From February, through to May my Tuesdays were jammed packed with language lessons, playgroup, therapy clients, hosting a ladies bible study and the highlight of the day…’Soul Sistazs’.
Early each Tuesday evening my good friend Phiona and I would prepare the church and some snacks whilst having half an eye on the sky. Does it look like rain? If so we might be in for a lonely evening as we wait for the anticipated arrival of the University girls. If the heavens were on our side then we could look forward to a couple of hours of lively discussions about identity, relationships, sex and clothes, as well as practical sessions like “how to bake a cake” (without an oven), one of our best attended evenings!
The girls at the University come from a huge range of backgrounds, different tribes, different faith journeys, different socio-economic circumstances and family structures. Some were orphaned, others are from polygamous families. Despite all these differences there was something unifying about being women who had all managed to defy the odds by making it to University and who were open to exploring how faith in Jesus can affect them in a real way.
Term has ended now and so we won’t be meeting as Soul Sistaz until August but it was one of my highlights from the last few months. It was fascinating for me to hear what girls thought about themselves, God and the topics raised, they certainly didn’t all agree with each other, (there was heated debate about what was appropriate to wear or not) but it was good to get a glimpse of their views.
I learnt that most of the girls had never really been taught about sex, gathering most of their information from playground gossip or sadly having unwanted sexual contact that they didn’t understand.
I learnt that for some of them wearing tight trousers was akin to saying you were available whilst for others trousers were fine but covering the arms was more important. Others thought it didn’t matter what you wear in town as long as you were covered up in front of your father /uncle or your mother/aunt would think you were trying to entice him! Most shocking of all (or more accurately, sadly not shocking) was when on the guys who had joined us for the evening, stated that if a girl wears a short skirt and is raped it’s her who is at fault, not the guy.
I learnt that many of these wonderful ladies although happy to go to church or a meeting at church have never really experienced the utterly life-transforming freedom that is it to know Jesus. The religion they see all around them is often as much a place of bondage as the rest of life is, for a woman in Northern Uganda. Religion is everywhere but real relationship with the living God is rare.
It’s exciting to journey with these women who are the leaders of the next generation, some of them even taking up places on the University Council having taken part in their own “election campaigns”. It was a privilege to hear their stories, their hopes for the future and of course learn how to bake a cake, without an oven.