My Global Health practicum in Kitgum and Pader has given me unimaginable opportunity to traverse these districts. In my sojourn, I have been humbled by people’s resolve to self mobilise so as to build their communities from the debris of more than 25 years of anarchy.
In Latanya Sub-county, Pader District, an impoverished community is silently struggling with an aspiration and a priority to start a secondary school. They have resolved to grow the secondary school to the point where the government may take it up. In the whole of Latanya, there is no secondary school and yet there are so many primary schools. The lack of a nearby secondary school also means children from these impoverished rural peasantry households are limited to primary school education.
This Latanya community seed secondary school, represented by two small buildings, is all that CARITAS and USAID sponsored for them. This year, Senior Three is to be introduced, which means they may not have a classroom to accommodate this growth. It is amazing how community members are willingly donating land for the expansion of this school.
Listening to the narratives of the parents, the principles of community empowerment and community networking comes alive. However, the lack of imagination and concrete realities of poverty strains such resolves.
Beyond Latanya’s community initiatives, I was taken aback at the amount of alcohol being consumed here. Here, death occurs by the crude drinks in sachets. In one week, more than seven deaths had been associated with alcohol. Drinking alcohol has potential negative implications across these communities. It is lessening the workforce as would-be able-bodied folk turn to drinking the moment they are awake. Domestic and gender-based violence are on the increase. Cases of murder resulting from petty quarrels at drinking joints are also rampant.
Another major challenge here is that men are not actively seeking healthcare services. This means women have become the gatekeepers to healthcare, nutrition and to security for the household. Women in the post-conflict Acholi have become the pillars of homes and communities, which is unusual because in Acholi tradition, men have always shaped social and economic discourses, while women played supervisory and support roles. Today, women are doing it all while the men are drinking.
It is sad that women are the ones actively seeking for HIV tests. The men, who are most likely to have multiple partners, acquire and spread HIV, are not involved in healthcare seeking. You will only find women at antenatal clinics. Stories have been told where some men living with HIV have the audacity to forcefully grab the antiretroviral medication from their wives to share the dose.
One of the major problems of the post-conflict Acholi region is the lack of imagination among local leaders. People vie for leadership positions as routine job seeking venture. There is need to eliminate the obviously unhelpful symbols of past conflict. People need to be wired to a hopeful future. The environment here is rapidly diminishing so communities should be prepared to build water reservoirs to harness the excessive flooding.
In short, post-conflict Acholi is badly in need of people with imagination to catapult this region to a new economic order. These leaders ought to mobilise the people to spur development, to break from the traditions of fear and pessimism. Unfortunately, everything here is linked with politics, which renders most elected leaders ineffective.
Mr Komakech is a practicum student at Maternal Child Health facility in Kitgum, northern Uganda. firstname.lastname@example.org