Kisoro was moving and humbling.
We watched as a mother ploughed towards us, barefoot, through the mud, her baby on her back. The September rain sheeted down and the wicker basket on her head provided scant protection from the elements.
She kept on, keen to find sanctuary in the church, keen to discover a better way to improve her child’s life.
This was Gisorora and the lady was bringing her child to the first Lullaby Africa baby bonding session we had ever held in the village.
Our visit here was towards the end of the fourth Lullaby Africa trip to the Kisoro Diocese in Southern Uganda. Over the space of two weeks, Helen Howes and Isobel Tutt-Leppard worked with over 350 mothers and their babies, teaching simple techniques to improve attachment between the generations and help the babies’ brains develop fully in the first years of life.
In Muganza, for instance, some of the women had been to previous bonding sessions and had encouraged their friends and neighbours to come and hear the teaching. When the group had first met in April 2016, over 200 mothers had taken part, but the rain had hammered on the tin roof of the church and the session seemed generally chaotic, with Helen and her interpreter struggling to be heard above the noise.
However, much to Helen’s amazement, there were clear signs that the teaching had had an impact. Some of the mothers were playing with their babies as they waited for the session to start; there had been no sign of this in April.
When asked if they remembered what the Lullaby Africa team had talked about, the mothers were confident:
- “Massaging my baby’s head helped.”
- “I learned to sing to my baby and look into his eyes. He became happier.”
- “I learned not to shout at my baby and my baby is happier.”
- “I started holding my baby and laughing and playing with him.”
The two completely new areas, Nyakabungo and Gisorora, were further out of the town and proved more challenging at first. Attendance at the groups was sporadic, partly because, we discovered, it was the planting season. Every time it rained, the ladies were understandably more concerned with digging their plantations than coming to hear about baby bonding. Despite this there were some mothers who were desperate to learn more, such as the lady we saw trudging through the storm to church.
In each location, we gave teddies to every child that attended. Seeing the children play with what is, in many cases, their only toy, pulls at heartstrings we never knew we had.
If the apparent impact of earlier teaching was one encouragement, the invitation to take the message to fathers provided another.
In Uganda, most fathers are completely uninvolved with their children, except when discipline is needed.
One Sunday, we were invited to speak at a thanksgiving service for our work. We made the most of the opportunity to talk about the significance of fathers as role models for their children. Our host, the Reverend Joseph made the point that many Ugandan fathers act more like policemen towards children than fathers. He asked the congregation of over 200, how many fathers had ever carried their children. Only two raised their hands and the Reverend was one of them himself.
We were very well received wherever we went and, in every area, people were keen to know when we would be returning to Uganda.
In such circumstances, both in Uganda and Kenya, cultural change takes a long time. Repeated hearing of the message is vital and the Diocese too has urged us to return to support the work of the local mothers’ groups we have helped establish.
We already have our next trip to Kenya organised for the end of November 2016 and we have just booked to return to Kisoro in March 2017.