From a traumatic childhood to a positive future

Tuesday 12 February 2019

Anna*'s healthy baby with her grandmother. She's looking forward to a happier future

17-year-old Anna* has lived through a traumatic childhood. Born in the Central African Republic, where her South Sudanese parents fled as refugees, she contracted HIV at an early age and was orphaned at just one-year-old when both her parents died. Her paternal uncle brought her to Uganda, and then to South Sudan when the country briefly stabilised. However, in 2017 conflict broke out again near her home and she returned to Uganda.

She now stays with her paternal grandmother, 63, who also has five other orphans to take care of. They stay in Palorinya refugee settlement, one of the largest in northern Uganda hosting more than 118,000 refugees.

One day Anna* was attacked, defiled and impregnated by a man who then went on the run. Her HIV+ status means she already experiences stigma and neglect from both her family and the community at large, and this made matters even worse. She attempted to abort the pregnancy four months in.

“I was staying in a dilapidated house, abandoned by my relatives, and I resorted to drugs,” she says.

Her relationship with her relatives deteriorated even further – they were not concerned about her safety and wellbeing, never provided for her, and subjected her to regular psychological and emotional abuse. She decided to leave and live on her own.   

Save the Children’s child protection team goes around Palorinya identifying vulnerable children at risk and in need of support. They quickly identified Anna*, who was now well into her pregnancy and had also dropped out of school, unable to walk the long distance each day while pregnant.  

Due to the stigma Anna* had even stopped going for medical check-ups and refilling her medication (ARVs). The team referred her for medical support and routine antenatal checkups, as well as counselling and medication. When she was ready to give birth, the team helped transport her to the health centre, where she was given a C-section and delivered a healthy baby. They then took her to collect her medication and remove the stitches.  

Save the Children child protection staff provided both Anna* and her family with psychological first aid (PFA) and counselling. Gradually this helped the family to accept her and all the terrible things that have happened to her. Through routine psychoeducation sessions, the family was constantly reminded of its responsibilities towards Anna* and her new baby, and they slowly became more supportive and accommodating.

Her uncle Joseph, with support from Save the Children, is now the Chairperson of the local Parent Support Group, a committee which identifies child protection issues in the settlement.

This work is part of a multi-sectoral assistance programme to South Sudanese refugees and host communities funded by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) in a consortium with Mercy Corps, Dan Church Aid, Oxfam, and Care International.

Working together can greatly increase the impact. Our case management work also refers children to other agencies who can provide additional support. Anna*’s living situation needed to improve, so the team referred her to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) who constructed a shelter for her and her baby, and a pit latrine for her and the other family members, as well as providing core relief items such as clothes and soap. She also enrolled on a vocational skills training programme with The Lutheran World Federation, after which she plans to to start a business.

“I want to start a general merchandise business selling sugar and soap in the market,” she says.

Today Anna* and her baby sleep in a comfortable home and get care and support from her relatives. They relate well as a family and share the little they have with each other. The counselling and psychosocial support has given Anna* the support she needed to approach life with a positive attitude and cope with the challenges that come her way. She’s taking her medication, looking after her baby, and planning to go back to school. “I hope to have a bright future for myself and my child,” she says.