We spent the day on Friday travelling to the rural areas outside of Kabwohe with the Mother’s Union workers. They recently set their program for the year and will visit many parishes over the next several months. Over the past several years they have been teaching in the rural areas about the eight millennium development goals:
End Poverty and Hunger
In previous years, they have encouraged the women in rural communities to plant gardens to supplement their diets and have taught about the components of balanced meals to combat hunger. To improve child and maternal health, they have encouraged women to save money for childbirth and travel to the hospitals to reduce maternal and infant mortality. They have challenged each parish to plant small forests to help environmental sustainability. Each of these small changes adds up to make a difference in the lives of families.
This year, their focus was on human rights and marriage. The first order of business was to visit the local primary school and speak to the children and the teachers in the morning. The visit to the school was an eye opener. Uganda has universal primary education. In theory, the government gives 750 shillings per month (40 cents) per child to the school for resources and supplies. This is ‘in theory’, because the school we were visiting had not received funds since December 2008. The teachers are paid separately from this funding. So the schools have few funds and are struggling to find new ways to raise money. In the past, this funding was obtained through school fees. However, since the government does not allow school fee collection (children are not allowed to be sent home from school), the schools are not sure how to proceed. We encouraged the children to study and fulfil their goals of becoming doctors, teachers, priests, etc. I hope that the girls especially were motivated by my presence as a veterinary doctor.
In the afternoon we addressed a gathering of approximately 70 women. The Mother’s Union discussed two topics – marriage and raising children today. Just like in Canada, (and around the world, I’m sure!) we heard about ‘children today’ and that things aren’t like they used to be. Kellen, the Mother’s Union Worker reminded the women that things weren’t that much different in their generation. She encouraged them to remember their values of community and to support each other in raising children.
The seminar on marriages was also interesting, primarily because the focus was on the basic human rights in marriage – rights to shelter, food and clothing. This surprised me because I take these rights for granted, and to hear them taught reminds me that not everyone enjoys these basic human rights. Unfortunately, when women are dependent on the income of their husbands, it is often the women who lack some of these basic needs.
Mother’s Union was also strongly encouraging legalizing marriages in the church. It is common here for people to live together without being officially married. The most common reason for this seems to be that people want to give a big party when they are married and delay marriage until they can afford the party.
[As a side note, we attended a wedding reception last Saturday, at which there were at least 600 people, all of which were fed lunch. The weather was perfect, and it was outdoors under tents. Having planned a wedding for 100 people, I think it is quite a logistical feat to plan and cook and entertain that many people!]
Back to the Mother’s Union seminar: There are good theological behind Christians getting married by the church and before God. Interestingly, Mother’s Union was also emphasizing the practical reasons. Without a legal marriage, the spouse does not inherit the land if their husband or wife dies. So for Mother’s Union, marriage is not only a moral issue, but a human rights issue.
We did not discuss much about divorce because divorce is discouraged by the churches or society. Ugandan law also discourages divorce. In a civil or Christian marriage, a man may only divorce his wife on grounds of adultery. A woman may divorce her husband on the grounds of adultery and cruelty, adultery and bigamy, or adultery and abandonment (the husband having left for more than 2 years).
The women were very enthusiastic about the seminar and appreciated the time that the Mother’s Union spent with them. Jeff was able to share with the group and did an excellent job giving a short sermon which was translated into Runyankole. We hope to travel with Mother’s Union again next week. We look forward to either participating in more seminars, or sharing in the hospitals, depending on our schedules.