Transforming Ugandan Communities With Care Groups

Penny Gamm
Today’s guest blog is written by Penny Husted-Gamm. Penny is an award-winning photographer who has been a long-time supporter of Food for the Hungry and an advocate for the poor and suffering. She recently visited Food for the Hungry programs in Uganda and was inspired by how FH is helping parents better care for their children through Care Groups, also known as Cascade Groups.


 

How do we know what we don’t know? That is one question that Food for the Hungry (FH) faces head on in communities in northern Uganda.

Obol and LaKer live in Biwang Village and are the parents of six children. Before FH programs, Obol described life as hard. They worked all day in the garden under the hot sun. Gardens in this part of Uganda are not close to the family home. It is not unusual for the garden to be a long, time-consuming walk from the family home. Exhausted from a long day’s work, the parents came home to hungry, and often sick, children.

Malaria often ravaged the children, but the community believed that taking children to the clinic for medication was not important. Babies were malnourished and if they survived, they grew slowly. Many families engaged in domestic violence. The community had no interest in development. Families were hungry because their gardens did not provide them enough food.

Showing the Problem

Obol and LaKer performed a short drama for us showing the beliefs they held about infant nutrition before FH stepped in. They packed up their tools, waved to their children, and left home for the garden. They worked a long, hard day in the garden and returned home to feed the children, including the baby. Their unsmiling faces spoke of fatigue and mere survival.

What their skit showed was a prominent belief in the community: babies are small and do not require much food. Parents believed they could leave their babies all day, without food. How were they to know any different? Everyone in the community held this belief.

FH Steps In

Ugandan child flourishes because of care groupFH stepped in and formed Care Groups, also known as Cascade Groups. They are designed to be self-replicating and to allow communities to share knowledge. Leaders from several villages in the area, including Obol and LaKer, attended training with FH staff members. In this training, the parents learned babies need to be nursed throughout the day. The staff educated the village leaders about nutrition and infant health, including the importance of medicine for malaria. They shared ideas of how to integrate nursing with their daily responsibilities of gardening.

Once the village leaders understood what they’d learned, and implemented the new ideas into their own lives, they began to share the information in groups within their community. FH staff visited families and counseled them on domestic violence. Slowly their community transformed.

A Changed Community

Healthy child because of care group in UgandaObol said infant mortality has declined in his community since the intervention. The community is now excited about development. Children attend school more regularly because they are not sick. FH provided the community with tools that allow them to plow more land to produce more food from their gardens. They are no longer hungry.

For LaKer, she has noticed their youngest child, 8-month-old Leopold, growing much faster than her other children did. Leopold goes to the garden with his parents, and when he is hungry, Obol lays out a mat for his wife and child, and then continues to work in the garden while LaKer nurses their son. The parents are working in partnership together, something that was not often seen before in northern Uganda.

Obol noticed his youngest two children are not sick very often, now that they are being fed proper nutrition. “The children used to get sick frequently, but now there is a big gap of no sickness that we have seen with our own eyes.”