Jovia came to Guiding Light Orphans, Inc. (GLO) through its Epilepsy Clinic and treatment program, and her story is a testimony to the powerful outreach work of GLO’s Village Health Teams (VHTs) and Peer Epilepsy Ambassadors (PEAs). GLO's monthly Epilepsy Clinic opened in the spring of 2015 and is a program that supports mainly for children and adults affected by epilepsy in the Masindi District of Uganda. Although minimal research has been done on epilepsy in the region, the VHTs were starting to see a high rate of individuals in the community suffering from the disease. It was not unusual to find multiple family members in a household showing epileptic symptoms. In the rural areas that GLO serves, epilepsy is often met with a lot of social stigma and discrimination, which tends to prohibit those suffering from getting the proper care and medication to manage the disease properly. It also affects epileptic children’s’ education; an epileptic child would often be asked to leave the school if they showed symptoms during class.
At first, because of the stigma against the disease, many patients are hesitant to come directly to the clinic on their own. For this reason, GLO continues to train a group of Peer Epilepsy Ambassadors (PEAs), who have epilepsy themselves, to seek out other epileptic patients and link them to GLO’s program and to the VHTs. VHTs are then encouraged to visit their homes and give them the care and counseling they need to manage their symptoms. The care includes medication and counseling on how to deal with disease on a day-to-day basis to ensure that the patients can improve self-management. Jovia, a fourteen-year-old girl, is one of the patients that was discovered by a VHT who connected her to the epilepsy program. She began to receive medication and care and experienced a huge reduction in her seizures and adverse symptoms.
After six months of participation in the program, the health care team noticed that she had completely stopped coming for treatment and decided to do a follow up. When the team visited Jovia and her parents, they discovered that she had dropped out of the program and out of school because she was pregnant. Jovia’s parents were extremely reluctant to spend any more money on her education due to her pregnancy. Jovia's education wasn’t seen as a priority because she is a girl. The VHTs shared this information with Richard, the primary clinician at GLO’s health clinic. It was clear that the parents needed professional counseling, and this is where Richard stepped in. He began to advise the parents in order to support Jovia. He convinced them to let Jovia come into the clinic in order to manage her epilepsy and to deliver a healthy baby. The VHTs and Richard became powerful advocates for Jovia’s health, as well as her education.
Not long after, Jovia delivered a healthy baby girl and was able to return to school with the help of GLO contacting her headmaster. Once again, Jovia joined the epilepsy program and started receiving medication and treatment. Her parents agreed to let her go back to school, to continue receiving counseling, and to help take care of her baby, but were unable to fully afford her tuition. In October of 2016, Richard contacted a member of a visiting mission team, Pastor Woody from the Simsbury United Methodist Church, and told him Jovia’s story. After hearing of her struggles, Pastor Woody offered to pay for her tuition.
GLO’s epilepsy program allows kids to be seizure-free and attend school, and enables adults to be productive members of society and build a life for themselves. In Jovia’s case, the PEAs, VHTs, and GLO’s clinical staff worked together to provide the counseling, intervention, and services needed to change the course on which she was headed. Now Jovia is seizure-free and feels empowered to pursue an education, provide for her family, and contribute to her community by becoming a nurse so she can have an opportunity to help others.
Jovia is pictured to the right in a classroom wearing her uniform.
Jovia's story is not uncommon, and the issues and obstacles she faces are experienced by many other girls in the community. By advocating for Jovia's health and education, GLO was able to uncover the needs of many women in the community and figure out how to best address them. Empowering Jovia was crucial in order to ensure that she would continue on a course that was best for herself and her future.
And now she is armed and able to empower other women.
To learn more about our female empowerment projects and to support our initiatives, visit our Girl Empowerment page and donate!