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Photos by © Esther Mbabazi
As a young girl, Assinah saw her grandmother struggle with the effects of HIV. It was painful to see her suffer. Yet this sad experience in her youth encouraged Assinah to help others. She knew she had to spread the message of prevention in her community, where knowledge on sexual and reproductive health issues is generally low.
“I became a peer educator, in order to help others make informed health choices.”
24-year-old Assinah lives with her mother and daughter in Uganda’s Bugiri District. Information on sexual and reproductive health is scarce in this area, and the numbers of unintended pregnancies and STIs are high. In 2014, only 38.5% of young women and men aged 15-24 could accurately identify ways to prevent HIV transmission. A further 30.4% of young women and girls reported an unmet need for contraception. As a ‘Healthy Entrepreneur’, Assinah takes it on herself to teach her peers in a fun and educational way.
Many young people in the community do not have access to information on sexual and reproductive health. Friday Abraham, 15, follows Assinah for some private questions after an educative session in Bululu, Bugir, Uganda. It is providing information like this to young people that Asina finds rewarding: “to help them understand that it’s their responsibility to make better informed health choices.
“"Thanks to my job, I’m well known and have many friends in the community."”
It was a local council leader who introduced Assinah to the project.
“I was attracted to the fact that I would be selling medicine and other health products in my own community. I saw that this would help me achieve my dream job: becoming a health worker.”
“I treat people in my community, earn an income and have my own goat. I can provide for the basics of life.”
With the earnings, Assinah was able to purchase two goats – her mother brings them home from the grazing area in the evening. On most mornings, Assinah wakes up early to go to the garden with her mother after which she helps with home chores, relaxes at home and then heads out to the villages to sell her medication.
“At first, the community was not receptive and was doubtful of my work. They lacked confidence in my skills. But now, after using my products, they are welcoming and come to my consultations.”
The profit Assinah makes enables her to run a small side-business, selling roasted chicken from her kiosk. She makes enough to support her family and pay school fees for her four-year-old daughter. Although, her earnings potential is made even greater by pooling her savings with colleagues.
“Before I started working as a Healthy Entrepreneur, it was very hard for young people in the community to get information on sexual and reproductive health. A woman from the village health team would visit us just three times a year. She was also the only one who could administer injectable contraceptives. Very few of us even knew about it.”
That’s all in the past now as Assinah makes her rounds in her district. In the images above she is seen packing her bag with the products clients have ordered and then administering an injectable contraceptive to a community member.
“Currently, I may distribute injectable contraceptives up to three times a week. It’s great. The women in the community see less side effects compared to other methods. It is also what I use myself.”
“A lady told me how she became pregnant, when contraceptives were out of stock at the health centre. Now she buys injectable contraceptives from me, as she is not ready for another pregnancy.”
Peers come to Assinah for condoms, which are given out for free. They always get the condoms inside the house, as they are afraid to be seen getting condoms by other people in the community. Sejusa Farakani, 30, packs up the condoms in a black bag to take with him. Young people here are shy to get condoms in public, because they feel they’ll be judged by the community. “We use the condoms, no problem, but we get them in secret.”
Keeping her community healthy and happy gives Assinah a real sense of pride. Friends come to her to buy contraceptives, but condoms need to be shared in secret; they can only be handed out inside the house.
““The young people in the community have responded well to my work. They always ask me a lot of questions. Of course, some intend to challenge me, while others simply want to make sure they can trust the information. Through the distribution of condoms, I can really help prevent HIV among the young people in my community. It also makes me feel responsible. With the information I have given them I play my part in their life and the decisions they make.””
“This job has also increased my responsibility over my own health. With my new empowerment, I cannot afford to contract an STI or get an unintended pregnancy. I will continue providing this support to my community.”
To reach her clients, Assinah walks long distances across her district. On a good day, she earns enough for a lift on a motorbike on the way home. When business is less good, she walks the entire way back. Yet, despite the earlier starts and long walks, she’s determined to continue her valuable work and save money.
“My dream is to enrol in a nursing course as soon as I have earned enough money.”
Walking towards her dream of being a nurse: Assinah travels long distances by foot to reach her clients and share information on sexual and reproductive health.
Assinah’s story is part of the GUSO Flexi Project of Get Up Speak Out, a five-year programme working to improve the (knowledge of) rights and sexual health of young people in 7 countries. The programme is led by Rutgers and implemented in collaboration with: Aidsfonds; CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality; Dance4Life; IPPF; and, Simavi, as well as with six alliance partners in-country. The SRHR Alliance in Uganda is the country partner driving the implementation of this project.
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