By Francis Emol, Mercy Corps, Uganda
Francis is part of the team that coordinates Mercy Corps’ DREAMS Innovation Challenge project, which combines vocational or microfranchise training with stipends and vouchers to enable private sector business experience for young women in Uganda.
I work in the northern part of Uganda, in Gulu District -- a region that has experienced a decade of civil war. Many lives were lost, and we are still in a recovery period. And there is HIV. In our area, the virus is not well understood. Many people live in fear of caring for the sick, leaving patients without social support even from loved ones. HIV is especially affecting young people, who lack information about how to live positively.
I provide counseling for people affected by HIV and AIDS. One who stands out is a young boy who lives with his grandmother because his parents died of AIDS. This boy has been marginalized and not allowed to play with other kids, because people do not understand how the virus is transmitted. Since he is young, no one bothered to explain to him what was going on -- he only learned from rumors that he is living with HIV. This child of 14 years was left broken and withdrawn, with no one to talk to.
My work offered me the opportunity to get close to the boy -- I was able to provide him with a listening ear. He shared his fears about life based on how he is being treated, and how this is shaping his character and socialization. He was no longer interested in school, for fear of being side lined. I told him, “You can always come to me, if you need comfort or support.”
I was also prompted to talk to his grandmother and let her know his feelings. She said, “I will do my best to support him in any way.” This experience has given me a passion for working with young people, who often lack the chance to open up. I want to build their skills and confidence to stand up and speak out for themselves, when they face challenges.
All photos provided by Francis Emol.