Today was a great day. I got to tag along with Ivan and Josh to outreaches they were doing in Mayuge, a beautiful rural village of farmers and fisher folk bordering Lake Victoria. On the way, we picked up a drama group who would be performing songs about the importance of antenatal visits for expecting mothers and of empowering women so that they do not have children too early, or too many children, for that matter. We managed to squeeze all 20 of us the UDHA van (I sat in the back row, which held 8 of us sitting on each other’s laps and such) and made our way over to the two villages we would be stopping at.
Once the community saw the performers arrive, and even more so, the mzungus (two of us), they all gathered around, forming a large circle of women, children, and men and community leaders. The performance was powerful (I assume), as the community seemed invested in the message. Ivan would ask the men after about what they learned, and they would all give brief presentations about what they learned and about the actions they would take to ensure their wives and children were getting the care they deserved. I couldn’t help but feel, though, that my presence was distracting, as many only looked at me during the performance, and not at the performers. Still, it was all very exciting to take in. The worst part, though, was at the end when it was the UDHA staff’s turn to close the outreach by attempting to dance like the performers did. It was basically an excuse for the whole community to see how poorly white people danced so that they could laugh and make fun — but all in good fun, I guess. Haha.
After, we got in the van to make our visit to the next community. Instead of staying for the whole performance, we dropped the performers off and left to meet with some of the nurses and volunteer health workers at the Bugoto health center, where they shared some data regarding Ivan’s project. His project is one that hopes to empower women and girls through structural prevention aimed at gender equality and community education. Next, the nurses and VHWs accompanied us to the police office, where we met with the head chief. The police act as a partner to the project, and monitor and respond to cases of gender-based violence and rape/defilement, so their support for the program is very important for its success. The chief reported that since the project’s initiation in the community, they had seen less cases of violence towards women and girls, which they kept track of on a monthly chart posted on one of the walls. He did, however, share a recent case about a man who had raped his daughter on multiple counts, but since the last time (when he got caught in the act), he had run away and is still to be found. The daughter, upon a medical check-up, discovered that her father had given her HIV… A horrifying yet all too real incident that gives a glimpse into the horrible social disease that is HIV, and a testament as to the importance of such a project in the community. It also concerns me what her options would be if in such a situation, a girl was impregnated through rape, since abortion is very illegal here — how would the girl be expected to care for a child at so young an age?
After the meeting, we returned to where the performance was taking place. The singer and the dancers were amazing, and after it was over Ivan got up and introduced all of us. The men of the community were the only ones sitting on chairs (besides the UDHA staff), all gathered on one side of the circle that had formed around the performers. After introducing ourselves, Ivan began a brief discussion with them: what they had learned, why they had not been taking their wives to antenatal care visits, etc. It was slightly shocking to witness the attitude with which some men saw their wives and children — as disposable and as to blame for faults that were not necessarily theirs. One man asked: “My wife is overproducing; should I dispose of her?” Another, “I have a lot of kids and cannot provide for them, what should I do?” Ivan did us the favor of translating these questions from Lusoga to English for Heather and I to be asked and to answer. I’m not exactly sure what the answer Ivan gave them was (as it was in Lusoga), but I assume it had to do with advocating for family planning services. After, they made the UDHA staff dance (again), and we hopped in the van for our hour ride back to the office. Hopefully the rest of the week will be full of days as great as today’s!