KIHEFO promotes local initiated solutions to fight disease, ignorance and poverty in southwestern Uganda
KIHEFO’s on-the-ground staff and volunteer team in Kabale is many – over 40 individuals who’ve joined KIHEFO’s mission to fight disease, poverty and ignorance in southwestern Uganda. ‘The KIHEFO Family’ is striving to profile the stories of many of these passionate volunteers to highlight the unique way that KIHEFO mobilizes community members to improve various aspects of health and well-being of people living in the Kigezi region.
The following story focuses on Tindyebwa Beatrice, a nurse, mother of seven children, and family planning service provider with KIHEFO…
Meet ‘Sister Beatrice’ – “When I talk, I talk from experience”
Sister Beatrice (as she’s called by the KIHEFO Family) is a gentle confidant who’s always ready with a warm smile and embrace when you meet her at KIHEFO and around town. When Beatrice walks through the town of Kabale (any day of the week) – she has to plan a few extra hours into her schedule, because when women see her coming, they want to greet her – and tell her about their health problems and seek her trusted counsel.
Beatrice, a nurse and mother of seven children, is originally from the Kabale District. She’s worked in maternal health nearly all her life, and as a Family Planning Service Provider for over ten years. She first met Dr. Anguyo Geoffrey (ED of KIHEFO) while working at the Family Planning Association of Uganda (FPUA). Dr. Anguyo was one of the organization’s medical consultants, and over time, the two worked together closely on referred cases.
In May 2012, Dr. Anguyo invited Sister Beatrice, by then retired from FPUA, to join KIHEFO’s team and work from the Kigongi General Clinic and HIV/AIDS Clinic in Kabale to provide family planning counselling services to women of all backgrounds.
Beatrice has enjoyed her time working with KIHEFO – particularly in the area of family planning.
“It’s always been very interesting working with mothers. I am their confidant, and they tell me their problems,” said Beatrice with a smile. “And when I talk, I talk from experience.”
Beatrice, now in her later years of life, has seen, first-hand, the challenges associated with raising large numbers of children. Herself, being a nurse, and also relying on cultivating crops for a small income, knows exactly the difficulties women are facing to nourish, clothe, and educate her children – especially if there’s around 6 or 7 (the average family size in Kigezi region).
From the Past to Present – Family Planning in Kigezi, Uganda
Traditionally, the Bakiga people of the southwestern region of Uganda, including the Kabale District, favored large families. Wealth was determined by the number of wives and children that a man had – so it wasn’t uncommon for one man to have two or three wives, and over twenty children. The man would be responsible for dividing his land to share amongst his wives and children who depended on their crops for survival.
As the population has expanded in the Kigezi region – the arable land, certainly, has not. Traditional family practices – like raising large numbers of children – poses many challenges today due to limited land space, and additional monetary costs, like school fees, tuition, medical fees and food stuffs.
According to Beatrice, ten to fifteen years ago, a mother would seek family planning services only after she’d already produced seven children – and wanted to stop. But today, Beatrice sees both genders, women and men, seeking options for family planning because they recognize the challenges of raising large numbers of children.
“[Over the years] we did a lot of education about ‘spacing’ for the good of the mother…and today people are sensitized and they know about spacing,” Beatrice explained.
Common Contraceptives & Common Challenges
Even though the number of women seeking family planning methods has increased, there are still many challenges faced by women, men and households in Kigezi, Uganda. Beatrice identified two of the major challenges:
1) Women hiding contraceptive use from their husbands – most women, according to Beatrice, opt for an injected contraceptive, like Depo-Provera, because a single-injection lasts 3 months, and it’s easier to hide from her husband. (Despite the gender sensitivity – still many men, and women, are opposed to contraceptives because of cultural or religious regions). For women on the pill; however, adherence to the medication becomes difficult.
“Say at bedtime, she’s forgotten to take the pills. And she’s hid them in the kitchen, but now she’s in bed with her husband. It becomes difficult to take [the pills]” Beatrice explained softly.
2) Access to a steady supply of contraceptives – for women living in remote, rural villages, continued access to medication can pose a huge problem. While there are Medical Dispensaries built in most villages, there may not always be available medication or contraceptives. According to Beatrice, in 2012, there was a shortage of injected contraceptives, like Depo-Provera.
“You find that women keep waiting for supply to come, and while they’re waiting… they eventually become pregnant again.”
3) Misinformation about the side-effects of contraceptives – there are rumors about the side-effects of contraceptives, feared by men and women, that discourages family planning. Some people fear a ‘loss of libido’ or ‘becoming too weak to “dig” (garden).
4) Domestic violence and alcohol abuse – while there are no statistics on the number of people who struggle with addiction to alcohol, or households dealing with domestic violence, health workers, including Beatrice, believe they are many in Kigezi – which poses a huge problem to practicing family planning, and improving the health of mothers and children.
More than a Counsellor – Helping Mothers Find a Way Forward
Over the years, Beatrice has been more than a counsellor of family planning. She’s helped women with many different problems, providing advice and information on HIV/AIDS, TB, domestic abuse, maternal health, sick children, and so forth.
Beatrice is proud of her long-term efforts to improve health of mothers, women, men and children in Kigezi, Uganda.
“The age is so important. It’s given me experience. And you know,” Beatrice said with a smile, “They say ‘a problem shared is half-way solved…you can be carrying a burden, and when you share it with someone…you feel relieved. And then you can [together] look for a way forward.”
To learn more about KIHEFO and how you can be involved to support health and livelihood programming, please visit our website – click here.