Two weeks after the reopening of schools, psychologist, teacher and creator of the Family Comfort Organization, Elon Kihumulo has commented that the changes and experiences brought about by the 200-day closure of schools calls for essential provision of psychosocial help to both learners and teachers.
Appearing on Brunch Talk with host Olive Najjuma, Kihumulo explained that after spending so much time at home, learners adapted to the change and are now facing difficulty normalizing getting back to school. In addition, she said that after interacting with learners, there was also increased eagerness on sexual matters.
“Now as parents and teachers, before children get to school, we have to help them understand sex and its repurcussuions. This has been our approach at the Family Comfort foundation to let children know that sex is not bad, but the time at which it is had is what matters. We further explained some the consequences of early sexual engagement and whether they could handle them, such as early pregnancy, abortions and using family planning. Having gone through this period, many of them are now grown in thinking.”
She further said that whereas most attention is given to girls especially regarding early pregnancy, the males are left out yet they too are vulnerable.
“When we talk to the girls and leave out the boys, it becomes of no use because they are smarter. One smart vulnerable boy who is not attended to can destroy the lives of 50 women. So boys need a lot of support, it's not automatic that when they are born they are men but they need to be nurtured. So we need male champions to groom and nurture these boys into men.”
She noted that one of the crises facing men today is growing up with single mothers and the lack of a father figure to speak to them.
“We are blaming men and fathers a lot but no one speaks to them. I call upon all mothers- we need you to raise the boys. And at school, teachers should pay careful attention to the boys because they too need us. Male teachers at school need to give the boys a father-figure image and pay attention to them with healthy boundaries.”
Moving on, Olive confessed that as a teenager she got pregnant during high school and recognised the challenges experienced in going back to school, saying one has to face trauma, shame and postpartum depression. It is after this that she asked the psychologist how girls could be convinced to go back to school and cope with the challenges they might face there.
Kihumulo responded, “The help begins from home. Parents should support and encourage them to go back to school because it's the first psychosocial help. Then the girls have to know that going back to school is a second chance provided by their parents and school, and that they also need to give themselves a second chance, acknowledging the mistake and learning from it.”
The long lockdown also made children of school-going age venture into businesses like selling masks and snacks, compelling some to even propose that they be allowed to spend half-day at school and the rest of the day working for money.
According to Kihumulo who is also a Fine Arts teacher, a child has to be encouraged to understand that education will help them learn how to handle the money by showing them how to think strategically and critically, and give them knowledge on how to make informed decisions to transform the money to success.
She further said that although schools presume having senior women and men as sufficient to advise learners, this is not enough. “Head teachers feel they don't need psychologists because they have senior men and female teachers to talk to the girls. I am making this appeal saying that professional psychosocial help is very different and you need to employ these people because even the teachers who are grown ups have different stress levels and desperately need help.”
“This is the time in Uganda where psychosocial help is key. In the old days, we had ssengas and kojjas. In those days, silence was encouraged which was wrong. As a psychologist, I encourage professional help, liberation and assertiveness where one is able to express themselves without hurting others and through this help we shall be able to liberate both students, teachers and the larger society,” Kihumulo concluded.
Brunch Talk is hosted by Olive Najjuma Monica every Saturday from Midday to 1pm on RX Radio.