Firstly, I would like to thank God for our lives.
I also would like to thank all UWONET donors & members, government institutions, CSOs, participants from the kigezi region and other districts represented who have come out today to celebrate the 2nd Regional Women’s Week.
My name is Angella Asiimwe. I titled this story, The Sweet Drink.
At this 2nd Regional Women’s Week, I would like to tell you a story of a girl with a child. It is the story of my life and the story of the lives of 25% of the Ugandan girl child that gets pregnant before age 18. It is also the story of The Remnant Generation (TRG) girls a home for teenage mothers that are sexually assaulted by family members, strangers and people in positions of power and influence like their teachers and guardians.
Many circumstances made me become a teenage mother and a school drop-out at 15 years. So why did I drop out of school? And Why did I get pregnant?
It all started before I was born, my father died when I was 9 Months so I didn’t get a chance to see him. My brother and I were then raised by our single mother who was a young woman, unwed but with a diploma in education. She was my mentor, shero, my everything and was also a feminist though she never identified as one. My mother was a primary school teacher who got less than 50,000shs per month but it didn’t stop her from helping other women and girls in our community plus her family. She believed that we rise by lifting others. She did everything in her power to ensure that we went to good schools and even got me a scholarship with St. Matia Mulumba Catholic Church in Old Kampala that committed to pay my fees up to Senior Four.
I lost my mother to HIV/AIDS when I was 6 years old and after her death everything changed. My mother didn’t have a lot but I remember a time during the funeral when people started fighting for property. I was in Primary Three at the time but I understood what was going on. By that time, we did not even know any relatives on our father’s side, so our maternal relatives became our guardians.
My Aunt Grace became my new mother. She really took good care of me and I managed to even finish my Senior 4. She catered for all my needs apart from school fees that I got from St. Matia Mulumba. However, her husband decided to leave her because he blamed her for not having a child with him. My Aunt got so depressed and even stopped working. At that time, I knew my life was going to change again.
The Church would no longer pay my fees because I had completed Senior Four, so my Aunt sent me to our other relatives to cater for my needs. None of them took me on, I presume because they had a lot on their plates. I talked to my brother who was then pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Medicine and Surgery and he advised me to look for a job as I wait for him to finish school and take me back to school. I got a job as a shop attendant.
I also had boyfriend and after 2 months of dating, he took me out to a night club. I had never been to a club nor had I ever taken alcohol. He convinced me to take the “sweet soda” that I did not know. Little did I know that Smirnoff was an alcoholic drink, it was indeed sweet and tasted different so he got me another bottle. The next thing I remember was I woke up in a pool of blood and I was in a lot of pain. My entire body was hurting as if I had had a fight the night before, however, I thought that I had gone in my periods and the body hurting was the side effects of the “sweet drink”.
4 months down the road, an older woman who was my neighbor told me, “Angella you look pregnant” I knew that it was not possible because I knew that I was a virgin. However, I thought about it and I realized that I had been missing periods. I had not undergone any sexual and reproductive health rights education so I did not know what to expect. I started getting very sick and even decided to get malaria medication. The older woman insisted that I go do a checkup so she referred me to a clinic, however I couldn’t afford a pregnancy test kit, so I went to a government hospital. The test came back positive for pregnancy. At first, I thought it was a bad dream. The doctor asked me details about the months and I told him that I was still a virgin. She told me to remember when I last saw my periods and that’s when I connected the dots to the day I woke up in a pool of blood and in a lot pain. I explained it to her and she confirmed that I had been intoxicated and sexually assaulted by my boyfriend.
I lost my job as a shop attendant after the pregnancy started to show and my 2 roommates threw me out because I couldn’t contribute to rent. I resorted to sleeping on the street, under big garbage bins and in village cinema halls. I also started doing laundry for people in the neighborhood, washing toilets, baby-sitting children, among other things so as to get money to buy something to eat.
3 months later, one of the ladies that I helped baby sit told me to sleep in her wooden store. It was a big opportunity and I was so excited that I managed to get shelter. I put grass in a sack to make a mattress and it would even rain on me sometimes but I felt safer than sleeping on streets. I did unpaid care work for her in exchange for that shelter and she also allowed me to continue doing work for other people.
After a month the lady threw me out because she was afraid what would happen if I gave birth in her store, so I had to go back to the streets of Mbarara to hustle again. I got so desperate that I tried reaching out to family; however, no one wanted to associate with a “bastard” who had brought shame to the family. I was afraid to ask my brother for help because he was still a student and I did not want to disappoint him.
I was later told by one of the ladies I cleaned for that I could get shelter at the government hospital by pretending I was due any time, although I was actually due in 2 weeks. But first, I decided to look for the baby daddy whom I met after 4 days of searching. He was very angry after telling him that I was pregnant. He said “We had sex once so it can’t be possible to impregnate you and we don’t impregnate girls in our family before marriage so go look for the father”. I informed him that I was heading to the government hospital so all I needed was him to at least accompany me. He refused and did not even give me any money so I walked over 7 miles to reach the hospital. All I had with me were two dresses in a polythene bag and a Good News Bible therefore I kept praying that God sees me through the trying time.
God answered my prayers by sending a guardian angel called Robert, a student doctor and my brother’s friend. He helped me with most of the necessary items because I did not have anything for a Mama kit. There were few beds so I kept faking labour pains so that they don’t throw me out, but 9 hours later I got serious labour pains and Robert helped me in delivery. I was all alone but God saw me through.
I left the hospital a day after and headed back to my baby daddy’s home. However, he was so furious to the extent that he called his two brothers to come and throw me out. The two brothers did as they were ordered and as I tried to stop them from taking my luggage, they lifted my son and put him outside in grass. I felt so broken and I had no option but to leave and head to my relatives in village.
On arrival, my relatives also had no kind words for me because they felt like I had embarrassed them, I was chased from one house to another until one of my uncle decided to take me to his home. His wife, though threatened to leave him if I was in their house and she gave him an ultimatum; either to let her stay and look after her children or let me stay and become the new wife. My uncle did not make a decision, so the wife left. I stayed and one of her daughters loved my son so she always defended me yet she was younger than me.
However, when she didn’t return after 2 weeks, my uncle asked me to leave and I went to live with our neighbors “Mzeei Kafeero Family” who took good care of me and I remember the “Mzeei Kalire Family” who sent me milk since I came to the village so am so thankful and grateful to them, I later taken in by another Aunt Manganda who was very understanding. Both her and her husband agreed that I could stay. My relatives wrote letters ordering my Aunt’s husband to throw me out however he did not abide by their orders.
I later went to see my brother when my son was 9 months. He encouraged me to take care of my baby and still promised to take me back to school. He indeed fulfilled his promise after graduation by taking good care of me and even paid my fees and tuition until I got to second year law school. He was not able to continue paying for me, so I requested for a student loan and I got several things to do so as to cater for me and my son’s daily needs like tutoring other students at campus, buying and selling second hand clothes to students, singing in karaoke and acting comedy with a group called Aftermath. At that time the money I was making was not enough to cater for all the needs so my best friend Bigingo Jeninah Tynnah (Pinkie) would always chip in to clear some of the bills, especially to do with my son. I also started volunteering with constitutional and human rights organizations and this helped me to get a job right after university with Center for Constitutional Governance and I cleared my student loan after 3 years of employment. I then joined Solidarity Uganda, FIDA Uganda, The Remnant Generation, Akina Mama wa Afrika and did consultancy with several women rights organizations’ like UWONET, CREA among others. I also founded The Voice Consults a Media and legal consultant firm and co- founded The Remnant Generation a GBV shelter for teenage mothers and am also their board member and Advisory board member of International Rescue committee that does work on ending GBV in emergencies.
Its during and after university when I also met amazing women like Sarah Bireete, Miriam kyomugasho, Hon. Miria Matembe, Hon. Irene Ovonji, Rita Aciro, Farida Namatende, Mercy Munduru, Solome Nakaweesi,Hon. Adeke Anne, Anabella Nakabiri, Scovia Arinaitwe, Eunice Musiime, Pauline Kahubiire , Prof. Tushabe wa Tushabe, Beatrice Mulindwa , Hon. Tezira Jamwa, Melissa Wainana among others who have been uplifting me. I also got several young women whom I deliberately started to uplift and mentor like Kiconco Brenda , Rita Asiimire, Chebet Esther, Donna Keirungi, Joana Vitundwa, Charity Katwine, Lisa Omubitokati among others.
This experience helped me become who I am today. A mother to my 12-year-old son, a feminist, a human rights activist, an entrepreneur, the founder of The Voice Consult a legal and media firm, and a lawyer by profession that advocates for the rights of all women and girls. As Michelle Obama said “You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage but rather view that experience as one of your biggest achievements.”
My background helped me become passionate and deliberate in supporting a girl with a child and all girls in and out of schools. Most organizations and even government focus more on the girl child leaving out the 25% of the girls with a child yet they commit to leaving no one behind and promotion of SDG No. 5 of gender equality.
Just like the theme of this 2nd Regional Women’s week, “Building bridges: Creating an inclusive culture United Women Can!” we need to ensure that girls get mentors so as to create sisterhood and create safe spaces for survivors of sexual assault by investing in their flourishing by transforming a culture of shame to a culture of Hope and Grace.
I fought the good fight, however I would not have managed if it was not for God, my brother, my best friend, my mentors , mentees , friends everyone that has played a role in my life. We rise by lifting others so let’s stop telling our daughters and sisters that they can’t make it. I remember a time when several people told me, “You are destined for failure” others said “You will never get a job because unemployment rate is so high and many lawyers are on the street” while others said “It is better to abort rather than giving birth to a child that will be miserable and suffer for your stupid mistake” . Just like actress Taraji P. Henson says, “If you allow people to project their fears on you then you won’t live.”
If I had listened and believed in those people then I wouldn’t be a lawyer today and my son would not be a P.7 vacist (He sat his PLE this year). I am 28 years now and am just getting started.
I thank you all.