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.
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 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 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.
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.