On Wednesday March 30, I visited Buyinja Health Center IV in the newly created district of Namayingo which lies on the shores of Lake Victoria in eastern Uganda (somehow we rarely say south east). I was there to interview  Jessica Were, a woman nominated for the upcoming Women of Courage Awards hosted by Isis-WICCE and the US Embassy in Kampala. Were is a mother mentor working to bring mothers to get more involved in Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMCT) of HIV. She also works to defend the rights of women living with HIV and orphans who are always denied land.

In a new district, Buyinja is supposed to be elevated to a hospital but for now it has a few blocks with a male and female wards and a maternity wing. Jenifer Friday arrived on a boda boda (‘motorcycle taxi’). When I saw her I thought she had come for checkup but she didn’t go to the separate block where Were educates these women.  Fifteen minutes later I enter the maternity ward to catch a few shots to show Were’s working environment. I find Jenifer with a child who is barely two years crying out loud. Jenifer was also shouting as her labour pains increased.

Jessica Were tries to calm down Jenifer and also holds her one and half year old minutes before the second baby was delivered at Buyinja.

Jenifer arrived at this health center with nothing but her child on way to deliver another child. She had no clothes, no relative accompanying her. In fact her husband sent her to mother’s place at eight months.  Nurses looked around for any cloth; they work with barely anything. Sometimes they have to give their own clothes to cover babies and mothers like Jenifer. The nurse in charge tells me that there are many like Jenifer who arrive at the center with nothing. Health centers  rarely has gloves, razors and cloth, most stuff essential during delivery. I wondered how health workers keep their balance in such conditions.

Jenifer is 19 years old and she was having her second child. She delivered her first child at a traditional birth attendant’s place and after hearing Were’s message she made it here.  Were had to call relatives and they appeared after about an hour with a few clothes. Were had to tell that Jennifer needed sanitary towels or cotton and underwear.

Jenifer’s first child is from another man so she is basically lucky that her current husband would marry her and take care of both. In that position Jenifer couldn’t bargain to wait for the old child to grow before having this man’s child. She does home cores and the husband cleans boda boda for a living. I asked her what she would want to do in her life if given an opportunity; she was quiet for a while. Later she told me she wants to be a tailor.

Jenifer with minutes old baby Scovia.

Jenifer was about 17 when she got her first child and at the time she was in primary seven. Talking to her minutes after she delivered a baby girl called Scovia, I reflected on what difference education could have brought to Jenifer’s life. At 18 I was headed to university. For girls like Jenifer, their education is interrupted by so many things including poverty and general attitudes towards educating a girl child. By the time she’s 18 and in primary school, the chances of pregnancy and dropping out of school are high.