Alcoholism is another large factor that needs to be addressed. The local brew is called “queta,” an alcohol made from sorghum. Queta is plentiful and inexpensive, and commonly serves as breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even children are fed the alcohol. Just this morning my coworker told me she overheard her neighbors arguing last night. One woman had been drinking all day and then went to breastfeed her child. But, at any rate, I’m glad to hear that someone in that household was knowledgeable and willing to address the issue.
The illiteracy rate here is around 90%. The value of education is not understood. Children are sent to school solely for the school lunches provided by the World Food Programme. What I’ve seen is that they go to school just before lunch and leave right after. Livestock is livelihood, and a child who can tend to the cattle and sheep is more valued than an educated one. But then again, we have some very intelligent and impressive local staff here at Mercy Corps. I asked them why they stood apart. They explained that their parents and grandparents went to school and believed in their education. It takes generations to change cultural mindsets.
Through Mercy Corps’ USAID-funded Multi-year Assistance Program (MYAP), we are entering qualified young children and mothers into the Supplementary Food Program where they will receive rations for three months and monitor their progress. But only providing food is not a sustainable solution, so another component of the MYAP program is to provide education. Among other interventions, we are arranging and training Mother Care Groups, women well respected within their respective villages who are motivated and willing to share healthy messages with their community.
Some regions in Karamoja are able to produce various plentiful crops, but the insecurity of the area is a factor in the willingness to tend to their farms or bring the crops to market. Aside from the insecurity, they may not know the best practices for good harvest. Achieving optimal health takes a multidisciplinary approach. That is why Mercy Corps’ Health Program works in coordination with Agriculture, Livelihoods, and Peace-Building programs.
How can the international community become engaged to implement such solutions? How can someone reading this now take action?