Early Childhood Development: Karamajong men defy culture to support development of their children

Super dads breaking the barriers

By Catherine Ntabadde Makumbi
UNICEF Uganda/2017/Ose

11 December 2017

Amudat, 2017 – In their culture, women have to literally do everything from housework to constructing houses, providing water to the animals.  It was never heard of that the men would support their wives in house chores or even carry the baby if he/she cried. Not even play with their children.

With the knowledge acquired from the health workers, district authorities and humanitarian agencies, the Karamajong men are now champions of early childhood development (ECD). They are keen at participating in the growth and development of their children right from the time their wives conceive. This is a critical element of ECD because the earliest environments can influence a child’s development.

During an interactive one-one session with a cross section of men in Nakapiripirit, Amudat and Napak districts in North Eastern Uganda, the UNICEF team discovered that the fathers appreciate the role of bonding with their children and wives as it results into healthier, happier children and adults.

25 year old Amos Lomerigorok of Katukumwok village, Loroo Parish, Loroo Sub County in Amudat says, “It is a new phenomenon for us to get involved in the lives of our children."

I get time to play with my children. I know by interacting and playing with them, our relationship grows stronger. Mostly we play the kraal games where the children collect small stones and we depict how a kraal looks like.

Amos Lomerigorok

Amos is a father of 3 children and his wife is expecting their 4 child. He mentioned that he has been preparing for delivery in a health facility noting that his three children were delivered in bushes.  He has already been to the health centre with the wife for antenatal care services. “When I first went to the health centre, I was asked to go back home and return with my husband,” says Chepsera Paulina. Indeed Amos adhered to the health workers’ call and escorted his wife to the doctors. Borrowing from the public education messages given at the health centres, Amos was advised to always ensure that the wife delivers in the hands of the experts to avoid complications. 

Chemukea Lokwabong, 45, who had a 1 week baby at the time of the visit says when his 23 year old wife was pregnant, he helped fetch water, milk the cows and do other chores at home. He revealed that he plays with his children, carries them and throws them up in the air as a way of creating a strong relationship with them. He is optimistic that by interesting himself in the lives of his children, he can secure them a better future through education after which the children can get jobs instead of herding cattle. “I make sure that all my children know each other and understand that they are related. I also carry my children which most women cannot do. Before we acquired this knowledge, we thought that children should only play with their mothers and not fathers,” added Chemukea who has 4 wives.   He felt very happy to hold his 1 week baby since he was doing it for the first time since he was born.  Chemukea said he would have held his new born like in the 2nd week according to culture. The new born baby is regularly breastfed. “My husband is providing milk and porridge so that I have what to feed the baby on,” Nachadee Lobwakong says. She adds that all her three children were breastfed exclusively for 6 months as was advised by the health workers.  Chemukea agreed champion all the men in his community and impact the knowledge he has. Asked how the family acquired knowledge on breastfeeding and eating nutritious foods, the couple said the health workers conduct health education sessions on nutrition. UNICEF with funding from UKaid is enhancing resilience in Karamoja programme. Through the programme, UNICEF and WFP have scaled up nutrition interventions targeting malnourished children under give, pregnant and lactating women. The interventions are implemented at both health facility and community level. One of the components, according to Alex Mokori, UNICEF Nutrition Specialist in Karamoja is to counsel and treat severe acute malnutrition among children, breastfeeding and complementary feeding support.

The Chief Administrative Officer Amudat Chelimo Alex noted that women in Karamoja are over burdened. “They build and thatch houses while the men are seated. Even when the women are pregnant, they still do hard labour. With the increased education and exposure, things are changing. Some men are getting involved in the lives of their children,” he explains. 

Chelimo says he supports his wife in the growth of their children including taking on house chores, bathing the children and cooking. He believes supporting his wife provides good parenting to the children. 

In Napak District, Loru Abraham (25) and Nate Vicky (20) have had a three weeks baby boy, their first born.  Loru says as a father, he feels it is his responsibility to see that the family stays together now that his wife has given birth.  “We went together at the health centre for antenatal care visits. At the health centre, I was told to take good care of my wife, reduce on the work load and avail foods for a balanced diet,” Loru says. He carried his son from hospital after delivery to home. Because of culture, when they reached home, he handed over the child to the mother and will stay away for 2 months before they are re-integrated. He comes around during the day to check on the family and provide the necessary needs.  He demonstrated how he sung and hissed to the baby to calm him and keep quiet at the time he was crying. “I was excited when I saw the baby respond to my songs and hisses,” adds the smiling father.  Loru notes that he is aware that the early years of a child are important for the future. To achieve this, he provides welfare to the child, works to earn income for feeding the mother and knows the importance of providing medical support should the need arise. 

Loli Lowakabong, 38, is looking forward to the unborn child. He is providing nutritious foods like milk, silver fish to his 7 months pregnant wife, Aguma. Lowakanga demonstrated the games he plays with his children some of them include snake games and ties rags to act as balls for football. He also tells fox stories to the children. During our visit, he threw one of his daughters up in the air, which she seemed to like.  Before he goes out of home to interact with peers, he will ensure that he has provided food to his family. This he does through the income earned from cultivation and selling of sun flower, sorghum, maize. His hope is to educate all his children so that they become future leaders in the Police force and medical professions.

Lomilo Hellen, 28, has a new born baby. Asked when she gave birth, she says ‘the day men cooked’ to mean International Women’s Day. Indeed her husband Abura Apanyekol, 30, cooked on that day. Abura accompanied his wife to deliver at the health centre a message he says he learnt from the health workers during the antenatal visits.  A father of two, he likes to play with the elder son, 3 years 7 months, by imitating a kraal and modeling bulls, cows using sand.  His son goes to a nearby ECD centre and promises to take care of the new born.

These practices were shared during a UNICEF visit to the communities to document ECD best practices involving a male figure ahead of Father’s day in June. The documentation was done to portray quality parenting support programmes through the stories of the whole family. 

The implementation of the UKaid supported nutrition programmme is complemented by other UNICEF interventions including early childhood development, child protection, water and sanitation, health and social safety nets.