Harriet's Story

HOW HSoA CHANGED THE LIFE OF BALUKA FROM MBALE-UGANDA

In a remote sub county in Eastern Uganda, Harpenden Spotlight on Africa has been supporting needy families affected by years of conflict, but the story of one woman stands out.

Harriet Baluka, a 31-year-old woman whose life story revolves around pain, struggle, perseverance and later success. And she attributes her breakthrough to the support provided by Harpenden Spotlight on Africa. The organisation has been supporting health and education initiatives in Bukasakya sub county, Mbale district since 2007.

Baluka at the age of 21 was forced into an arranged abusive marriage to a man that was regarded as a family friend. She was tricked into that marriage with a promise for further education instead, it turned out that she had been married off by her relatives and sent 60 kilometres deep in the village where she had access to basic services. She was forced to change her name to Hadijja.

Trapped in this situation, Baluka ended up pregnant but lost the child through a series of painful events. She had no access to antenatal services and when the baby was due, she was taken to a traditional birth attendant. The baby died two hours after birth.

Baluka says this painful experience hardened her and she learnt that the only way to come out of this was perseverance. The loss of her child made her stronger.

She relentlessly asked the man to allow her to go back to school but he insisted that she had to give him children before he could allow her. She resorted to family planning while she hatched a plan to move on with her life.

Out of her desire to succeed, Baluka looked around for any job. She was offered a place at a nearby local school as an unlicensed teacher, but the man continued to make life difficult for her through endless nagging and violent behaviour.

In 2012, she learnt of a programme sponsored by HSoA, Training of Village Health Promoters, but this did not go down well with the man she called her husband. While she made efforts to empower herself, the man became more abusive. But after the death of her child, she had promised herself that she would persevere. No amount of torture would break her spirit

Richard Okotel, the Co-founder and Executive Director Spotlight on Africa Uganda “If Hadija didn’t become a community health promoter, trained for 18 months with SoA she wouldn't have made it. HSoA provided a platform for Baluka to achieve her dreams.

In 2014 she graduated with a spotlight on Africa community health promoters’ certificate. Okotel says the charity has trained a total of 250 health promoters that work in this sub county.

Okotel says that community health promoters are the first contact persons in the community.

“They disseminate health prevention messages to the community as 70% of our illnesses are preventable. They are in charge of mobilizing the community to take children for immunisation and ensuring that mothers go to deliver from health facilities.”

After years of commitment and hardwork, Baluka in November 2018 graduated in records and information management, a qualification that landed her a job in Spotlight on Africa Clinic a day after it was commissioned.

Baluka’s journey has been slow and a painful, her academic documents have been burnt, her husband taking away all her savings and losing her only child, but she says Spotlight on Africa has been like a family to her.

“They gave me a chance, they trained me, offered me an opportunity to serve my community and they have now given me a full-time job,” she says.

Okotel says Baluka has now become one of the best Records Management Officers in Mbale District, something that would never have happened if she had not become a community health promoter under the HSoA training scheme.

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