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Leah Kagasa , Miss Uganda 2016/17

When I became Miss Uganda in 2016 and saw the work that the Miss Uganda Foundation was doing, I felt drawn to become a part of this good cause. Since then, I have been advocating for girls’ rights. This year my work has brought me in contact with UNFPA; being part of the Live Your Dream campaign. My first interaction with the campaign was when I participated in the Live Your Dream Moment event in Kampala. We then followed this up with dialogues in West Nile and northern Uganda.  At these events we share with young people about our lives; both our successes and our failures. People need to know that you have failed somewhere but have been able to get up and move on. During the dialogues in schools we ask the young people about their challenges. We discuss their personal lives; body changes as adolescents and their sexual and reproductive health rights. We also encourage teenage mothers not to give up on school. We also share our experiences, for instance how we lived through adolescence with all its challenges.   The next day we set up meetings with the district leaders to discuss the issues raised. By being able to talk to those in authority who can do something about the situation I have been able to advocate for the rights of the girls. I feel that have stood in the gap where the girls have not been able to speak for themselves.

Along the way I have encountered some challenging situations. I remember meeting a 13-year-old girl who was raped by her grandfather and she became pregnant. She was mentally retarded.  It touched me so much because that is extreme. Another challenge I find is that some communities are still rooted in their traditions and cultural practices including practicing child marriage. These are the things that make me feel I need to speak up because if we do not speak up how will people be helped? I may not stop these acts but I can speak up especially to the leaders because they are the ones in touch with the parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles who do these things.   

I feel like our work with UNFPA is making a difference. I have seen the impact that just standing on a platform and sharing your story can have. When someone tells you: ‘I was going through a lot but when I heard your story I realized I was not alone and was inspired’, that makes me happy. It warms my heart to know that I am helping make life a little better, giving young girls hope that they can live their dream.