On 16th and 17th November, Uganda Protestant Medical Bureau (UPMB) brought major faith leaders to a regional dialogue about family planning to provide a common platform and information to challenge the status quo. All major faiths were represented which included Anglican, Catholics, Moslems, Orthodox, Pentecostols and other Born-again churches.
In his opening remarks, Dr Tonny, the Executive director UPMB, reported that no single religion was against family planning when it was discussed at a recent interfaith conference convened at Hotel Africana in Kampala. What was needed was clear information about family planning so that the different religious leaders could choose which methods better suits their church belief/framework and advocate for their use.
Thanks to U-SHAPE facilitation, I was able to attend this influential Mbarara workshop. What most inspired me was to realise how much of what we are already doing in Kanungu is in line with this thinking. Dr Clare became interested in 2011, when she ran workshops with young people at Great Lake College. In 2013, she consulted churches, schools, communities and community-based organizations in Kanungu to learn how programs like the Presidential Initiative on AIDs strategy for Communication to the Youth (PIASCY) and other initiatives were strengthening young people to avoid HIV and teenage pregnancies. This led to the setting up of the Pastoral Lead Network of teachers (PLN) which is now part of the U-SHAPE.
U-SHAPE stands for Uganda Sexual Health and Pastoral Education and is already championing the opening up of family planning in the Kanungu district supplementing Government efforts. Our mission is to shape lives, shape communities, shape the country and shape the world.
Through my presentation, I was able to talk about our training of Pastoral Lead Teachers and Youth Outreaches through churches around Bwindi, as well as U-SHAPE training of VHTs and Family Planning providers.
The conference didn’t just provide the opportunity to network. UPMB staff gave us full scale learning about all methods of family planning. We looked at what Holy books say about family planning, couple communication and how religious leaders could encourage health spacing and timing of pregnancy (HSTP). It covered one of my major interests which is how we can introduce family planning to teenagers.
At the end of the day the discussions, testimonies and experiences resulted in complete changes of mind-sets about Family Planning. It was interesting to see for the first time a church leader pronouncing the word condom. It has always been taboo for church leaders to talk about such word, however their long silence has been responsible for a lot of family planning-related problems in societies.
Lack of proper use of family planning has led to other challenges like our high rate of teenage pregnancy (24%), HIV/AIDs (7.3%), domestic violence, illiteracy and poverty. Moreover, it’s the only way to go if we are to control the rapid population growth and the high fertility rate of 7.2children per mother in Uganda.
Rural women are however, slowly by slowly, embracing the use of contraceptives. What is left is for all stake holders to join hands and arrest all the fears from the people by demystifying all the myth that has been a major hindrance to utilization of family planning services.
It’s therefore a clarion call to everyone that for the good of our country, we should all take centre stage in opening up for family planning services in order to protect and harness our demographic dividends and control poverty. We were asked to make the following commitments:
- To desmystify and champion family planning services to our constituents
- To take a lead on giving information to young people
- To document the ‘best practice’ of our work.
This is exactly what we intend to do over the coming year of U-SHAPE work in Kanungu.
U-SHAPE Coordinator Pastoral Lead Teachers Network KANUNGU