Reconnected by FamilyConnect

A UNICEF health innovation

By Joachim Buwembo
health innovation FamilyConnect
UNICEF Uganda/2019/Kabuye

23 May 2019

Married at 13, Rose AeKo’s marriage understandably went stale before she turned twenty. Her husband Denis, 12 years her senior, was already looking outside the marital home where he got a couple of children. Now 35, Rose is already a mother of five, and expecting her sixth child.

But Rose is no longer the sad woman she was a few years back. Her marriage with Denis is once again a source of bliss, which can be seen from the obvious chemistry that flows effortlessly between them. The only evidence that things ever went wrong between them is the four-year-old boy he got from another woman, whom they now both cuddle lovingly before he goes back to play with his three-and-a-half-year-old sister, Rose’s daughter.

What happened between Rose and Denis, a rural couple in Kobolubulu sub-county of Keberamaido District in Eastern Uganda is close to a fairly-tale. One day in 2018, they were in a strained marriage in which she had suffered anguish for some years while he had lost interest in her. 

health innovation FamilyConnect
UNICEF Uganda/2019/Kabuye

The next day a stranger, a village health team member came calling at their gloomy home. He introduced them to the FamilyConnect tool. There was one complication though. The tool which sends messages to a pregnant mother is mobile phone based, and the only mobile phone home in the homestead belonged to Denis, with whom they were hardly talking anymore. He reluctantly grunted his approval for her messages to be sent on his phone, so she got registered.  She got pregnant and when the messages came, he had to read them, and they started interpreting and discussing them together.

Gradually, or rather quickly, they started getting closer again as they discussed the balanced diet she had to eat, the ante-natal visits she had to make and the general conditions around the home, how she slept, and any medication she had to get. In short, they started communicating - something that had died out in their life. Asked to say exactly when their love got re-ignited, the couple just instinctively draw closer to each other as she smiles shyly and he holds her protectively with a rueful smile.

Rose says when the last message which she got over a week ago came telling her to start buying the necessities for the expected baby, Denis gave her some money with which she bought some baby clothes and a basin. She is confident that by the time her pregnancy is full-term, she will have purchased everything she and her baby will need.

As the happy couple continue to discuss the messages on their phone – Denis insists it is a family phone and not his – their voices get lower and lower, almost to a whisper and then I notice they are quickly becoming oblivious of my presence. I quietly withdraw and leave them to savour their maternal bliss in this impoverished village, where they seem to be happier than the wealthiest couple I have ever met.