up women. This one is for you my friend. 

Written by Stephanie Kraft, U4Her Board Vice Chair and Founder of Purfound ( Australia)