Village savings society nurtures FamilyConnect in Yumbe

Educating mothers on how to keep themselves and their babies safe

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

23 May 2019

For some years, women of the impoverished Manduru village in Yumbe District had been dutifully attending fortnightly meetings of their sluggish savings and credit cooperative organization (Sacco). The meetings, happening every other Sunday, were a dull affair and attendance was as poor as the members’ purses. But in December 2018 things started changing. The women started reporting for the meetings in full force, for something more interesting was now happening at the end of the unexciting sessions of discussing money which they did not have. FamilyConnect had come to Manduru.

It started when one Sacco member, an early FamilyConnect beneficiary called Jamilla Aguma, showed her phone message to a colleague at the meeting and a discussion ensued. More women got interested and at the following meeting, others were interested in knowing how to get connected to FamilyConnect. Soon the Village Health Team (VHT) member who had registered her, Inzako Sefu, found himself fielding more inquiries about FamilyConnect.

Unfortunately, Manduru folk are really poor and half do not have phones. So ways of sharing are worked out. Some like Jamilla are lucky to have cooperative husbands. Life in this predominantly Islamic community of north-western Uganda is still quite conservative, and Jamilla was pleasantly surprised to learn in one of the messages that it is alright to continue having sex after becoming pregnant. This has made Jamilla, now five months into her fifth pregnancy happier, and so is her husband. It is a rather late discovery, but not too late.

health innovation FamilyConnect
UNICEF Uganda/2019/Kabuye

But things were getting out of hand for the Manduru women’s Sacco. More women who are not members of the Sacco started turning up for the meetings, wanting to share the FamilyConnect messages and ask more about their meaning from those who had interacted with VHTs. The Sacco business was getting eclipsed and a solution had to be found. It was decided that specific meetings to discuss FamilyConnect messages be scheduled separately on every other Sunday from the one for the Sacco meeting. And so a FamilyConnected club of sorts was born.

The health Inspector of Aringa County at Yumbe District Hospital, Willy Afaro, is very happy with the spontaneous growth of the informal FamilyConnect club at Manduru village. He has actually attended some of their Sunday meetings and takes the opportunity to talk to the expectant mothers and potential mothers.

VHT Sefu who covers the Manduru area is encouraged and enthusiastic. From January to March 2019, he registered 36 mothers. This was the highest number registered in a single village in Aringa county during that period. Clearly, the thirst for information is there in this poor, conservative village and he is determined to pass it on. The men in the area are quite conservative but Sefu never gives up on them.

“ I keep trying to get to them, sometimes using other people in their homesteads to soften the ground.” “Once I get the audience, I explain to them that FamliyConnect is a system that links a pregnant woman directly to the Ministry of Health in Kampala to be educated on how to keep herself and her baby safe,”

he explains.

Simply, clearly put. And it is working.