Spotlight on sexual reproductive health and rights

James Ocen (22) gives adolescents and young people in Eastern Uganda a much-needed opportunity to discuss and better understand their sexual reproductive health and rights. He was invited to speak at the Youth at Heart Forum but could not join us at November 2nd. But his message is an important one and we are happy to introduce him now.

Image: ©Reach A Hand

This interview was originally published as All Eyes on: James Ocen (Peer educator and Young Leader) on the Reach A Hand website. Reach A Hand Uganda kindly allowed us to share it with you.

Best thing to happen to my life

James Ocen 22, is transforming the lives of adolescents and young people in Eastern Uganda by giving them a much-needed opportunity to discuss and better understand the sexual reproductive health and rights challenges affecting their lives. He works alongside 40 other confident young leaders, running peer learning sessions with secondary school children and community outreaches as part of our Get Up Speak Out Programme implemented in Jinja and Mayuge.

“I was actually forced to become a peer educator by my friend so I became one out of ‘peer pressure’. Little did I know that would be the best thing to happen to my life so far. I had  always wanted to be an actor and I thought that would be my career path.” He says.

Engaging community members

In a span of just two years, James has conducted over 72 peer learning sessions in schools secondary school students and engaged more than, 1000 community members (including parents, teachers and community stakeholders) through community dialogues, outreaches and door to door campaigns, workshops and door-to-door mobilization.

That is not all, James has also gotten a chance to take up leadership opportunities in his community. He is the Vice President of Youth Advisory Committee under SRHR Alliance Uganda where he represents Reach A Hand Uganda (RAHU).

Despite the daily struggles he faces with himself, trying to keep up with everyone’s expectations and the fear of failure, especially because he feels he has failed before, after dropping out of school before joining university. “It is something I have been trying so hard to overcome which I know in turn would result to my efficiency in work,” James says.

James auditioned for our inaugural TV Series Kyaddala It’s Real and did not go through. He however mentioned that this enabled him to focus more on creating impact at the grassroots where he is deeply involved. I have accomplished a number of things and I must say I am proud and excited of what’s ahead. The very many SRH panels I have been a part of, being a trusted voice and representative of the young people not only in my community but at country level with the SRHR Alliance.

Young people have no idea

It has not however been a walk in the park. He has faced a couple of challenges in his journey. He says that young people have no idea what their Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights are so a lot of work still needs to be done. He stresses that it sounds impossible to many and acknowledges that it wouldn’t be easy to crack especially access to SRHR information and services to the catholic church community which alienates young people in this community considering all young people need access to information and services to SRHR services.

“If only policies like the National School Health Policy are passed and implemented, perhaps many young people would make informed choices because the journey is still long.” James mentioned.

Challenge, struggle and driving force

James went ahead and shared with us his greatest challenge in life and says it has always been with himself, keeping up with everyone’s expectations and the fear of failure since he dropped out in form 6 due to financial difficulties.

On the brighter side though, this has been one of the strongest driving forces that fuel his zeal to work harder, learn as much as he can as he prepares to enroll back to school and do his University studies.

“My aspiration as a peer educator and SRHR youth advocate, is to work so hard and break the ceiling of rigid systems like the catholic church communities so that they understand and accept the need for SRH services and information among the young people in their spaces.”
Much as his peers often say he comes off too serious and all work but no play, James loves listening to music; especially Rap, RnB and pop. He also  enjoys watching movies, new releases especially. Acting is also still on my radar and I hope to one day be part of the actors changing the game in Ugandan film.

By building a direct connection with fellow young people in his community, James says he has developed a more positive outlook on life and feels he now has the power to influence other young people so they too can choose their own direction in life.

This interview was first published on Reach A Hand