Clara was focused on her future. Unlike many 17-year-olds from her village in rural Uganda, she left home to go to high school. But her dreams were unexpectedly shattered.
"One night, I went to a club with my group of girls. A man called me over. He said, 'I have something to ask you.' Then he held me down. He raped me."
Not only did Clara feel unable to cope with the trauma of the sexual violence, she knew nothing of the possible physical outcomes.
"I never knew I could get pregnant," Clara said. No one had taught her about her body.
Clara's story is unfortunately, not unique. In Uganda, and in many other parts of the world, women face tremendous barriers to accessing information and services for their sexual and reproductive health. To give a sense of the scope of need: more than 222 million women currently lack access to modern contraceptives. If that number was a country, it would be the fifth most populous in the world. The lack of available services and information, particularly for youth, often compounds the trauma that women like Clara experience from high rates of sexual violence.
Clara was determined to not let the rape -- or her pregnancy -- stand in the way of her dreams. She stayed in school and completed her exams. But after seven months, she broke down. "I couldn't stand it alone. I called my father, and he took me home."
Back home, Clara struggled to adjust. "I couldn't fit in with my fellow sisters. I'd hide myself. I used to lock myself in the room, crying. Then Annette came."
Annette is a nurse, trained by Pathfinder International, to deliver youth-friendly services. With Pathfinder's help, Annette reaches out to adolescent mothers to counsel them on sexual and reproductive health, contraception, and basic child survival.
With Annette's support, Clara made it to a local clinic for prenatal care and joined a "Young Mother's Club" of young women who come together to support one another.
"My group meets every Saturday. We decide what to do and what to learn," Clara said. "Together, we learn how to believe in ourselves and work hard."
With the group as inspiration, Clara is planning to go back to school. Until she achieves her goal, she decided not to have any more children.
"All of us have learned to take control of our pregnancies, using family planning methods that are right for us," Clara said. "I have overcome my fears. I have self-motivation. Now, I can stand for myself."
And Clara hasn't stopped there. She's standing up for others, following in Annette's footsteps by becoming one of her community's peer educators. Like Annette, Clara reaches out to women and couples in her community to provide information on family planning and reproductive health, and she shares her story to help others.
Clara has a tenacity and drive that is truly inspiring. No young woman should have to go through what Clara did. And with Pathfinder's support, Clara is working to ensure other young women in her community won't have to.
You can take action to help young women like Clara by donating to Pathfinder International in the Raise for Women Challenge. Your donation will support sexual and reproductive health care in more than 22 countries. It will also support Pathfinder's work to end gender-based violence.
- $25 provides 4 doctors with infection prevention manuals.
- $50 gives a woman in Peru a year of contraception and counseling.
- $100 trains a community health worker in India to provide basic family planning services.
- $250 trains 10 midwives to recognize the signs of high risk pregnancies, enabling them to refer a woman to a health facility.
The time to give is now. The organization that raises the most in the Raise for Women Challenge will receive $25,000 [now $40,000]! I hope you'll consider a gift today.