Growing up with 13 siblings in the Kamuli District of Uganda, Brenda Allen Kawala found a simple way to stand out from the pack: asking questions.
“One day when I was 4 years old I confronted my big sister’s boyfriend and demanded to know why he frequented our home,” Brenda says. “I was a very straightforward person.”
Brenda, a 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow and former deputy secretary general for the Uganda Medical Association, is no less inquisitive today. She is making a concerted effort to advocate for the health rights of women and girls.
“In my four years of clinical practice, I witnessed how much misinformation resulted in serious health problems for the public,” Brenda says. “Health education matters a lot in Uganda because the prevalence of infectious and non-communicable diseases is still very high.”
Indeed, the prevalence of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer has increased rapidly in years past, accounting for 35 percent of the country’s deaths in 2014, according to the World Health Organization.
In her work advocating for a better health care system in Uganda, Brenda has come up against several issues, chiefly a lack of interest in the topic among young adults.
“Much of this is voluntary work, and getting the youth engaged in topics like health screenings, especially when there is no monetary benefit, has been a challenge,” Brenda says.
To address this, Brenda advises young adults to advocate for a health topic they are truly passionate about, one that moves them to act. For her, that topic is ensuring that vulnerable populations across Uganda have access to quality health care.
“Love what you do and do it with all of your heart,” Brenda says. “Then everything else will fall into place.”
Brenda also urges young leaders to work diligently to achieve their goals, since advocating for women’s health, especially, can be a trying and complex project.
“You can only progress as far as your abilities take you,” Brenda says, “but hard work pays off.”
For Brenda, that work ethic is the throughline of her life, compelling her to leave her post in 2019 to pursue a graduate degree in global health at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
Asked how she would like to be remembered, Brenda returns to her earliest motivations, to her desire to seek the truth in all its forms.
“I want to be remembered as an advocate of peace.”
Interested in Brenda’s work? Learn how you can be a women’s health advocate on our Africa4Her page.