Empowered Voices from the Slums: Girl Up Initiative Uganda

What if girls in developing countries around the world felt empowered to value themselves: their bodies, their education, their own choices… and to claim their own voices? This is true personal leadership in the making. It is a rising up that would be heard around the world! This is Girl Up Initiative Uganda.

In my recent journey to Uganda, I got to visit my friend Megan Walrod, who is volunteering at the non-profit Girl Up Initiative Uganda and to meet some of the girls whose lives have been transformed by their programs. Megan has been working on the creation of a book of these girls’ own life stories.

The vision that I have long carried is for girls everywhere to discover, believe and act in the full power of who they are. I hope you will join me in holding this vision and carrying it into manifestation.

What follows is my interview with Megan.

How did you end up in Uganda?

MW: After my mom died in the summer of 2016, I went through some major soul searching: what am I here for? What is my unique contribution to make? I wasn’t able to continue forward with “business as usual.” I felt my soul calling me to more… some new adventure inviting me to leap more fully into life.

So, I listened. I prayed. I sat on the earth. I journaled a lot. I covered one wall of my “creation cottage” with post-it notes of ideas and possibilities for what this calling was. Each post-it was a breadcrumb to follow. Through it all, I also allowed myself to grieve my mom’s death. Grief and appreciation for my life co-existed hand in hand.

Slowly, a vision began to emerge of being on the other side of the world, engaged in day to day activities with brown skinned women and children. I was especially drawn towards East Africa and the idea of volunteering with a non-profit that was supporting girls and women in some way.

Eventually, I chose Uganda, as it “spoke” to me the loudest. That’s where I was being called to go.

How did you choose Girl Up Initiative Uganda? What drew you there?

MW: In my search for a non-profit that best matched my vision, I talked with a lot of people. All these synchronicities began to occur that led me to this possible orphanage or another possible non-profit. But none of them felt like a fit.

One night, I opened my laptop and said, “Okay Universe, what else is possible here? Show me what you’ve got for me.” I typed into google, “Girls Education Women Empowerment Uganda,” and Girl Up Initiative Uganda popped out to me from the front page!

I read about them and discovered they offer educational programs for adolescent girls growing up in the slums of Kampala, and economic empowerment programs for young women struggling to get by. Already it was a match for what I was looking for, but what about the team?

I checked them out. The non-profit is co-founded by a young woman who grew up in the slums, too, and a woman who grew up in California (where I used to live). Their team was made up of young adults who had also all grown up in Uganda. They had been through the same kinds of challenges that they now supported these girls and women in overcoming. It was a pay-it-forward type of model that really appealed to me.

I immediately reached out to Kim Wolf, the co-founder who grew up in the States. This was it… I had a great feeling about GUIU.

It was overcast and chilly outside on the day I had my first skype call with her. Through our conversations we discovered we were very much a match, and while we also scheduled a time for me to meet with the other co-founder, Monica, she went ahead and invited me to come and volunteer with them for an extended time. I was thrilled!

I got off the call and went to stand at the kitchen sink, gazing out at the naked tree branches covered with a layer of snow. A cardinal came and landed on the fence. Just for a moment, but it was there, bright red in the midst of the grey, and then gone. My heart beat faster. The cardinal felt like a gift from my mom. A sign that she was with me and blessing this unfolding. Tears of gratitude poured down my face as I whispered, “I’m doing it, Mom! I’m going to Africa!”

How did this book project come about?

MW: In my first days in Kampala, I got to visit with hundreds of the girls going through the Girl Up programs. One of the girls, Catherine, age 14, told me, “I want to be the voice of the voiceless. But first I need to learn how to be the voice for myself. That is what Girl Up Initiative Uganda is teaching me to do.”

Catherine’s wisdom and courage inspired me. In a country where girls are not given a voice or a choice when it comes to issues that directly impact them, such as their bodies, their education and their futures, this statement was revolutionary. It was also similar to what I had written in my journal in July before leaving to volunteer in Uganda, “I get to be a voice for the voiceless.”

As I listened to Catherine tell me more about how Girl Up has given her the confidence to say no to sex, avoid the potential risks of early pregnancy and the dangers of childbirth, and focus on her education instead so she can pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer, I started wondering:

What could I do to shine a spotlight on the great work that Girl Up Initiative Uganda is already doing here in Uganda to educate and empower girls?

What could I do to support these girls in finding – and seeing the value of – their voices and going for their dreams?

This book project is an answer to these questions.

Why do you think this book, “We Have Something To Say: True Stories Written By Adolescent Girls Growing Up In The Slums Of Kampala”, is important at this time in our world? How does it represent the power of girls voices everywhere?

MW: In a world that has silenced girls for far too long and still views them as second-class citizens, these stories are needed more than ever. When girls have the opportunity to share their stories, they learn they are valuable; they discover they really do have something to say and they get to play an essential role in economic development and eradicating poverty.

Growing up in a developing country, specifically Uganda, has its unique challenges:

  • Girls are more likely to become pregnant than they are to finish primary school. Nearly 1 in 3 Ugandan girls are mothers by the age of 18.
  • Approximately 35% of girls drop out of school because of early marriage and 23% do so because of pregnancy.
  • 1 out of 3 menstruating girls miss at least one day of school per month due to menstruation.

When we teach girls skills to manage these challenges, we support them in unleashing their potential so that they can create a better future for all of us.

How do the girls who contributed their stories, envision this book? What do they hope for?

MW: We asked these girls why they want to share stories with girls and boys and others around the world. Here is what they said:

“I want other girls to learn from my story that they can make it to higher heights.”

~ Amanicia Spencer, age 14

“Girls and boys should not give up. (I also want) boys respecting girls. It’s a good thing. Even girls are human beings and should not be taken as animals.”

~ Viola Namboowa, age 12

“Girls should know that when people say that you are not good enough, it doesn’t mean that you are actually not good enough.”

~Awori Victoria, age 10

“I want to share my story because I am proud of the decision that I made, because if I had not, then I would not have changed into what I am today. I want girls to learn how to make personal decisions that will change their lives for the better.”

~ Nakato Mary Bridget, age 12

I know that this is a big project with tremendous possibility for impact.  How can our readers support you in turning your book idea into a reality?

MW: We invite readers to donate to our fundraiser to help us get our book published, printed and out into the world!

Every dollar is a vote of confidence, so thank you in advance for your donation. No amount is too small or too big!

If 400 people contribute $40 to our campaign, we will turn our book idea into a reality!!

We are creating a new generation of leaders who will solve world problems like poverty, inequality, war, AIDS and hunger, simply by supporting adolescent girls. Will you join us?

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Laurie Seymour is a mentor/guide, #1 best-selling author, host of the Wisdom Talk Radio podcast and founder of The Baca Journey. She helps women and men who are in the midst of great change to have a direct experience of their inner wisdom, dissolving self-doubt so they stop wasting time second-guessing themselves. Then she provides the strategies to sustain their inner connection so that they live the life they know is possible with confidence. Start now with a complimentary exploratory session (virtual tea!). Let’s explore where you’ve been and illuminate where you’re heading.  

She recently returned from a month in Africa where she had the opportunity to witness the great work happening through Girl Up.

Megan Walrod, Founder of Live Your Yes, is an author, speaker and heart-based business coach. Over the past decade she has shown hundreds of entrepreneurs how to build profitable and purposeful businesses. She is passionate about empowering women (and girls) to find their voice, claim their value and share their gifts with the world.

Currently, Megan is “Living Her Yes” in Uganda. Following a calling and a deep desire to pay her privilege forward, she is volunteering with the non-profit Girl Up Initiative Uganda. To find out more details about their book project and how you can get involved, click here: https://igg.me/at/BSKpc2yIaq0

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