Fighting AIDS, Educating Girls
by Jacqueline Hartling Stolze
Adolescent girls in Uganda face a paradox. Their culture expects them to be sexually modest and ignorant, which leaves the girls vulnerable to the older men who are likely to be their first sexual partners. For these Ugandan women, ignorance is a set-up for unwanted sex, early pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS and other STDs.
Information is power. And information is what Sabrina Eagan '96 intends to deliver to adolescent girls in the rural community of Komamboga, Uganda. Sabrina was the winner of a $20,000 2003 Wall Service Award, which she will devote to improving adolescent health services and education in Komamboga.
As part of her public health nursing studies, Sabrina worked with local leaders to conduct a community health needs and strengths assessment in Komamboga. The report revealed that services for adolescent health were inadequate. A subsequent study of local adolescents showed that while many teens were engaging in sexual activity, the sex education they received at school was inadequate.
"Since adolescence is a time of unique vulnerability to acquiring HIV, we decided to focus on this health problem," Sabrina explains. "The target groups for the project include adolescents, their parents, teachers, health workers, and local leaders."
Uganda, one of the first countries to be hard-hit by AIDS, has marshaled a relatively proactive response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, and Ugandans remain open to educational interventions targeted at HIV.
Community is important to what Sabrina hopes to achieve. "There's a much stronger sense of community [in Uganda] than what we're used to in the United States," she explains. "The community has already displayed an impressive ability to come together to address problems. The overall goal focuses on building collaborations within the community and on developing the community capacity to respond to the sexual health needs of adolescents."
Sabrina's project will use the strength of the community to improve adolescent sexual health. A steering committee made up of adults and teenagers will oversee the development of community projects related to adolescent sexual health, and an association for teachers of reproductive health in the area will exchange information and collaborate on related activities. Monthly workshops for teenagers will focus on sexual health issues, and young peer educators will be trained to teach other teens about healthy behaviors. And finally, an adolescent health center is now open and operating in Komamboga; Sabrina hopes to continue to asexpand the services available there.
Although Sabrina is deeply involved in the project now, she is planning for a future when the community will continue the work without her. "One of the priorities throughout the work is to build it with the community as a foundation-not me alone," she says.
Sabrina is deeply grateful to her alma mater for making the project at Komamboga possible. "It can be challenging to find funding that doesn't come with some sort of 'strings attached,'" she says. "In Uganda, particularly, people are frustrated with the large amounts of money dedicated to performing research in developing countries without equivalent amounts being devoted to service delivery. Grinnell's recognition of the importance of service is welcome!"