It's been 4 years since I visited Uganda, three and a half years since I tapped the first words of I am Change on my keyboard and saw them pulse onto the screen. I remember how badly I wanted to capture the sticky African heat, the dusty streets and the wide smiles of the girls whose stories I promised to tell. And how nervous I was, waiting to hear Namukasa's verdict after she read an early draft. I needed to know I had sown her experience onto every page. I had drawn on her life and the lives of dozens of other girls who had shared their secrets with me. It couldn’t have been easy letting me into their lives. I asked hard questions and mined their most private and intimate moments and they forgave my ignorance and shared their heartbreak with such warmth and generosity. They told me about forgoing meals to pay for textbooks and trading their bodies for school fees. They told me about the lessons their aunts taught them about their bodies and about men.
None of the girls I interviewed had both their parents. Many were orphans, their mothers dying of diseases the witch-doctors couldn’t cure, their fathers abandoning them for second and third wives. They lived without running water or electricity. A lucky few were in secondary school, on scholarships, the only girls in their class. They lived in concrete boxes in the city’s slums, walking an hour to school on an empty stomach and they considered themselves blessed. They were lucky to be learning, they told me, their faces lit by smiles. “If you can read and write you can get a good job and you won’t be hungry.”
I gave them sugar, flour, soap and pencils, but it wasn’t enough. Neither is this book, but it's a place to start. A flint to hopefully spark a desire in you, my readers, to do what you can to help. As Namukasa says in her beautiful forward to the book: 'Things can change. Me and my friends will make them change. We just need some help.'