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Esther Nakajjigo: Young fighter for women and girls

Kampala, Uganda | AGNES NANTABA | She has been recognised by the Kabaka of Buganda, has her own TV show, owns a mid-level health centre and a Youth Centre, and is winner of the Geneva World Women’s Award as the best project for urban and rural women. She is also Uganda’s Ambassador of hope for Women and Girls, a title given to her by the World Health Organization (WHO) and civil society. And she is just 21 years old.

Esther Nakajjigo’s brain appears to be pumping out award-winning idea after idea. And she started out when she was just 14 years old after noticing fellow youth who grow up in slums were being consumed by prostitution, abortion, and drug abuse. She volunteered as a peer educator at Kiruddu Health Centre even if her mother did not initially like her idea as it involved talking about sex and distributing condoms.

By the time Kiruddu Centre closed for renovation, her mother was so convinced that she gave Nakajjigo land on which she built a health centre and youth centre. Her health centre is called the Princess Diana Health Centre in Kampala’s suburb of Munyonyo. It’s at the level of Health Centre III or one tier lower than a county facility. However, she says, she soon discovered that the incidences of teenage pregnancies across the country “are scary”.

“So my role grew from just Kampala to the entire country,” she says. She says her role in reducing teenage pregnancies in the country earned her the WHO award.

But her latest project, the ‘Saving Innocence challenge’, is just as exciting. It is a girl-to-girl project targeting young girls in school willing to sacrifice and support their colleagues who dropped out along the way. They must convince their school administrators to allow them visit the community in search of a child mother to offer help in all ways to; especially those who have lost hope in life. The girls also help the young mother face their biggest fears and this applies mostly to those girls who have been kicked out of school. The challenge has covered Gomba district and is in Kalangala, both districts with high rates of HIV and teenage pregnancies. The project also has top schools in other districts; including Trinity College Nabbingo, Nabisunsa Girls School, Princess Diana High School, Buddo Secondary School, and over 20 others.

The Saving Innocence challenge has seen over 25 girls return to school in Gomba district and over 220 startup small businesses for survival. These work to advocate for girls to stay in school in their areas.

‘While I may not be able to reach every girl and place in the country, I believe that the girls can access information through the Saving Innocence reality TV show that airs on one of the local TV stations,’ she says.

Saving Innocence also won the Geneva Award because of its sustainability feature; since it doesn’t require outside funding as the stakeholders who are the girls fill the gaps. The girls also fundraise and collect money to help in running the initiative activities.

Nakajjigo says, “It is healthy competition for schools as girls face real life challenges and offer others a second chance in life by either returning to school or starting up businesses.”

Nakajjigo’s World Savers awards 2015 and 2016 also came with a scholarship offer from the King of Buganda for her to study at Muteesa I Royal University where she is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work and Social Administration.

Nakajjigo is the first born of the five children of Mr and Mrs. Kateregga. She sees her work as supplementary to the efforts of the government and others. Her goal, she says, is to build a legacy of a young girl who made a contribution towards transforming her country even when she had little or nothing.

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