Typical of most Ugandan islands, Bussi on Lake Victoria was short of social services. Schools were hardly complete structures not adequate to absorb all the children and for many young girls like Getrude Nakibuuka, marriage was inevitable. At a bare of 17 years, she had her first baby through this was another statistic of children that never live to celebrate their first birthday. The baby succumbed to tetanus which she blames on having not had proper antenatal preparation, care and handled the baby the best she knew how.
She didn’t know about vaccination and only relied on herbs to treat the babies open umbilical cord. However, at 18 years, she was able to have her second child who is now 5 years old. The community scorned her and many her age mates who had taken a similar path. They had been branded failures and parents used them as reference for the impact of not going to school. “it’s not that we never really wanted to study but my school for example had only up to senior two and that were I stopped. My parents could not afford to send me to the mainland,” she says.
Now a 23-year-old mother of two has not let her past define her future. Nakibuuka and a total of other 19 young mothers will not sit back to see their peers end up in similar circumstances. With the intervention of Pathfinder International under the HOPE-LVB project (Health of People and Environment within the Lake Victoria Basin), the young mothers have been given a new lease to life. They are in charge of their lives and their homes. They are able to make certain decisions because they have an income, they can visit the health facility, immunize their children, attend antenatal care, deliver at the HF and determine the number and spacing of their children. They have been empowered to the level of being able to reject young fish for bigger fish which earns them more money and pushing fishermen for bigger fish catch.
Nakibuuka’s home is now a model household and it’s here that the other mothers met to embark on different projects such as soap making, crafts like bags, mats, and baskets. But also helping other young mothers to embrace sustainable lifestyles. The Youth Mother’s Group is also used by the HoPE project as peer counselors in schools where they regularly visit to speak to young girls and share their experiences as young mothers.
As the Project Officer, Jackline Nakajubi explains, young girls easily relate with them and their stories are meant to inspire them to stay in school. “There is a schedule for which the different mothers get to visit a particular school and we believe through such talks, a new generation of empowered girls will crop up on this island,” Nakajubi says.
Mirembe Women Environmental Group is another offspring of the HOPE Project on Bussi Island. The group that is made of 11 members led by Namagenyi Mayi, a mother of four is reaping big. She says after being trained on tree planting as income generating activity, they embarked on growing trees in nursery beds for sale. And since the inception of the group in 2013, they have sold over 50,000 seedlings of variety species as per community needs. They are now contracted by organizations and recently the sub county to grow seedlings which they sell. Namugenyi says they deal in different varieties of trees such coffee, passion fruits, cocoa, neem and many other herbal varieties.
Their next big project is to supply a total of 120,000 tree seedling to the sub county which they believe will be a major leap of their project. The three seedlings cost between USh 200 and USh 500 depending on the variety. As Nakajubi explains, it is through creating a linkage between likelihood and sustainability that people can embrace certain interventions. Unless this is achieved, they will only brand projects as interference to their way of living.
“If a woman knows all she does is to sit back and wait for the husband to bring food, they will not see any reason to engage in income generating activities,” she says. Nakajubi adds that fishing communities have to be empowered with skills for alternative ways of survival otherwise the pressure mounted on the existing resources will only lead to further depletion. She explains that during their sensitization campaign, they integrate the three concepts of population, health, and environment (PHE) and through this they are able to tackle issues of family planning, health seeking behaviors and protecting the environment. The beauty with integration is that all population cohorts are catered for and each person becomes an advocate—fishermen become promoters of FP, health workers promote conservation.
The HoPE LVB project is working closely with health facilities to carry out outreaches and campfire that target men. This has increasingly increased access to health services. It is through such outreach programmes, as explained by Stella Nakayala, a midwife at Bussi Health Centre III that has seen the numbers of maternal and child mortality drop tremendously.
She says previously the community shunned family planning interventions which were shrouded with a number of myths. But due to continuous engagement and better messaging—relating pregnancy spacing to crop spacing, or protecting fish breeding zones for mature fish to allow mothers time to recover after child birth for healthy babies and mothers whore a more productive have seen more people embrace and promote FP.
They have also come up with Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) clubs in schools which help advocate for tree planting, sanitation, and health but also sex education.
The fishermen under beach management committees that are being supported by the HoPELVB project have played a more role in regulating fishing on the lake. This is done through demarcation of fish breeding zones, protecting them and patrolling them to keep illegal fishers off, which encouraging fishermen to start up other income generating activities. This has also helped reduce the pressure on the lake.
So it’s no longer just about the lake but a diversification in economic activities for a better likelihood but also protecting the ecosystem. HoPELVB project which was being piloted in the two islands of Bussi and Jaguzi will now be scaled out to neighboring Zzinga Island and Bwondha Landing site in Wakiso and Mayuge respectively.
This article originally appeared in a local Ugandan newspaper.