As the adage goes “a society with no culture is like a ship with no captain.” Indeed many agree that culture makes us who we are. Uganda as a country has varying but deeply entrenched cultural beliefs and norms that are cherished and revered by people in the different tribal groups. Most of these people’s lifestyles are guided by their cultural beliefs. Therefore behavioral change in Uganda is heavily reliant on culture.
You therefore can imagine what religious leaders in the Karamoja region went through when tasked by the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) to convince people in the region to begin using latrines as part of its campaign to promote behavioral change in the region.
According to Dr. Rossanigo, health advisor Moroto Catholic Diocese, in Karamojong culture, open defecation is the norm as putting faecal matter in the same place with others and more so in-laws is a taboo. As a result the use of latrines and toilets directly contradicts this cultural norm.
“Women in Karamoja cannot use the same toilets with their fathers-in-law,” Dr Rossanigo says, adding that “Communities were also sceptical about latrines especially pregnant women who feared that their babies would fall into the latrines if they used them.”
It is such beliefs that prompted the IRCU secretariat to partner with UNICEF in a move to roll out the Key Family Care Practices (KFCPs) in Northern Uganda and the Karamoja region. The programme, being manned at the secretariat by Allan Mugisha, the advocacy and partnership relationship manager, has seen 272 religious leaders being trained on how to transform their societies through promotion of KFCPs.
Under this partnership, special consideration was undertaken to ensure reach, efficiency and effectiveness. Gender equity, vertical and horizontal integration of the initiative in the day today activities of religious leaders to enhance and ensure sustainability were prioritised.
Using this group of religious leaders, IRCU has managed to pass on KFCPs to approximately 16000 people in the target districts. This has led to increased knowledge and skills of religious leaders and community members on the KFCPs.
Models in society
According to Mugisha, the trained religious leaders and their families have been the first beneficiaries of the knowledge they acquired.
“A pastor in Kitgum after the training installed a hand-washing facility outside his latrine at home. In so doing the religious leaders are acting as models for other families in their communities”
Some leaders went as far as orienting other religious leaders under their jurisdiction on the KFCPs so that they could also share with their communities. Alex Ojwe, a catechist in the Catholic Church in Lamwo district trained all 7 zonal leaders in his sub parish on the KFCPs. He also follows up to ensure they are sharing messages with their communities.
Religious leaders have continued to integrate KFCPs in their pastoral work. This has been through incorporating messages on KFCPs in their sermons on worship days on general practices like WASH, immunization, importance of education, staying in school, avoiding unwanted pregnancy, nutrition and sleeping under treated mosquito nets. Many of these messages are reinforced with scriptures that encourage particular behaviour.
Other fora being utilized by religious leaders are the religious ceremonies and rituals such as dedication prayers, counselling, funerals and weddings where religious leaders take advantage to share simple KFCP messages that are suitable for the audience at a given function.
According to Fr. Adrian Lugaba from Aboke Catholic Parish, Diocese of Lira, during holiday season, the religious leaders schedule and undertake many activities to engage in and out-of-school youth. These include youth camps, fellowships, bible studies and other youth and adolescent-focused activities.
“The gatherings are used to share spiritual matters, morals and life skills and I always talk about avoiding early pregnancy and responsible behaviour,” he says.
The leaders have also used men’s gatherings such as father’s union meetings and women gatherings like mothers’ union to address issues to do with families.
In the pipeline
Apart from the 272, IRCU intends to train more 600 religious leaders on how to effectively communicate KFCPs to youth groups, men and women in order to foster behaviour change and thus reduce child and maternal deaths. A number of activities have been undertaken to ensure that they are well-trained.
To this end, IRCU has held discussions with six trainers for the Karamoja region. Firstly; to update them on the new draft manual for the KFCPs since the practices have been increased to 22 and secondly to agree on scheduling for the upcoming trainings. A draft program for training has also been agreed between IRCU and the trainers. Apart from these engagements, selection of the religious leaders to undergo training has been finalized. Selection was based on a criteria agreed between IRCU and the Institutionalized Faith Based Organizations.
Unlike the previous program that was majorly executed by IRCU, this initiative is being coordinated by the IRCU Secretariat while the member bodies carry out implementation using their structures. The bodies implementing the program are, the Catholic Church, the Seventh-Day Adventist church, the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, the Church of Uganda and the Orthodox church. IRCU has held at least six (6) planning meetings with its member bodies. These meetings have helped in shaping the initiative, agreeing on roles, time schedules for implementation and the general mode of operation of the program.
Trained commenced in April till June 2017