In 2010, to complement a project in Uganda with UNAIDS on the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV, the HIV program at the Earth Institute started an initiative to empower girls and young women in the Millennium Village of Ruhiira, a small rural community in southern Uganda. They called it Eminyeeto, or “youth” in the local Ugandan language.
The program’s objectives originally targeted “cross-generational sex,” which is a pattern of sexual behavior between girls, some as young as 10 years old, and much older men. Cross-generational sex brings increased health risks and consequences for girls and young women, notably HIV and STI infection as well as low self-esteem. The program opened three adolescent-focused health centers to provide free access to sexual health education, family planning services, HIV/AIDS and STI prevention and treatment, and psychosocial counseling.
Since 2010, Eminyeeto has expanded and currently focuses on four key components:
- Free preventive health measures through adolescent health centers
- Social and emotional curriculum taught in schools
- Peer support activities through mentorship
- Female-led business enterprise through income-generating activities
The social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculum is now taught in over 20 schools in the Isingiro District, where the program works. This curriculum provides activities to girls to improve skills related to confidence, leadership, critical thinking, trauma healing, cooperative learning, responsibility, effective communication, and coping.
The program also aims to create, through the SEL curriculum sessions and soon through income-generating activities, an environment to foster self-improvement and mentorship. This can be achieved through strong peer relationships among adolescents and young women by conducting monthly trainings and workshops on a variety of topics such as leadership skills, mental health promotion, and business and financial management.
The last component is the critical missing link that will lead the girls and young women enrolled in the program on a path towards economic independence. Therefore, the program is currently trying to incorporate income-generating activities for adolescent girls and young women – and they have unanimously expressed the urgent need to open bakeries across the district. Presently, the closest bakery is 11.5 km away but due to the poor roads, lack of transportation and Ruhiira’s high elevation, it is extremely difficult for Ruhiira residents to obtain baked goods in a timely manner or at a reasonable price.
By developing these businesses, the program aims to:
- Promote economic empowerment for the young women and their families via the young women earning a salary
- Provide leadership skills through the partnership with technical experts from our local partners in Uganda