Thursday, October 1, 2015

Cut demand and you will stop Female Genital Mutilation in Uganda

It was the very first of its kind, a half-marathon that attempted to engage, involve and educate the masses in Sabiny land about the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and by extension end the practice.  It took place on 19th September 2015 in Kapchorwa.
It was in Tartar Village in Kaptanya subcounty, Kapchorwa district that I met an elderly woman - Kokop Mwajuma a traditional surgeon; involved in the now outlawed Female Genital Mutilation, an initiation practice for young girls and women that involves cutting outer genitalia. Kokop was living with her grandson who takes care of her and ushers in guests who come to visit or interview her. She was upset, because her source of livelihood has been tampered with by the same government which she says sends people to question her.

Among the Sabiny community, FGM is seen as an initiation of girls into womanhood. Once cut, the girls are then deemed ready for marriage. Besides being a spiritual obligation, for Kokop, FGM was a business. She charged between 20,000 shillings (5 U.S. dollars) to 50,000 shillings (14 dollars) for every cut. She says banning it makes no sense because girls from Sabiny cross over to Kenya to get cut and come back proud and fulfilled. "The Kenyans get business and I don’t, When the law becomes tough, the tactics change", said Kokop who is struggling to breakaway from this practice.  Some of the dangers of FGM include excessive bleeding when not properly done and sharing of knives, which could cause HIV infections.

On December 10, 2009, the Ugandan Parliament passed a law banning the practice of female genital mutilation. The bill imposes harsh penalties for participation in the practice of FGM. A person convicted of the practice faces a sentence of up to ten years in prison. In the case of what is called aggravated FGM, when the practice causes death or disability or results in the victim's infection with HIV/AIDS, the punishment is life imprisonment. Anyone who provides aid or in any way takes part in the practice is liable, on conviction, to a prison term of up to five years.

However, despite the existence of this law, the practice continues, although silently among the sabiny. Asked why, Chemutai a teenage mother of 3 who was among those arrested for accepting to be cut said..... 
.....“it’s our culture and it’s who we are; besides, the wounds heal in less than a week. All we have to do is go for a PPF injection. It’s really not a big deal”
It was indeed surprising to learn from some of the sabiny people that they had no idea that a law banning FGM in Uganda had been passed. Some blamed their members of parliament for shying away from this sensitive issue. “No wonder they are not Circumcised” one declared.

UNFPA organized anti-FGM marathon in partnership with the Church of Uganda Sebei diocese and Kapchorwa Local Government leadership to support  Government efforts to eliminate FGM in the districts of Kapchorwa, Bukwo and Kween which are home to the Sabiny; as well as raise hope and protect the young girls from undergoing a harmful cultural practice.  The archbishop of the church of Uganda His Worship Stanley Ntagali was chief runner and while speaking to the masses said that the role of the church is crucial in changing mindsets and contributing to a paradigm shift to a change of culture. UNFPA’s Esperance Fundira said that ‘we can give up FGM without giving up our culture’.  UNFPA addresses FGM holistically by funding and implementing culturally-sensitive programmes for the abandonment of the practice, advocating for legal and policy reforms and building national capacity to stop all forms of FGM.

Re-known long distance runner & world champion Moses Kipsiro was there to support the cause. He spoke about the dangers of FGM and the need to empower the young men and women of Kapchorwa who are some of the best long distance runners the country has. Whereas religious leaders believed that involving the church is crucial in the fight of FGM, some Civil society activists advice that campaigns targeting FGM should be approached from a cultural perspective as opposed to a project angle that has to be ticked off a work plan.

‘Surgeons like Kokop accused the president for promising to give her a cow and a monthly allowance to keep her away from the practice; a promise he has never fulfilled. She said that “Museveni is good but a liar”. Asked if she would stop if the president fulfilled his promise; Her response was hilarious, she told me that her exceptional cutting skills make many young women seek her services, so she would not guarantee quitting.

The efforts of development agencies like UNFPA are commendable but one of the long-term solutions to ending FGM should focus on cutting its demand and this can only be achieved through educating of the girl child and  the communities that she lives in.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

I survived 111m of Big African Air

When you hear that someone bungee jumped 111m off the Victoria falls in Livingstone, you probably think that s/he is crazy, stressed or was attempting murder. Well, those thoughts hold some truth to them. It takes bravery, courage, craziness and all those fancy adjectives to throw oneself 111meters off the victoria bridge towards the mighty Zambezi River.  If you do not know where the Victoria Falls or Zambezi River are located, you probably didn’t pay enough attention in your Geography classes. Those falls are locally known as "Mosi-oa-Tunya” which means 'Smoke that thunders’. The Zambians and Zimbabweans know best about the 'small fights’ that they have always had for years over these falls. That’s a story for another day. 

My story is a little bit different; I did it out of curiosity and the desire for crazy adventure that requires adrenaline rush. Above all, I did for the love of exploring this beautiful continent AFRICA.
My Journey to Zambia in August 2015 started as one to attend a continental dialogue on climate smart Agriculture. It focused so much on encouraging climate smart agriculture as away of mitigating the effects of a changing climate and a rapid population growth. After a fruitful event that came up with resolutions ahead of the bigger COP in Paris this Dec, I headed for Intercity (An equivalent of a bus park in Uganda). I was boarding a bus destined for Livingstone, Zambia’s tourist town and the home to the mighty Victoria Falls.  Livingstone is about 7 hours from Lusaka by bus. It’s a calm, clean and a very organised town. Prior to my trip to Livingston, I had spoken to a couple of Zambian friends at a popular hangout “O’Hagan’s” and told them, with lots of enthusiasm, about my adventurous plan to Livingstone. Their response was more hilarious than I had imagined.

 Friend: Maureen, Let me tell you a story of one of our chiefs in Livingstone who attempted to do the ‘swing’ jump (Very close to the bungee) in an attempt to encourage tourists to participate in the various activities at the bridge. Little did he know that he would make headlines in the dailies as a result of that swing. 
 Me: That’s a good thing for a leader, to make news headlines for all the right reasons. Especially encouraging tourism. 
 Friend: Right reasons? She exclaimed. Well, all didn’t go well with our chief, because everything was let loose from both the front and back. When he was brought back from the jump, he had both flies and journalists interested in him. 
 Me: You are kidding. Right? 
 Friend: Ask any Zambian. She said confidently. When you mention Bungee jump, they will tell you that they do not want to end up like their chief. Others will say they can only do it if it’s between life and death. Or when they have adult pampers to shield them.

And true to her word, I had small talk with a couple of Zambians on the bus ride to Livingstone and my plan and later on story was received with shock, then laughter, then the chief’s story narration.
The truth is that I was so scared to attempt the jump, and the moment I reached the bridge and saw a couple of white tourists bungee jump, I swore to God that I would be a fool if I dared that. As I observed more and more people jump (White people), I began rethinking; I said, I could not come all the way to Livingstone to jump and simply leave because of fear, which I could overcome. After all, none of those that I had watched had yet died or fallen in the river from the time I started observing.

I decided to register and make the payment (Quite pricey) and take on the challenge. I had no idea that it would be so easy for me to confess my sins and at the same time reflect on my entire life in a couple of seconds. As I went off the bridge, I thought to myself, what if the rope snaps and I drop into that water? What if one of the ropes was not fastened enough? what if I developed a heart attack? What if, what it, what if………. I thought of my family and friends and promised to be a better person if I was given a second chance. For your information, screaming is part of the package as you go down; it’s inevitable if you are a normal being. I had not regrets after the jump and was glad I did it. That’s the video…be the judge(s)

After the jump, I crossed the boarder into Zimbabwe  like  a ninja to view the Victoria falls from that side. No words can describe that world wonder. You just need to go there yourself. (Yes,  you who is reading this). Go see the beauty of Zim beyond what the media feeds you on.

I must admit that after that jump, a lot has changed about me.  My perception towards life, risk taking and the idea of giving people a benefit of doubt. The fact that I could trust that bungee crew with my life on a rope, I can surely give a person that I know a benefit of doubt. I would like to take on another challenge of climbing the 3 East African mountains of Rwenzori, Kenya and Kilimanjaro. I however have to look for $750 to climb only the Rwenzori which happens to be in my own country and its foots my childhood home. I hope I can raise that $750 amidst the dollar ‘scarcity’. Otherwise if anyone knows of UWA weavers for Nationals, please do alert me.

FYI, while in Livingstone, I stayed at Chanters Lodge. I recommend it to anyone looking for decent and affordable accommodation while in Livingstone. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Held Hostage by your phone? Learn some Phone Etiquette

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog about email etiquette and the readership was wide. I also received a couple of private messages thanking me for sharing what seemed obvious yet many continued to abuse their emails.  I have since realized the need to write another on phone etiquette and why, despite the advancement in telephony, many of us continue to be blinded by these gadgets and loose respect for those who offer their time to be with and around us.

I must admit that I am writing this from my own previous experience(s) of disrespecting people around me as a result of unnecessarily using my phone. I was so lucky to have a very bold friend who once told me to either put my phone down while she talked to me else she threatened to walk away. I first thought that she was being overly emotional but it all made sense one day when she taught me what it meant to partially pay attention to someone’s presence or conversation regardless of it’s level of importance. The fact that the person chose to speak to you and not call you, meant that they need your attention and some respect.
Have you ever been in the company of your peers and you notice how they endless caress their phones and giggle or make utterances such as “Oh my Gosh”, “Hell noooo” then giggle again? In an attempt to remain polite, you smile as if you are aware of what caused their reaction.  This makes one wish that we never got to this level where almost every urban dweller owns a ‘smart’ phone? I wonder why they are called Smart phones? They seem to have made human being loose the sense of “social’ and respect. They seem to make us dumb and not smart at all. 

We sit in the same room and find it difficult to speak to each other yet it is so easy to send each other whatsup messages, we find it impossible to verbally compliment someone for something positive but have the guts to send a tweet praising this person and tagging whoever cares to know. When we visit parents, friends and family, we are more comfortable sharing the updates of these meetings using our phones on social media platforms instead of enjoying those moments when we are physically with them. Some of you take your disrespect to flights, you are told to switch off your phones during take off  and taxing yet all you do is start-taking selfies on board. Well, these are some of the basic, yet not so obvious things you need to avoid when using your “Smart Phone”

Phone in silent mode: When you find this sign "please keep your phone in silent mode" or  "switch off your phone" please respect that. It's for a reason.  In most cases, it’s for your own safety and security.

Sound and Flash: Deactivate sound and flash from your phone when taking pictures in crowded places, hospital settings etc unless you are a professional photographer on assignment such that removing the flash could compromise the quality of your work.
Family and Friends: When with family or friends, please talk to them, laugh, Joke, play etc. You can only achieve this by putting your phone away and being part of the conversation and the physical activities.
Returning Calls : When unable to pick your phone call, endvour to send a message indicating that u will return the call. Alternatively, ask request the person to call you at a time of your convenience. Ignoring a call or going silence is so yesterday.

Speaking with one person at a time: When speaking on phone, desist from speaking to other people around you. It's disrespectful & annoying to the person on the other side as they receive different messages and could create confusion.
First time calls: When you call someone for the very first time, be polite and introduce yourself before you are asked who you are.  There could be Apps that help you identify new callers such as “TrueCaller” but not everyone has a smart phone to take advantage of these. It’s an issue of politeness.
Tone Control: Control your tone when speaking on phone, regardless of how you feel. Whether sad, excited, angry etc. Tame your voice. Someone on the receiving end can easily tell your mood from your tone. Try to smile as your speak, the person on the other end will feel it. Unless the reason for the call is sad, you loose nothing when your smile.  You instead prolong your life on earth.

Remove Ear/Head phone: Have some respect when talking to someone by removing your earphones from your ears. It's rude to speak with earphones on. This has become a common trend with teenagers who consider it “Cool” to have earphones plugged in your ears. Hope you take time to occasionally remove the wax.
Phone Music/Videos/Games: When playing music, video or games, do not interfere with those around you. Use your ear/headphones when necessary. The assumption that people around you will enjoy your music and therefore playing it loud is not an issue is wrong. If they have not asked to join you in listening, then they definitely don’t need it.
Speaking to people physically: When speaking to someone, respect them by putting your phone away & maintaining eye contact & other non-verbal communication.  This creates mutual respect and enables meaningful conversations with the least destruction.

Web Photo
Smile on Phone: Whenever you can, do smile when speaking on phone, the other person can tell from tone. It could be a game changer to the conversation. Just try and see the magic.
Meetings: When meeting people for an activity, partnership, or work plan, please put your phone away and LISTEN. People do take note of so many things. The success of your meeting could depend a lot on your phone etiquette.
Chats as cheap: The fact that we have Apps that have made communication easy, convenient and CHEAP does not meat that we should never make phone calls to people we care about and only opt for whatsup, GTalk, Viber. Sometimes, people want to know that you can spend some money on them by calling and talking to them and not relying on “FREE” services to get in touch.

Unfamiliar phone numbers: When you receive a call and it’s from an unfamiliar number, politely inform the caller that it’s a wrong number and hang up. Do not abuse the call, threaten them or pick the call and say nothing in a bid to make them spend money on airtime.
Checking other’s phones: Have you ever given a friend, spouse, workmate or even your sibling your phone (For whatever reason) only for you to discover that they opened it and checked your chats, social media platforms including private messages in the inbox (es), SMSes, who called, when, why etc? Now, that sucks so bad if it was done against your will and without your knowledge. Well, it is bad manners if you are one of those people who do that. STOP IT!!
Using phones on the Road: Where as there are still so many points to share, my last and most important is to people who continue to use smart phones while driving. You not only endanger yourself but also those who get affected by your reckless actions on the road.  You get obstructed in all sorts of ways but mostly Auditory destruction where by you move their attention to the sound of phone/conversation instead of road environment.  Get the message “DON’T TALK OR TEXT WHEN DRIVING”.