Twenty three-year-old Amanda Banura volunteers at Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU), and founded her own youth organization called the Ugandan Youth Alliance, hosted by RHU that advocates for the reproductive health information and services for young people.
Joan was inspired to start the Ugandan Youth Alliance by a traumatic experience in her past. She was raped at an early age by her father’s friend. She describes her abuse, saying, “The first time I didn’t know [what was happening]. This guy came and found me sleeping. My dad was out, and my mom was in prison. I’m the only one at home, and he’s the guy they’ve told to take care of us, to watch over us. So he locks us in the house, he goes out, he comes back and he’s drunk. He just took off my bedsheet, and started touching me …. Then he told me, ‘If you talk, I’m going to beat you up. And if you tell your father, I’ll kill you.’ …. I couldn’t scream, my sisters were sleeping in the next room, I was sleeping in a different room …. It hurt, because it was the first time, his penis was huge, and I was this small thing …. So I got bruised and then I got pain for two months. I thought maybe I was getting sick. I just kept on washing with warm water.”
Amanda stayed silent about her abuse for many years until she received a scholarship to attend the International Conference on Family Planning and realized that she was not alone. She explains her experience and moment of realization, saying, “I went there and met a group of vibrant young people, and I got to listen to many experiences from different countries, and I was like, ‘I’m not the only one who is really bad off.’ I was sexually harassed … by a relative to my father. I didn’t tell anyone because at that time … I was so scared, I was so vulnerable.”
Upon returning to Uganda after the conference, Amanda was determined to take action on behalf of the young people in her country who were suffering as she had, saying “So when I came back here after the 2013 conference. I was like, ‘okay, I have to do something, not only for myself, but for the young people.’”
Amanda explains how her own abuse motivates her to provide reproductive health information and services to other young people in need, saying, “If I had known, perhaps I was lucky I did not get pregnant when I was raped, but then there are those who are not lucky at all; when they are raped they get pregnant. The youngest we’ve had is 9 years old. But if this girl who got pregnant at 9 years, had knowledge about emergency contraception … she would not really have been suffering. They drop out of school, and once they drop out of school, they are not allowed to go back to school cause now they are stigmatized, laughing stock …. These girls at times end up taking their lives. They end up committing suicide. Because they would rather die than stay in a community that is laughing at them and mocking them. So that’s one thing that pulls me – my passion to really work with schools, work with young people in the communities, talk to these mothers and fathers to make them understand that if you cannot sort your own problems, let us have the freedom to do what we want.”
Like the girls she aims to help, Amanda notes that there was a time when she too thought of committing suicide, but refrained out of love for her sisters and her desire to help other victims: “At one point I thought about committing suicide but then I looked at my siblings, and was like, ‘okay, if I’m not living for myself, I’m living for them. So I have to stay, I’m the only one taking care of them, cause daddy was not around. I cannot leave them for anyone else.’ That is what kept me going until now, that is what keeps me going, and then the passion to help others.”
Amanda at Naguru Teenage Information and Health Clinic in Kampala, Uganda where she volunteers, providing reproductive health information to young people.
In addition to overcoming sexual abuse, Amanda has overcome a number of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Growing up, her father was a serial abuser of her mother. Amanda explains, “Before our dad left there was a lot of domestic violence. He would beat our mom every night …. They would fight from the bedroom. All we could hear was noise. My mother is a strong-willed person. Because she would come out and she would really try to pretend like nothing was happening, but she was crying. And there was a time she came out and her face was swollen and beaten.”
Today, Amanda is struggling to raise funds for her fledging Ugandan Youth Alliance, a critical organization with the potential to transform Uganda, a country where three-quarters of the population is under 30, and nearly a quarter of girls aged 15 to 19 have had a baby or are pregnant. All the work she and her colleagues do is voluntary; the limited resources they receive are usually for one-off projects and events. U.S. funding to organizations like Reproductive Health Uganda and its subsidiaries is critical to the life-changing work Amanda is striving to do. Still, U.S. funding for reproductive health programs has not kept pace with the growing need and will likely be cut in the coming years.
Amanda’s father eventually left her and her family to be with another woman, also ceasing payment of school fees for Amanda and her sisters. She was seven the first time she dropped out of school, but she did not let that stop her. She befriended the head teacher and begged her to have the school cover their fees through a merit scholarship, saying “We have to study, we can’t sit at home.” It worked, and Amanda was able to secure a scholarship. Still, eventually the funds ran out and Amanda spent her childhood volunteering, working odd jobs, and asking her employers to help sponsor her and her siblings for school. She eventually landed a paid job at a local radio station where she would take three-quarters of her monthly salary for school fees and use the remaining balance to care for her younger siblings at home. Graduating from high school was the best day of her life, she said.
“If I had known, perhaps I was lucky I did not get pregnant when I was raped, but then there are those who are not lucky at all.”