IRT’s StepUp training programme, in partnership with the Organisation for Community Action (OCA) in Uganda, has knock-on effects in all aspects of the community. The programme is responsible for changing ideas around the household, gender norms and family values. By helping participants to envision a better life and providing the means to achieve it, married couples, families and widows, have turned their lives around.
We have observed from case studies of StepUp participants in the West Nile region of Uganda that developing pride in the home is particularly important for developing this ambition and for gaining respect in communities; turning feelings of hopelessness into empowerment. Programmes to improve sanitation and other domestic practices, for example, are thus very effective. As home dwellers change their living conditions it not only improves their health and economic opportunities but helps change their mentality. Husbands and wives coming together to implement their StepUp training and achieve their goals has reduced domestic violence and conflict and increased unity and gender equality. Women’s participation in the training has changed community perceptions of women and their abilities. Husbands have come to view their wives as empowered and knowledgeable, and widows have also gained more respect in their communities.
One especially inspiring story comes from Faiza and Malaika. This married couple say that “before OCA came to our village we had no focus in all that we did as a family. We were not organised because we did not have a picture of what our future would look like. We never worked together as a couple. We had no sanitation facilities like a latrine, refuse pit, dish drying rack, or clothes drying line. Our home was not fenced and the compound was littered with rubbish. We could only afford one meal and only ate what we were able to get each day meaning we did not care the type of food served. We did not have any source of income yet we never planned and budgeted together the little we earned individually. We fell sick more frequently from preventable diseases, such as coughs, typhoid and intestinal worms, due to the unhygienic home and poor nutrition.” In addition, the couple had little respect for each other, creating a source of conflict and unhappiness.
They continue, “When OCA came to our community, they created awareness and trained us in different skills. We specifically want to acknowledge that our perception of life and the future has changed. We now have a dream which we are strategically working to achieve. We have set our homestead well planted with a live fence, we constructed a dish drying rack and refuse pit and our home has become the cleanest in the whole Village. We are in the process of constructing our latrine with slabs, iron roofing and plastered with cement. We have planted a variety of fruit trees and vegetables and have been taught how to handle, prepare and preserve vegetables and fruits to ensure their nutritional values are maintained. With improved sanitation and hygiene and good nutrition, we do not fall sick frequently. We are becoming more food secure as a result of the various skills in agriculture. OCA taught us to stay in harmony as couples and with our neighbours, as well as to plan and budget together as couples, which has reduced conflict in our community.” Faiza says, “My husband values me more and feels proud being by my side. He supports me so much in what traditionally used to be regarded as the role of women such as sweeping, cooking, caring for children and fetching water”. Malaika adds “we are a living testimony of an improved relationship and rebuilt love. I love my wife more than ever before. I protect her against harm.”
“With all the trainings and support given to us by OCA, we have a clear vision. We plan to construct a permanent house, start an income generating activity by engaging in intensive vegetable growing alongside a small-scale business that will support us financially, and open a bank account as we are now used to saving regularly in the group, something we never did before. We have a bright future for our children by working hard to pay for better schools for them,” shared Faiza and Malaika. The OCA staff testify to the remarkable love story of this couple. Malaika and Faiza now refer to each other as “honey”, a true reflection of their renewed relationship.