On a small passenger boat, heading for his home on Bussi Island, Uganda, Lawrence Tadua describes the problem in no uncertain terms.
“We are running out of fish.”
Making their home alongside Lake Victoria, almost 22 million people rely on consumption of the lake’s fish for their dietary needs. And over 80 percent of the population relies on the land, agriculture, and fishing for their livelihoods. So Lawrence really means it when he says, “what happens to the environment affects me.”
Loudly over the motorboat’s hum, Lawrence explains, “as a fisherman, I can see the result of bad fishing practices. Fish is food. Tomorrow I will have nothing to feed my children. Fish is money. I will not have a livelihood.”
Lawrence and his community face threats beyond that of a dwindling food supply. Population pressures contribute to more competition for scarce resources, yet women and men still lack access to critical health services, including family planning. This is an egregious social injustice, one that Pathfinder is addressing hand-in-hand with local partners, such as Lawrence.
As the chairman of a Beach Management Unit, Lawrence was trained by the HoPE-LVB project on a number of key issues, including sustainable fishing and agricultural practices.
“Our group gives community members and other fishermen knowledge. We now know how to protect breeding grounds. We fight bad nets and teach others about the benefits of waiting until fish are good and big. We teach them not to fish small fish, which actually makes us lose a lot of fish in the long run.”
The Chengazi Beach Management Unit, to which Lawrence belongs, is paving the way for change.
“Yes, our group is very small. But other, larger fishing groups have seen what we’ve been able to do, what actions we’ve taken. So now they are coming to us to learn.”
Sustainable fishing is just one part of the project’s holistic approach. “The project also teaches us about family planning,” Lawrence says.
“From the family planning trainings, I have learned to appreciate having only those children I can look after.” Lawrence is not alone. Local women—who have gone for too without choices about their bodies or futures—are empowered to take action.
“The women in our community never used to come out for community meetings. They never used to come out for health education talks. But with this project, now we see the women. They are really interested in coming to these meetings on family planning, and this means more women can begin to use it.”
On Bussi Island, change is a community effort.
“Women are doing more than making a decision just to go for family planning services. They are having discussions with their husbands. So it is improving our communication as couples.”
With his own eyes, Lawrence has seen progress. Today, he has a new dream for the future. “Fishing, agriculture, reproductive health; we see they are all connected in the long run. And change can happen across all of them.” Change can happen for his family.
“It’s not important to have many children. What’s important is your children’s quality of life. They need to have enough to eat. They need good schools. They need to prosper,” Lawrence says, as his boat nears the shore.