Women in Karamoja, Uganda, face malnutrition, the death of children, and difficult childbearing while their husbands are away keeping cattle. Recently, Samaritan’s Purse started a program to improve the health of women and children in the area. As they begin this new way of life, they see that God is also calling them to a new way of life with Him.
The Women of Karamoja
Most of Uganda is lush and green, but the northeast corner is plagued by drought. It is the harshest place in the country to live—with the lowest education levels, the worst health outcomes, a depressed economy, and a high rate of domestic violence. This region is called Karamoja.
Karamoja is a beautiful place, but it is a broken place. The women and children often bear the brunt of this brokenness. While their husbands are away from home keeping cattle, the women stay to look after the house, cook, collect firewood, and take care of their children.
Malnutrition is pervasive. Mothers have grown accustomed to seeing their children with skinny arms, thin chests, and inflated bellies. Health services are scarce, and the majority of the population lives over 15 miles from the nearest medical center. As a result, the women of Karamoja have few options. Nearly 20 percent of Karamojong children do not survive past their 5th birthday, and the maternal mortality rate is the worst in Uganda. It’s rare to find a family that hasn’t experienced the loss of a child or several children.
But God has not forgotten this part of Uganda. He has not forgotten the women of Karamoja. His heart is for them. His eye is on them.
Samaritan’s Purse began a maternal and child health initiative in Karamoja in April 2012 to improve the well being of pregnant women, mothers of newborns, and their children.
Most of the staff is native to Karamoja. They call the program “A New Way,” and work closely with women from their home communities to lead and create change within their neighborhoods. In order to accomplish this, each community forms a group of “neighbor women,” who then select a leader for their group. Every two weeks the leaders meet with our staff to learn an important lesson on maternal and child health. The leaders practice teaching it to each other and then return to their communities to teach it to the “neighbor women.” These women then go out and share the lesson with other women in their communities.
In Karamojong culture, information is passed through generations using pictures, songs, rhymes, stories, and dramas. Most of the women have little or no education, so we also use these methods for our group instruction. Some of the women have even started to write their own songs about healthy foods for their children and other key topics.
Many people have treated the women of Karamoja as victims, but we are encouraging them to have a strong voice in their communities and see themselves as change-makers. We are encouraging them to believe that they are beloved daughters of God. This truth is a little seed, slowly taking root. Women are daring to put aside the idea that they are helpless and embracing the fact that they can be the ones to offer help to their neighbors—making their families happier, safer places to be.
The women of Karamoja are realizing that it’s not Samaritan’s Purse, a leader, or a group of “neighbor women” who are bringing change and hope to their communities. God is the one who gives hope. God is the one who gives joy. When change starts to come, when children start to survive, when women start to feel valuable, they are seeing that it comes from a God who knows their suffering and calls them to a new way of life with Him.