Harmony* carries herself with such pride that it’s easy to forget that she’s just a young adult in her early 20s. Only a few years ago, she was a teenager, with dreams and ambitions, until her world was turned upside down.
She lost her father at the age of two and was left in the care of her mother who was rarely around, as she was a soldier on active duty. Instead she was placed in a school hostel where life became harder than she could have anticipated: she had little access to basic needs like sanitary pads, food and clothing.
When she was 16, Harmony started a relationship with a boy who offered to provide for her and initially she felt that her dreams had come true. Unfortunately due to having little knowledge and education around safe sex, Harmony became pregnant after her first sexual encounter with her boyfriend who was only 17 himself. When symptoms of her pregnancy started to show, the school matron became suspicious and ordered Harmony to do a pregnancy test. When this came back positive, she was expelled from the school.
Abandoned by her family
Her mother was furious when she learnt of the pregnancy and attacked Harmony viciously, breaking her arm and then throwing her out of the house. She tried to get help from relatives but her mother intervened and she was not welcome anywhere.
When she was five months pregnant, her uncle organised a termination with an unsafe doctor. The procedure did not work and Harmony was left incontinent and bleeding. Her mother ordered her uncle to send her to the streets so there was no one to blame in case of her death. She was given a small amount of money to disappear, so Harmony decided to head to Jinja city with hopes of a better life.
Adjusting to her new life
Harmony was homeless, pregnant and now medically unwell. She spent a short time on the streets but in desperation, she sought refuge with her mother-in-law despite her boyfriend not being present as he had also run away. She agreed to take her in only if she worked, which she did every day despite huge difficulties and illness. When Harmony went into labour, she was referred to a hospital due to her complications and need for more medical care. Fortunately she had a successful birth.
Her boyfriend eventually came back home and they started a new life together. She became pregnant again, however this time her mother-in-law offered her all the support she needed.
From homeless teenager to peer educator
Harmony’s experience is the same as millions of girls in Uganda – 25% of girls become pregnant before the age of 18. This is partly due to poverty and partly due to a lack of knowledge of sexual and reproductive health (SRH).
Despite the terrible experiences Harmony had to endure, she never gave up. We met Harmony when she was on the streets and now she has become one of S.A.L.V.E. International’s peer educators. She is very active and hardworking, and has been empowered by learning about SRH. Her role involves educating young people in her community as she says she doesn’t want what happened to her to happen to others. She administers contraception and explains family planning options so they can make an informed choice.
She is also now a community health entrepreneur and with this income she can pay school fees for her children and feed her family. Before, Harmony was very shy and struggled to express herself in public but, with S.A.L.V.E.’s help, she has transformed her life and is now thinking of standing for a Female Youth Councillor position to continue advocating for the rights of young people.
*names are changed in line with our Child Protection Policy