31
Dec

Why I Cried in Uganda

 

 
 

Not long after we began our work in Uganda, I traveled to one of the most remote villages we work with. The dirt road to the village was filled with enormous, dusty potholes which swallowed up our vehicle as we dipped in and out of them. Slowly by slowly, as they say in Uganda, we reached the village.

Mud huts lined the roads and hundreds of children ran along the side of the vehicle. The sun was blazing as we stopped in front of the Church, the only permanent structure in the village.

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I was hot, sweaty and swooning a little. I opened the door and stepped into the masses of children. Suddenly I found myself swallowed up in a firm embrace with my face pressed into the shoulder of a woman who was the same height as me. She was laughing and trying to jump up and down while holding onto me.

I gripped her by the shoulders and held her back just far enough so that I could take in her smiling face. It was Florence, the mother of Nyangoma, the very first child we sent to boarding school from this small village, called Kikoiiro. She was smiling and saying webale nyo, webale nyo which means, “thank you so much, thank you so much.” And I just started crying, as I have the many times Florence has tackled me with her bear hugs since then.

You see, it was the first time that I could see in the eyes of this mother that our work mattered. All of the fundraising, story telling, traveling, partner misunderstandings, was worth it.

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This mother was just like me: deeply invested in her child’s health and future. Yet unlike me, she had no resources. Nothing but disease and ignorance to share with her daughter.

Since then, Just Like My Child Foundation has travelled a long road with Florence and her family — a road filled with tragedy but ultimately, with triumph. Our journey together has been about providing a hand up, never a hand out.

Please take a moment to watch Florence’s story — it will resonate with anyone who has ever loved a child. And let me know if you can’t help but cry, too, perhaps for her struggle, though certainly for her amazing triumph.

~ Vivian Glyck, Founder
Just Like My Child Foundation

 

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22
Aug

JLMC Welcomes Michele Manatt

 

michelle-manattJust Like My Child Foundation is pleased to welcome Michele Manatt to our team as Strategic Advisor and Washington D.C. Liaison. Michele was instrumental in JLMC being included in the First Lady’s (Michelle Obama) Let Girls Learn initiative.

About Michele:

Michele Manatt is an advisor and consultant to a variety of non-profits. In that work she brings years of experience at senior levels in the US Government, in both the Executive and Legislative branches, and extensive pro-bono work to achieve the objectives of non-governmental organizations and national and state-level political campaigns.

In 2015 she was elected to the board of the US Diplomacy Center Foundation, which is charged with providing resources and guidance to the museum and educational center under construction at the US State Department.  Since 2010 Ms. Manatt has been the Chair and founding member of the Council on Women’s Leadership at Meridian International Center.  She also serves on its governing Board of Trustees.  Meridian is one of the premier institutions promoting U.S. public diplomacy objectives for greater international understanding through professional and cultural exchange. Meridian conducts programs with leaders (both elected and appointed) in the public and private sector, entrepreneurs and change-makers.

Ms. Manatt served over seven years in senior positions in the Clinton/Gore Administration. From 1999-2001, she was the Director of Legislative Affairs for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) led by four-star General Barry R. McCaffrey.  From 1993-99, she served as Senior Policy Advisor to three Assistant Secretaries of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, top State Department officials and numerous U.S. ambassadors. Highlights of her work included Congressional approval of NAFTA, implementation of the peace process in El Salvador, and management of challenging relations with the Governments of ColomOkbia and Peru, among many other issues.  She led the Latin America Bureau’s efforts supporting the Vital Voices of the Americas conference in Montevideo, Uruguay in October 1998, attended by US First Lady Hillary Clinton.  Prior to her executive branch service, from 1991-93, she worked as a professional staff member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. Congress, serving under the leadership of Chairmen Lee H. Hamilton (D-Indiana) and earlier Chairman Dante B. Fascell (D-Florida).

Ms. Manatt is active in several prestigious international forums.  She is a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, the Los Angeles, California-based forum that focuses on policy issues of significant resonance to the West Coast of the United States.  She is a member of the Women’s Foreign Policy Group, the Asia Society, and the Middle East Institute.  In 2011 she was recruited to become a member of the Hispanic Advisory Council of Catholic Charities of Washington, D.C., which provides comprehensive services to the immigrant community of the metropolitan area. The Council provides strategic advice to Mario Dorsonville, the auxiliary bishop of the greater Washington, D.C. and Maryland region.

Ms. Manatt holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Economy from the University of California at Berkeley.   She did extensive graduate work in Business, Finance and International Economics at the George Washington University. She grew up in Los Angeles, California.

Ms. Manatt is based in Fairfax County, Virginia.  She is fully fluent (native level) in Spanish and is proud that her children are as well.

 

13
Jun

The Girl Power Project® Goes to the White House!

 

92dad9ff-b9e3-4fda-a434-c423ee57a0a0Just Like My Child Foundation (JLMC) has been invited to participate in the White House’s United State of Women Summit in Washington, DC today, June 14th, 2016, where JLMC has made a commitment to reach an additional 10,000 girls in Uganda by 2020 through our Girl Power Project® — thereby doubling our current impact to reduce the barriers that prevent adolescent girls from completing their education in Uganda.

There’s a lot that’s been done by and for women and girls, but there’s still plenty to do. Convened by the White House, this Summit is rallying all of us together to celebrate what we’ve achieved, and how we’re going to take action moving forward.

We know that a girl with an education can shape her own destiny, lift up her family, and transform her community. That is why last March, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let Girls Learn, a U.S. government initiative aimed at helping adolescent girls attain a quality education that empowers them to reach their full potential.

Just Like My Child Foundation is thrilled to support the #LetGirlsLearn initiative and for the opportunity to empower more girls to reach their full potential.

 

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gpp-logo-jlmc-colorOur 2016 #LetGirlsLearn Commitment: 

Just Like My Child Foundation (JLMC) is committed to reaching an additional 10,000 vulnerable adolescent girls with our Girl Power Project® in Central Uganda, thereby doubling our current program reach by 2020. An initial investment from the Toni Ko Foundation will launch JLMC’s $250,000 commitment.

The Girl Power Project® was created to empower adolescent girls and designed to reduce barriers that prevent adolescent girls from completing secondary school. The Girl Power Project® (GPP) “System in a Box” is an evidence based, innovative, targeted, and scalable mentoring program totaling 60+ hours of training over two years. It addresses the complex needs of vulnerable adolescent girls’ aged 10-15, by ensuring that they stay in school and avoid obstacles in the transition to secondary school. The GPP® empowers girls to live healthy lives by avoiding forced child marriage, HIV transmission, early pregnancy, rape and disease.

Follow the progress of our work and our commitment to empowering at-risk girls in Uganda on Instagram @justlikemychild.

 

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Tune in to The United #StateofWomen Summit:

The White House has brought together some of the most incredible women in the world to launch this movement. Visit http://www.theunitedstateofwomen.org/ to learn more. Watch the film to get inspired, take action, and join the #StateofWomenWatch the Livestream Online Today, June 14th from 8:30am to 7:00pm EST.

 

 

5
May

How Project Keep a Mother Alive was Born with Baby Cristina

My first night at Bishop Asili Health Centre was May 19, 2006. After 30 hours of travel, I arrived and settled into a room in the guests’ quarters on-site. About a half hour after I arrived, the electricity went off. Which meant that the hospital had no electricity, either. As I settled onto my cot that night, I started to hear the cries of a woman — cries that were filled with desperation and pain. Her cries made the hairs on the backs of my arms and on the back of my neck stood straight up.

baby-cristinaThe next morning, the Sisters, who run the hospital, and nurses brought us little baby Cristina. It turned out that the screams we heard throughout the night were those of Cristina’s grandmother — as she watched her daughter’s life slip away as she gave birth to baby Cristina. Later that morning when I went around the clinic to see what was going on, I saw the body of Cristina’s mother on a wooden plank, shrouded by a blanket. She was to be placed on the back of a scooter later that day, to be taken away for burial. It was right then and there that our first project, Project Keep a Mother Alive, was born. I understood how great the potential was for Cristina to die — because without the care and protection of her mother, the odds of the baby surviving were slim.

Immediately after, I sat down with Sister Ernestine, and I said “what’s the first thing that you need?” She sighed glumly and said, “a generator”. You see, a lot of (white) people had visited Bishop Asili and promised to bring her back support, a light of hope. Nobody ever did. And I could tell that she thought I was full of it, also.

— Vivian Glyck, Founder
Just Like My Child Foundation (JLMC)

 

Through the generosity of several women who were also visiting, Baby Christina was kept alive and thriving with baby formula. This cost just pennies a day, and the hospital welcomed the assistance because it would have been tremendously burdensome for them to purchase the formula.

Through the generosity of several women who were also visiting, Baby Christina was kept alive and thriving with $240 worth of baby formula. The Sisters welcomed the assistance because it would have been tremendously difficult for them to purchase.

Within 90 days, we raised the money for the generator which today is still keeping the lights on when electricity goes out and ensures blood and medicines are safely stored at the right temperatures. Over the last 10 years, JLMC helped transform Bishop Asili from a small clinic into a flourishing hospital — that has saved the lives of over 5,000 mothers and exponentially more children who would have perished without their mother’s protection in Luwero, Uganda, East Africa.

We’ve worked closely with Sister Ernestine to invest in the professional development of medical staff, a surgical wing, ambulances, as well as medical and diagnostic equipment for both routine and emergency procedures.

And with the support of our donors, together we’ve helped eliminate a lot of the barriers that women face to obtain healthcare in Luwero, Uganda. BUT there’s one last piece of medical equipment that will HUGELY improve Bishop Asili Hospital’s ability to save even more lives — and we need your help. 

But Sister Ernestine still has one piece of equipment left on her list for mothers that come to Bishop Asili: A Universal Anesthesia Machine and Ventilator to monitor patients’ health during surgical procedures. Nearly 50 children are born at Bishop Asili Hospital each month and without these tools, the hospital can’t provide the most up-to-date anesthesia during surgery and newborns are only getting the most basic forms of care.

 

Help us reach our goal to provide this essential piece of
surgical equipment this Mother’s Day: bit.ly/keepmothersalive

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14
Apr

How Communities Sustain the Girl Power Project® in Uganda

Just Like My Child Foundation’s (JLMC) Girl Power Project® is transforming communities by disrupting harmful cultural practices through community engagement and empowering girls to reach their full potential. The very first step in implementing The Girl Power Project in a community is to lay a critical foundation among parents, teachers and local leaders by discussing the legal and human rights of children. The entire community learns how everyone benefits when girls stay in school, avoid child marriage, early pregnancy and disease. Through this process, all community members sign an agreement that pledges their commitment to create an essential, supportive environment for their girls to achieve their dreams. As a result of this important first step, JLMC has witnessed communities transform from treating girls like second class citizens to actively working towards solutions to protect girls.
 

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Mr. Mpoza is a Girl Power Project® advocate in Namumira, a rural community we work with in central Uganda’s Luwero District. Mr. Mpoza also serves his community as a Community Legal Volunteer, trained by JLMC’s Project Justice to know the local law and how to share that information with others in Namumira. He drew on his own personal experience to speak with our team in Uganda about what it takes to lay a foundation that supports girls in any community.

Mr. Mpoza explained that the Girl Power Project® lays the foundation for justice and respect of children in a community because everyone learns how the whole community benefits when girls are empowered to reach their full potential. It was easy for community members in Namumira to understand their obligation to look out for their girls after the Girl Power Project® was implemented.
 

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Mr. Mpoza adds that it’s also critical for the community to understand and share the feelings of injustice, which he feels has been developed in Namumira through the open dialogues he’s delivered as a Community Legal Volunteer. Namumira developed empathy for injustice and as a result, the community began saving money in order to have resources that would be specifically used to help them protect the rights of girls in their community in a legal emergency. As a result of this “Save for Justice” savings group, if girls in Namumira (and neighboring communities) fall victim to sexual violence, there are funds available to help them seek legal recourse. In a recent rape case in Namumira, these funds were used to transport a young victim to the hospital for medical treatment, to obtain tests and reports that documented the incident, and to pay for transportation to/from the local courthouse. As a result of the savings group and the whole community’s dedication to protecting the rights of their children, the rapist was arrested and is currently serving time in prison.

Read more: How a Savings Group and Volunteers are Upholding the Law in Rural Uganda

 
We have begun the execution of our Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to reach 10,000 girls over the next three years, administering a social vaccine by laying these kind of critical community foundations and reaching 50-80% of girls in every community where the Girl Power Project® has been implemented. We hope you will continue to follow our exciting progress and encourage you to share the Girl Power Project® with others who are passionate about protecting the rights of women and girls. We extend our utmost gratitude to our mentor Population Council whose tutelage and support have helped us greatly in understanding the effectivness of our work and strengthening our programming.

17
Mar

Meet Joan, a 16 year-old Girl Power Project® Peer Mentor

Just Like My Child Foundation has worked with thousands of adolescent girls and boys in rural Uganda through our Girl Power Project® since 2009. Nabatanzi (na-ba-tahn-zee) Joan, an active and very bright participant, has always stood out of the crowd for our team due to her tenacity and passion for improving her nation. Joan’s humble and open-minded approach to building relationships, coupled with her integrity and strength of character, makes her a very popular leader amongst her peers. We have had the great privilege of witnessing Joan grow over the years into a driven, confident and assertive young lady who is actively committed to mentoring as many girls as she can reach with the critical knowledge and skills she has gained through The Girl Power Project®, ensuring they are able to avoid human rights violations and the deadly pitfalls of poverty that come with sexual and gender based violence, early pregnancy, marriage and disease.

 

 

Meet Nabatanzi Joan
Joan lives and studies in Katikamu, a rural community in the Luwero District of Central Uganda. This is an area where the vast majority of girls aged 10-15 are enrolled in primary school, but once they reach puberty something distressing happens. Nearly 50% of them drop out of school by the age of 15. They are often forced into early marriage rather than being encouraged to pursue an education. They become sexually active and begin producing children before their bodies and minds are fully developed, contributing to the statistic that the leading cause of death for Ugandan girls ages 15-19 is childbirth. Moreover, nearly 65% of women in this area experience violence by the age of 24. Statistically, Joan has a myriad of social and cultural norms stacked against her, but she is blessed to have been raised by two very loving parents, both trained educators, who have committed to keeping her in school and supporting her participation in healthy activities, such as The Girl Power Project®.

 

Becoming a Peer Mentor
After participating in multiple Girl Power Project® workshops and Camps, Joan took the initiative to develop her own Girl Power Project® Club at school, recruiting girls entirely on her own who, before were complete strangers and now, are close friends. She leveraged the detailed notes she had taken in previous Girl Power Project® workshops in order to share critical and life saving information with them in monthly Club meetings.  In March of 2015, Joan brought five girls from her school’s Club to help lead some of the activities at a Girl Power Project® Camp for the first time, uplifting them with the same leadership opportunities that she’s been able to experience.

Today, Joan continues to serve as Just Like My Child Foundation’s top Peer Mentor and Girl Power Project® Ambassador, leading Girl Power Project® activities alongside Just Like My Child Foundation staff members in Uganda.

Meet some of the girls in her school’s Girl Power Project® Club — and hear what they’re learning from Joan:

 

 

Reaching Her Peers
Since joining The Girl Power project in 2010, Joan has been an incredibly active participant, taking every opportunity she can to practice her life skills and share her knowledge with other vulnerable girls in her community. Joan has directly impacted an estimated:

350 Ugandan girls ages 10-15 with empowerment training focused on building personal empowerment, leadership, healthy bodies and healthy relationships through activities at multiple Girl Power Project® Camp Girl Power events– in addition to the development and facilitation of a Girl Power Project® Club at her school.

10 American girls ages 13-15 through video exchanges focused on cultural and social norms.

It is difficult to quantify the broader reach of Joan’s impact. But we certainly consider the families and communities touched by the hundreds of girls she has directly empowered — who are voicing their concerns to their parents, sharing critical information with their siblings, modelling healthy behaviours to their peers at school, and taking up leadership positions at home and in their communities.

 

What the Future Holds
Joan is highly motivated by her passion for social justice. We have watched the fire of advocacy grow in her belly over the years as she began to really understand and internalize her own personal legal and human rights as well as those of her own family, community and nation. She is a born leader and will do whatever is in her power to stop human rights injustices against women and girls in their tracks.

Joan’s career goals include becoming a lawyer and also the president of Uganda. She has developed a set of long-term goals (as shown in the photo above) and is focused on making the decisions and pursuing the required degrees that will enable her to achieve her dreams. In the short term, Joan is committed to The Girl Power Project®, to sharing her knowledge and skills with other vulnerable girls, and to seeking out opportunities that will allow her to advocate for those who do not have a voice or platform.

Joan’s mother is committed to ensuring that Joan stays in school and will continue to support her personal and career pursuits in whatever way she can. In the coming years, Just Like My Child Foundation will continue to provide Joan with every opportunity in our power to spread her seeds of empowerment to vulnerable girls through The Girl Power Project®. We are committed to continuing to encourage Joan’s tenacity and supporting her professional development.

10
Mar

How a Savings Group and the Spirit of Volunteerism are Upholding the Law in rural Uganda.

 

Just Like My Child Foundation’s (JLMC) Project Justice has trained nearly 2,000 community members in local law, who are known as Community Legal Volunteers (CLVs) in their home villages. Another component of JLMC’s Project Justice is a savings group, aptly named Save For Justice (SFJ), which consists of community members who raise money for legal cases in their community.

In Namumira (nah-moo-mira), the SFJ group has about 80 members (up from 56 members when it started in July 2014) and each member contributes 500 Ugandan shillings per month (the equivalent of $0.15 US cents). In the event of a legal emergency like rape, theft, or domestic violence, members can draw on the funds to cover any costs incurred by their case (like medical care and transportation).

We recently sat down with Mpoza, one of two CLVs in Namumira, to discuss two recent cases that illustrate the benefits his community is experiencing from these two components of Project Justice.

 

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Case 1 – Dispute with the Landlord

One day while a tenant was away at a funeral in another village, her landlord came and confiscated some of the harvest which was being grown on the land. There was a physical altercation between the landlord and the children of the tenant, and one of the children was seriously injured. The neighbors had Mpoza’s phone number, because he is their CLV, and called him immediately upon discovering the boy, whose arm had been cut. Since the boy’s parents were away, Mpoza took the boy to the hospital. The boy bled a lot and was unconscious when they reached the hospital.

Mpoza had police come out and take photos of the damage caused by the landlord, and later took the case to the Bombo Police Post, 37 kilometers from Namumira. SFJ funds were used to pay to transport the boy to the hospital, purchase medicine and cover all medical costs. SFJ funds were also used to pay for police transport on multiple occasions in connection to this case. Police came out to investigate the damage that was caused by the landlord and take photographs. In rural Uganda, police usually cite lack of fuel as a reason for being unable to follow up on cases. By paying for the fuel, SFJ ensures that cases are actually filed and followed up.

This case was taken to court in Wobulenzi, 45 kilometers from Namumira, where it has been settled out of court. As part of the settlement, Namumira’s SFJ will be reimbursed for expenses incurred in connection with this case. The tenant will become a landowner, as a piece of land has been surrendered to her in the settlement.

If not for Save For Justice, the boy could have died for not reaching the hospital in time. The case probably would not have been pursued in legal channels, as evidence of the crime would not have been collected while the tenants were away. Additionally, the cost of traveling back and forth between Namumira, the police post in Bombo, and the court in Wobulenzi would have been prohibitively expensive for the family to cover on their own.

 

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Case 2 – Defilement

One day a 13-year-old girl was found unconscious in some bushes. She had been defiled (in Uganda, sex with a minor under 18 years old is defined as ‘defilement’). She had been raped. Since she was found in Namumira, community members who found her quickly notified Mpoza, their CLV. He rushed the girl to the hospital, where they did a rape kit. Unfortunately, the girl became pregnant. The girl’s mother had died and she lived with her father and a stepmother, who was suspected of mistreating the girl. It is believed that the girl has a mental illness, or epileptic condition, as she sometimes has fits.

Save For Justice funds were used to transport the girl to the hospital, obtain appropriate medical tests, (including testing the perpetrator for HIV), as well as completing a medical report. SFJ funds were also used to pay for police transport to arrest the perpetrator. Additionally, SFJ funds allowed for the perpetrator to be transported from the small police station nearby to the larger police post in Bombo, 37 kilometers away. Mpoza says that if they had not done this, the case would have died and the perpetrator would have been released, due to the lack of funds and will on the part of the local police.

After the rape, the girl’s parents fled Namumira and abandoned her there. Sadly, she is now in a mental hospital in Kampala. Namumira’s SFJ group remains in contact with the hospital where she is staying.

The rapist was arrested and is currently serving time in a prison in Nyimbwa, 45 kilometers from Namumira.

 

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Keys to Success and A Way Forward for Namumira

Mpoza cites ‘togetherness in the community’ as a key reason that the Save for Justice group is successful in Namumira. When asked to identify what else makes the savings group successful, Mpoza says there must be empathy towards injustice, which he feels has been developed through the community dialogues he has held in his capacity as a Community Legal Volunteer (he has held six community dialogues in the last two years). Communities should also have a spirit of volunteerism. Lastly, the leadership of the group should demonstrate to members and the wider community that they are not corrupt.

Finally, when asked if he thought the Girl Power Project® and Save For Justice could stand alone — if each could be successful without the other — Mpoza highly recommended that the two go hand-in-hand. He explained that the Girl Power Project® lays the foundation for justice and the respect of children. According to Mpoza, the Girl Power Project® provides credibility and paves the way for community members to understand their obligation to look out for their girls. And with Save for Justice, community members now have a way to protect their children.

— Reported by Annette McFarland,
Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist in Uganda for Just Like My Child Foundation

22
Feb

Dental Outreach in rural communities around Luwero, Uganda

Many families in the rural communities we serve can’t afford the services and care from a dentist (or even the cost of travel to see one). For some communities in Luwero, Uganda, the nearest dentist is over 30 miles away.

dentalvisitWithout access to proper dental care and oral hygiene education, infections and abscesses can form in the mouth and gums that threaten the overall health of a person. In the worst cases, it becomes life-threatening when critical dental issues like these are left unaddressed, especially in children, where dental abscesses can back flow and affect the brain.

At JLMC, we are dedicated to supporting the overall health and welfare of the children in the schools we’ve built and invested in. That’s why over the course of last year, a dentist and two nurses from Bishop Asili Hospital (JLMC’s partner in Uganda) traveled out to local schools as far as 30 miles away to provide dental education and treatment to school children who’ve never seen a dentist before.

The dentist treated hundreds of children, some of who were suffering from severe dental disease and abscess. unnamed-8At one school, three students were found with rotten gums and abscess. One of them said he kept having pain but his parents could not afford to take him to the hospital. For this student, the dentist’s visit was life-saving.

Longtime JLMC supporters Puja Shah, DMD, and Lidia Domalgalska are raising funds to provide dental education, treatment, and care for 1,500 more children who have never seen a dentist before. For the cost of a toothbrush, you can help them provide life-saving dental care to one child in Uganda.

 
Click here to check out their campaign and help them reach more children in Uganda!

 
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22
Feb

Just what every parent wants to hear: Adolescence today lasts a full 15 years!

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Just Like My Child founder, Vivian Glyck, and executive director, Shawn Ruggeiro, recently attended the Clinton Global Initiative’s winter meetings in New York City. One of the breakout sessions they attended was entitled “Positive Youth Development: Harnessing Evidence for Improved Life and Workforce Outcomes” featuring a riveting speaker, Dr. Laurence Steinberg, a distinguished University Professor of Psychology at Temple University.  The session turned out to be applicable not only for JLMC’s programs in Uganda but it also resonated personally with Vivian and Shawn, who are both parents of teenagers.

 
Surviving Adolescence
Dr. Steinberg noted that adolescence is different today than it was a few decades ago and now can last up to 15 years!  In the United States, the average age of puberty in girls is around 11 or 12 years old. The average age that women in the United States are getting married is 27 or 28 years old. Today, 25 year olds are twice as likely to be in school, half as likely to be married and 50 percent more likely to be financially supported by their parents. So we’re talking about a pretty long span of time and the same time interval lengthwise for boys as for girls. Think about it: adolescence starts earlier because puberty starts earlier, and it lasts longer because it takes young people longer to transition into adult roles. No longer can we as parents try and “survive” these years, we need to try and help our adolescents and ourselves thrive.

unnamed-7Understanding how the adolescent brain works is the first step to understanding adolescence – a time of both heightened opportunity and risk. The changes the brain undergoes during adolescence are essential for the transition into adulthood, helping the young person learn to adapt and survive to life away from home. According to Dr. Steinberg adolescent brain is highly plastic, meaning it has the potential to change through experience. This period that the brain is plastic or malleable can be a period of vulnerability, but it can also make it a period of opportunity.  Adolescent’s brain malleability can help teenagers thrive if they are exposed to a positive and supportive environment, or it can be detrimental if they are exposed to a negative and toxic environment leading to poor decision making and risk taking.

The second thing to note on adolescent brain development is that their prefrontal cortex, the self-control and rewards center of the brain, is in a period of growth. Adolescents during this time experience an incongruity of self-control and ‘sensation seeking’ which leads to an increase in risky behaviors. The major threat for adolescents is what they “do” to themselves. During this period more dopamine is being produced than ever which causes the portion of the brain that experiences pleasure being larger than any other time of life. There is no other time things that feel good, will EVER feel as good again. No surprise it is during this time adolescents experiment with drugs, self inflicted injury and sexual behavior. Understanding this can have a profound effect on how we teach and parent teenagers.

 
So what’s the solution?
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Education and programs, all over the world, that are targeted toward adolescents should focus on helping to build their self-control while not dampening rewards. Interventions should be challenging, stimulating and engaging  to satisfy the search for novelty in teens. Programs should also encourage positive risk taking behavior, for example, pursuing new interests, learning a new language, looking for a job, and so on.

Dr. Steinberg pointed to initial research findings that mindfulness in schools can improve self-regulation, the single most important quality to leading a successful life.

He believes interventions should include the following three essential needs for the positive development of adolescent brain:

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  1. Mindfulness training (like meditation or breathing exercises)
  2. At least one hour of aerobic exercise to get oxygen to the brain
  3. 8-9 hours of sleep each day – enough sleep can positively impact an adolescent’s ability for self-control

Additionally, Dr. Steinberg spoke of the importance of mentors and connecting young people not only with family, but other networks of support as well. Supportive relationships with non-parent adults can powerfully influence the course and quality of adolescents’ lives.

 
Adolescence is a human experience whether it’s in the US or Uganda…
At JLMC, our Girl Power Project® was created specifically for adolescent girls in Uganda with careful consideration of their cultural and socioeconomic environment. We believe adolescents depend on their schools, their, communities, families and health services to guide them and teach them a wide range of important life skills that will help them. We are proud to offer the young girls in our program a safe, engaging and stimulating learning environment.

Through a holistic approach, the Girl Power Project® addresses personal empowerment, communication skills, leadership, and sex education. Dance, drama, video, song, and the development of natural leadership skills are also at the core of our curriculum, so that girls are empowered to become mentors for their peers. Our diverse and engaging curriculum has been successful in keeping the young girls engaged in the program and away from engaging in risky behaviors and activities. With support from the local community, the Girl Power Project® is a safe educational environment where adolescent girls can thrive and reach their full potential. We are very proud of this and look forward to keep on improving our programs by applying new knowledge and ideas.

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