As part of IJM Uganda's programs under the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative, we focused on increasing people’s awareness of violence in their communities and how to support survivors. The Spotlight Initiative is a part of a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) project directed at addressing Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC), In the beginning of 2021, IJM Uganda staff met with survivor groups (support groups of about 15-20 survivors) and community members we had worked with to find out what was working well. In these meetings, several survivor groups expressed a desire to make an impact in their communities and share what they had learned by creating educational skits.
These survivor groups had previously been trained by IJM Uganda under the Spotlight Initiative to learn more about VAWC, how survivors can report, what help they need, and how trauma impacts people. Because of this training, these survivors knew exactly what they wanted to communicate to their communities and presented ideas they had for skits, songs, and poetry they believed would help people in their communities better understand VAWC and know how to take a stand against it. IJM provided the funding and support to make these community outreaches happen.
Over the next few months, the survivor groups finalized their plans, rehearsed during their meetings and practiced in front of IJM staff. In April 2021, the first survivor group in Tororo, Eastern Uganda, did a final rehearsal in front of IJM staff and donors from UNDP.
Their drama told the story of a woman whose husband would beat her with a panga (machete) and use all of their money to buy alcohol instead of supporting the family or helping their daughter pay for school. This situation is an all too common one among survivors of domestic violence in Uganda, and a number of these women were telling a part of their own story as they performed.
Because of the training they had received, the women were also able to show exactly how a survivor of violence can find help and justice. In their skit, the survivor is supported by a local survivor group to go to the police, receive medical help and counseling services. They then act out how the police investigate the crime and charge the abuser. Their play closed with a song they wrote; a song of victory and a call to action for their neighbors and communities to stand up against violence.
As the play concluded, many of the women were beaming, others teary-eyed. A look of pride in their work was clear across all their faces.
Throughout April and May, five survivor groups performed skits, songs and poetry at community outreaches in Kasese, Western Uganda, while four groups performed in Tororo, Eastern Uganda. In total, 1,559 people attended these events. One survivor group was even able to perform in a remote, mountainous community that had never been reached with VAWC outreaches before.
After each outreach, IJM, the survivor groups, and local social workers led discussions with communities where we found that everyone in attendance felt they had learned something new. Some people had been unaware of how to report or fearful of doing so, but the skits increased their confidence and knowledge of how to report cases of VAWC. Most importantly, the plays resonated with people: they were excited to take up the call to action.
As one skit concluded, a social worker observed, “These ladies have done an incredible job. There were many cases that had never been reported. But now because they have gone through their community, people are now bringing cases, families are now being helped, and people are coming out of misery, the pain and bondage they have been suffering through for a very long time.”
Because of the powerful impact of these community outreaches, IJM Uganda will continue funding survivor groups around Uganda to conduct plays moving forward.