The idea of Girl Up Initiative Uganda came to founders Kim Wolf and friend Monica Nyiraguhabwa last year as they walked through one of the many slums of Kampala, the largest city and the capital of Uganda.
The pair realized they could make a difference in the lives of young girls living in the borough — many of them in desperate need of leadership, empowerment and health education.
“The Girl Up Initiative Uganda was created to empower young women to stay in school and prevent early pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases,” said Wolf, executive deputy director.
Without proper health education, many young girls in Uganda face the risk of early childbirth and marriage, dropping out of school and acquiring a variety of STDs — all of which greatly diminish opportunities for the adolescent girls and jeopardize their future.
Wolf emphasized that it is not uncommon for young women in the community to engage in sexual relations with older men for economic reasons, and added that there is currently little or no sexual and reproduction health education in schools or homes.
Last year, GUIU partnered with the St. James Biina Primary School in Kampala to promote and organize training, services and programs to young girls, ages 8 to 17, in an effort to help them make a smart and healthy transition into adulthood.
“We organize monthly trainings for girls and young women on topics ranging from sexual and reproductive health and puberty to business and savings skills,” Wolf said. “All girls are members of the Girl Up Club in the school that is facilitated by the head woman teacher, and which meets twice weekly.”
Forty-five girls are enrolled in the program, which also offers free counseling services and referral services for girls dealing with problems, such as sexual violence, harassment, relationship issues and monetary challenges.
“We want to double this number of girls to 100 when we expand into another school in 2014,” Wolf said. “We will also start an economic empowerment program for five young mothers that will include business management skills and savings trainings, startup capital and follow-up mentoring and advice.”
Wolf, 26, holds a bachelor’s degree in international development from the University of California Berkeley, where she was co-president of STAND (A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition) and a member of the Golden Key Honour Society for scholastic achievement. She is pursuing an master's of philosophy degree in African studies from the University of Cape Town.
Her goal is to continue to educate and invest in the future of these young girls who have little or no control over their critical social health and economic sustainability during adolescence.
But, as with most startup organizations, the need for financial assistance remains a vital component of the future success and expansion of GUIU.
Wolf explained to Noozhawk during a fundraiser at the Goleta home of her parents — Harvey and Janet Wolf, a Santa Barbara County supervisor — that the program costs for the next year are $13,640, including staff salaries for one full-time and three part-time employees, an accountant and a security guard. The fundraiser raised $7,500.
“We are also raising money to complete our Girls' space and office for $5,300 for furniture, computers and office supplies," Kim Wolf said. "Rent and Internet for the year will be $3,360 and U.S. registration $1,000.”
Wolf said she works closely with Nyiraguhabwa, executive director of GUIU and a native of the community, to help coordinate GUIU programs and services, but explained that Nyiraguhabwa oversees the day-to-day operations and interaction with GUIU members.
Nyiraguhabwa, an advocate of the women’s rights movement who obtained a bachelor’s degree in adult education from Markere University, has worked for five years as a program manager at the Mentoring and Empowerment Programme (MEMPROW), training young women from primary schools in Kamapala.
“Monica's passion for the rights of girls shines through her speaking,” Wolf said. “Anyone who has talked to Monica can feel her power and influence within the community.”
— Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.