Standing Strong: Claire’s Story
A Confident Leader
Claire stands in a circle of girls and boys in the yard of her school in northern Uganda. She’s one of the leaders of the school’s youth club, and the club members have just finished a game where girls take turns leading the group through dances to build their confidence. Claire is guiding them through a post-game reflection that locks in its lessons about challenging stereotypes about girls’ leadership abilities. She encourages the girls to speak up and make their voices heard. Claire’s a passionate advocate for the rights of girls because she has learned the hard way what happens when they are not respected.
When Claire was 16, she was a quiet girl living on her family’s small farm. Claire was the fourth of six siblings, and her parents struggled to cover the costs of Claire attending school, just barely managing to keep her in.
One of Claire’s older brothers ran a small business in a nearby settlement and suggested she come live with him. His wife was pregnant and could use some help around the house. In exchange for help, he offered to cover the cost of Claire’s school fees and supplies. Her parents agreed, and Claire found herself moving out of her home and into a busy life of chores and school.
Peer Pressure Brings Risks
Claire felt lonely after the move. With what little time she had between school and chores, she tried to make friends with her new classmates. Unfortunately, the friends she made were a group of teenage girls who were interested in dating older boys with motorcycles and money to flash around. They encouraged Claire to skip school, go out and party with the boys, and accept small gifts of money from them. The young men would sometimes take advantage of the girls, giving them alcohol, gifts, and money in exchange for sex. The other girls treated this as normal behaviour, and Claire, still shy and unsure of herself, accepted it as normal, too.
Claire’s older brother and her parents were unhappy about the people she was associating with, and it created a rift between them. Claire started staying overnight at friends’ homes instead of returning to her brother’s house. Finally, the worst happened. One night, while she was staying over at the apartment of one of the older boys who had previously given her gifts, he demanded sex, and when she refused, he sexually assaulted her.
The trauma of this experience profoundly affected Claire. She moved back into her parents’ house to get away from her rapist. She started struggling in school and having trouble concentrating on her work. Then she found out she was pregnant.
“I want to use my life-changing story to help other young girls overcome the challenges that affect their education.” Claire, 18
Telling the Hard Truth
Claire was embarrassed and blamed herself for what had happened. Her friends were unsupportive, and she feared her parents discovering that she was pregnant. As her pregnancy developed, she started skipping more and more classes. Then she dropped out of school entirely.
“I dropped out of school due to fear of my teachers and classmates. Even the friends who influenced me isolated me and mocked me,” she says.
Luckily, Claire had been involved with a Right To Play youth club at her old school that focused on children’s rights. The teacher who organized the club had been sensitized to the risks teenage girls in the community were facing. When he noticed Claire participating less and less in class, he put her in contact with a female science teacher at the school who she could confide in.
The female science teacher helped Claire disclose her pregnancy to her parents. The revelation was a shock to them. “My father sent me away from his home saying that I had brought a bad omen to his family,” she remembers.
“I do not want other girls to go through what I went through.” – Claire
Claire and her family eventually reconciled, helped by local Right To Play volunteers, including the two teachers who had been supporting Claire, and members of the school committee that deals with violations of the rights of children. Creating a safe, supportive environment for Claire to continue her pregnancy and planning for her return to school afterwards became the priority for everyone.
While that was happening, Claire’s rapist was put through a traditional justice procedure. He was banned from ever seeing her again, denied the right to call the child his in front of anyone, and forced to go back to school himself. He was mandated to pay child support to Claire through a middleman to minimize any chance of contact between them.
Over time, and with the support of her teachers and parents, Claire was able to overcome the shame she felt, and reclaim her agency. The support she received made her determined to support her peers.
Defending the Rights of Girls
A few months after her son was born, Claire was able to return to school thanks to support from her mother, who looks after her son during the day. She was excited to be back and able to focus on her studies again. Claire has decided to become a science teacher like the female teacher who helped her. “She is my role model in teaching and character at school. She has done a lot in counselling me to catch up with my education,” Claire says.
“I feel assured of a brighter future for me and my baby boy.” - Claire
Claire has also rejoined her school’s youth club and become one of its leaders. She now shares her experiences with girls and boys to teach them about resisting peer pressure, how to reach out for help, and what their rights are. Her family is proud of her commitment to helping others.
“I want to use my life-changing story to help other young girls overcome the challenges that affect their education. I do not want them to go through what I went through. Being a teacher will give me that opportunity,” says Claire.