A graduation bash for the ages: How our first-ever Life Skills Exhibition turned students into teachers.

At Kigalama primary school, books are few and lunch is meager. Still, children smile and concentrate on their lessons because they know that education is the key to a better life.

Lukia, 15, writes in her notebook. Sajja, 16, raises his hand. But one little girl, Beatrice, is nowhere to be found.

‘Is she sick?’ Life Skills manager Manuela Ongyera wonders. After some sleuthing, Manuela discovers that the girl was married off to a witch doctor — a practitioner of traditional medicine — and removed from the classroom.

While the details vary, the basic reality of pregnant and married teenagers is commonplace in certain parts of Busoga. Some cases involve rape or assault. Others feature economic coercion or threats of curses or spirits. All are illegal if they involve sex with a minor.

While the Life Skills Education and Counseling program features a complex and multifaceted curriculum of conflict resolution and communication skills that extend far beyond preventing pregnancy and early marriage, Manuela and assistant manager Lorna Katagara have a heart for girls who are pressured into abusive situations.

  Originally a member of Kibo's    WASH    team, Manuela started the Life Skills program when she realized that children — the future of Uganda — weren’t being directly included in Kibo’s curriculum.

Originally a member of Kibo's WASH team, Manuela started the Life Skills program when she realized that children — the future of Uganda — weren’t being directly included in Kibo’s curriculum.

  Originally a member of Kibo's administrative team, Lorna joined Life Skills to empower students. With a background in social work, her passion is helping young people thrive by instilling the importance of education in them.

Originally a member of Kibo's administrative team, Lorna joined Life Skills to empower students. With a background in social work, her passion is helping young people thrive by instilling the importance of education in them.


Fast forward to the first-ever Life Skills Education and Counseling Exhibition in August of 2018. Children and parents alike gathered in a large field to watch performances by students from Kivule and Kigalama primary schools. Waves of orange and purple uniforms — first divided, like oil and water — soon flowed into each other as strangers became friends.

After a full academic year of working with Kibo, students taught their parents about relationship skills, the dangers of early marriage, and the importance of proper education. Their self-esteem radiated as they performed an afternoon’s worth of songs, poems, skits, and speeches.

  The students of Kivule (left) and Kigalama (right) wait anxiously for the start of the exhibition. With their parents, teachers, and even government representatives sitting across from them, they are eager to demonstrate the knowledge they've gained from the Life Skills curriculum.

The students of Kivule (left) and Kigalama (right) wait anxiously for the start of the exhibition. With their parents, teachers, and even government representatives sitting across from them, they are eager to demonstrate the knowledge they've gained from the Life Skills curriculum.


The Life Skills Exhibition was a rousing event with food, a loudspeaker, and costumes. Manuela and Lorna designed the exhibition to honor the students who successfully completed the Life Skills curriculum and to celebrate the permanent implementation of the curriculum in Kivule and Kigalama. They empowered the students to come up with their own performances to share what they’ve learned.


The performances were moving for everyone in attendance. Boys and girls alike, aged 13 to 18, pleaded with the parents and government officials in attendance to be good examples, to invest in education, and to not marry their children off before they’re ready. They cited the fact that a country cannot thrive without an educated civil society. They emphasized the importance of conflict resolution. They spoke their minds.

  The students of Kivule, where the exhibition was held, welcomed the Kibo staff, their peers from Kigalama, and all of the parents, teachers, administrators, and government officials in attendance with performances they prepared. As they danced in celebration, the students sang of their love for Manuela and Lorna, who invested an hour a week in their personal development during Life Skills classes. The students also expressed their gratitude to Kibo — for selecting their school to receive Life Skills training — and to their parents and teachers for allowing them to attend school.

The students of Kivule, where the exhibition was held, welcomed the Kibo staff, their peers from Kigalama, and all of the parents, teachers, administrators, and government officials in attendance with performances they prepared. As they danced in celebration, the students sang of their love for Manuela and Lorna, who invested an hour a week in their personal development during Life Skills classes. The students also expressed their gratitude to Kibo — for selecting their school to receive Life Skills training — and to their parents and teachers for allowing them to attend school.


  Kigalama students performed a skit about a little girl in school who had to drop out after an older man coerced her into sex and impregnated her. The man in the skit was imprisoned for raping a minor. The Life Skills curriculum addresses the dangers of early pregnancy, which can lead to dropping out of school for young girls and imprisonment for men if they are 18 years or older and impregnate a minor.

Kigalama students performed a skit about a little girl in school who had to drop out after an older man coerced her into sex and impregnated her. The man in the skit was imprisoned for raping a minor. The Life Skills curriculum addresses the dangers of early pregnancy, which can lead to dropping out of school for young girls and imprisonment for men if they are 18 years or older and impregnate a minor.


The Life Skills curriculum — based on the curriculum developed by the Peace Corps — is a multi-dimensional attempt to teach communication, relationship skills, and assertiveness. It coaches students how to build self-esteem, resist peer pressure, manage emotions, and sharpen decision-making. It covers health, psychology, conflict management, and even law. Sometimes a dangerous situation can be mitigated simply by knowing that running away is a viable option.

In more complex situations, Lorna and Manuela are confident that, beyond providing mere information, the Life Skills curriculum helps to unlock hidden strengths and competencies of the individual that can serve them in tough situations.

  During a song-and-dance performance, the students of Kivule celebrated the empowerment and confidence that the Life Skills curriculum instilled in them. The Life Skills curriculum addresses relationships, communication styles, peer pressure, and much more. The students used the exhibition to express how Manuela and Lorna have prepared them for life’s challenges and instilled in them the importance of education.

During a song-and-dance performance, the students of Kivule celebrated the empowerment and confidence that the Life Skills curriculum instilled in them. The Life Skills curriculum addresses relationships, communication styles, peer pressure, and much more. The students used the exhibition to express how Manuela and Lorna have prepared them for life’s challenges and instilled in them the importance of education.


  In a coordinated poem, the students of Kigalama begged their parents to invest in their education. Boys are often kept home from school to help in the fields. Girls are often kept home from school to help with house work or because they don't know how to handle their menstrual cycles. The Life Skills curriculum teaches girls how to care for themselves during menstruation, and it teaches boys how to respect and value women, since girls are often teased at school during their periods.

In a coordinated poem, the students of Kigalama begged their parents to invest in their education. Boys are often kept home from school to help in the fields. Girls are often kept home from school to help with house work or because they don't know how to handle their menstrual cycles. The Life Skills curriculum teaches girls how to care for themselves during menstruation, and it teaches boys how to respect and value women, since girls are often teased at school during their periods.


  The parents of the students glowed with pride as they watched their children perform. Many parents took photos and videos on their cell phones. All of them cheered with delight. The parents' reactions show that there is reason to hope that these students will stay in school.

The parents of the students glowed with pride as they watched their children perform. Many parents took photos and videos on their cell phones. All of them cheered with delight. The parents' reactions show that there is reason to hope that these students will stay in school.


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The little girl married to a witch doctor did not return to Kigalama primary school, but Kibo’s staff received word that she now attends a different school. While hypotheticals are never certain, one has to wonder what her life would look like if she and her family could have gleaned Manuela and Lorna’s wisdom in Kibo’s Life Skills program. For Beatrice, we will never know.

But for all the students who have experienced the Life Skills program, we can know this: The girls are less likely to drop out of school due to early pregnancy, the boys are less likely to take advantage of a girl or woman, and everyone — in the future when they are ready to have a family — will be better prepared to communicate and manage those relationships with grace and poise.