Providing safe spaces to prevent violence against children during Covid-19

Dorcus Nangozi, 21 years, dropped out of school after completing senior 4, before the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Although my uncle wanted to pay for me to do a course in fashion and design, during the pandemic I realized that what we needed was money. I discussed this with my parents, who I live with, and told them I preferred to start a small business –a small diner selling juice and snacks because there was none in my village, Nagoje. However, there was no money at that time.”

During the Covid-19 lockdown, Hajat Maimuna, a Community-based facilitator (CBF), visited several homes to identify adolescent girls that would be enrolled in a group where they could be taught about prevention of violence in homes and communities, and gender-based violence (GBV).

“Sometimes the girls are forced to have sex with different men because they need UGX 30,000 (USD 8) to buy basics. So the Safe Space is preventing that since we support each other.” Dorcus Nangozi, 21 years, Peer Mentor, Muvubuka Weyogele (Youth Voice), Safe space.

“Hajat came home and told my parents about an organization called Capital for Life which wanted to help girls. I was especially interested when she said they were creating a place where I was going to be able to talk about anything without bias or judgement. It was also a place I could go to when I felt stressed at home. My parents were very happy about the idea because I was just seated at home all day.”

The Safe Space which meets on Sundays in the community, is managed by peer mentors who are selected by the group members of up to 20 girls and boys.

“In the safe Space we learn about family health. Some girls have boyfriends and we learn about using contraceptives, family planning methods and prevention of HIV/AIDS through abstinence or the use of condoms.”

In order to prevent and respond to violence, the Safe Space members also learned about referrals for violence incidents.

“We are taught where to report violence at home, how to avoid sexual harassment, and what to do in case of defilement or rape. The mentors have taught us the importance of communication at home and at school. We learned that we can avoid violence and harassment at school by following the rules and regulations and reporting violators who will either be fired or expelled.”

Today, the youth in the community are more empowered and informed, and feel safer. “Before, we knew nothing, and just did whatever we wanted. Now, pregnancies amongst my friends have reduced because we discuss the lessons we are taught.”

In order to earn some income to start small businesses, the members of the safe space were taught about goal setting with a purpose. Following the training, they decided to form a financial enterprise. “As Muvubuka Weyogele (youth voice) Safe Space, we make liquid soap and use the proceeds to help members who may need financial assistance for example to purchase sanitary pads or other essentials. Sometimes the girls are forced to have sex with different men because they need UGX 30,000 to buy basics. So the Safe Space is preventing that,” said Dorcus.

Parents of the children in the Safe Space are also happy with the outcome from the safe space. “Parents sometimes complain when we come home late because we were having so much fun at the safe space, but they are not worried about our safety. They also know we are learning good lessons from our peers and the mentors,” Dorcus explains.

Now that the membership of the Safe Space is growing, Dorcus believes more activities should be introduced to engage the members. “We would like to buy more games, or have t-shirts with our safe space name and logo so we can be proudly identified in the community as useful youth."