A volunteer's special understanding of how safe abortion can save lives
The Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF) which is hosted by IPPF was set up in 2006 in order to support grass-roots organisations to increase access to safe abortion. One such organisation which received support under the last round of funding is called Volunteers for Development Association Uganda (VODA). Abortion in Uganda is legal in cases of rape and incest.
My name is Mary*. I work as a volunteer counsellor with VODA. I had to finish school early and it took me 17 years to return because I went through a lot of difficulties.
I was raised mainly by my mother but she could not afford to pay for classes for me to stay at secondary school. In 1996, my brothers received money from a rich man, claiming that I asked for it so he could seduce me. They took me to that man’s home and he raped me. That was my first time to have sexual intercourse. I was 18.
I was raped a second time but this time it was my brother. I got pregnant. Had I had information about safe abortion, I would have terminated the pregnancy because he was my brother. I heard about unsafe abortion methods but I did not have proper information about it. I gave birth to that baby boy amidst a lot of shame. The boy’s father denied him. He has kept on denying until today but the boy resembles him.
I’m still ashamed because I still have the boy. I didn't have chance to have an abortion but I would have aborted. Now that I am a volunteer I help people when I find someone with an experience similar to mine, I would have no difficulty in referring them for safe services. The boy is now 18-years-old but it will also be shameful to him if I told him my brother is his father.
That is why I thank VODA for coming to the aid of desperate young girls who have had experiences like mine or even worse. Sometimes we receive cases related to incest. Some have claimed they were impregnated by their fathers or other close relatives. Those girls come when they surely want to terminate the pregnancies.
This project has helped me in many ways. Now I’m a very well-trained counsellor through VODA and the Safe Abortion Action Fund. Sometimes mothers come with their pregnant daughters to seek for services without the knowledge of the husbands. So in such cases I give them referral cards to our partner health facilities. And they have come back here thanking us. I can counsel girls who have had an unsafe abortion and advise them to get the right medical help, with a doctor who can provide post-abortion care.
Many of those that we have given referral cards and have been successful in securing safe services are very happy with VODA. But there are those who look at us negatively saying we aid teenagers in getting rid of pregnancies. Because of the legal restrictions, we cannot come out from the onset to say our organisation promotes safe abortion. We had to begin slowly and convince people to see things from our side.
VODA has helped to improve the lives of people. Some parents come here even to seek counselling services for their daughters especially when they realise that they have begun engaging in relationships that could lead to unwanted pregnancies. So we advise them and also suggest family planning methods. Some have come back to thank us.
Personally, VODA has really helped me. I have learned how to counsel and can talk to large groups and I am married. I didn't go for a degree after my A levels. But I’m going to join university this month and I will begin my degree in business administration.
*Mary is not her real name.
Read more stories about the amazing success of SAAF in Uganda