Chunga meno. Swahili for, protect your teeth! In Pajulu Sub County, Arua district, Driwala parish, to be specific is a phrase associated with success. Bizarre, right? True, Chungameno is a name of a saving’s group started by the women vendors of Driwala market. Besides the success harnessed therein, the genesis of this initiative leaves quite the tale.
The charged males would storm the market to grab whatever measly money their wives had made for the day and while at it, beat them up. Or worse, they would wait for them at home, alone, then beat them up to a point that they would lose teeth. A particular group women, about 12, noticed that this was first getting out of hand.
“Women were not settled, there was total chaos!” Harriet Afetia, a leader of the saving’s group, and among the 12 women, narrates. “At least every week, one or two women would have a bruise or lose teeth, it was terrible!” The men wanted to control their money and were frustrated that their wives wouldn’t let them, so they beat them. “We got tired, we decided to do something about it!” Interestingly, it was that decision that started the journey that would later attract a project called prevention plus.
It was a little over 10 years ago when the women made the decision to take matters into their own hands. See, that afternoon, one of them came to the market bleeding from her mouth and the teeth were just about to come out. She had come to close down her stall and leave the village and her marriage all together. These women gathered together, concerned really, and asked what the issue was this time round. “My husband came back and didn’t find lunch ready, he pounced on me, hit my mouth and left my teeth shaky and gum bleeding,” the woman responded. Puzzled, her fellow women asked, “Lunch, couldn’t he cook it too?”
And just like that, one woman burst out: “We must protect ourselves and protect our teeth!” And these market women, locked in this bitter moment, many of whom didn’t have front teeth, agreed that they would start a group and the name would be, Chungameno! Not two words, but one word. “Chungameno came to arrest the situation!” Afetia exclaims.
But it wasn’t just the violent men that they sought to deal with, even within themselves, they insisted no one better be the perpetuator of violence. They didn’t lay a hand on anyone, but with up to 12 women, matching and chanting towards your home, most men had no alternative but go where the own wanted them to go, a police station. The Sub County leadership was impressed, and they asked police to work with the women.
“As soon we heard that one of us had been beaten, quickly we went as a group and arrested that man,” she recalls. They had become a mob! These women became each other’s keepers, but try as they may, they knew they needed a better strategy, dragging man after man to police was not going to be enough. They were in luck, news of their little group had reached Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU). Soon, their leader, Afetia would be called for a Prevention Plus training, by RHU, a thing they learnt gave their group just the backbone it needed.
Prevention plus impact felt
“During the training, we dealt with the root of all this violence,” Afetia starts. “It was not enough to just keep matching our husbands to police, we needed to find a way to work with them.” Instead of treating the symptom, the Prevention plus training sought to deal with the cause. After sessions of dialogue, training and discussions, she learnt that if money and how money was spent was indeed the cause of most of the bickering, didn’t it make sense to then deal with that issue?
“That training helped me understand this problem properly,” she recalls. The first suggestion was that But first they would need to start a saving’s group! See, while they had been occasionally saving, it was not as comital, and the highest amount many saved was shs500. “I came back also and encouraged the group to first of all start putting more money aside,” she says. The goal was first to make sure no one had all their money on them; so they decided to put the minimum weekly savings at shs2000. They would save all year and only distribute at the end of the year.
But before all of this, they needed to discuss how to include their husbands in this growth. “After distributing the money like this, we always ask these women what they are going to do with the money,” she tells of how the discussion to include men begun. But also, the group attracted the RHU camp; the Prevention Plus team came to offer their services but also preach unity and inclusiveness in families, as opposed to just dealing with the culprits.
Soon, wives begun encouraging their husbands to attend the group meetings and save together. “During these meetings, the people from RHU would come and also teach couples about dangers of violence,” she recalls. This group that started out with just 12 members was now at nearly 200 members, with large number of couples jointly saving and many not even vendors.
Unity and inclusiveness
Rophin Agamile, the area Local Councilor was the first male to join the group, and more than just save, his wife Christine Bako says he has become a better man. Agamile tells of how a session he attended that had guests from South Africa left him a changed man. “I was called as LC1 to welcome the visitors to the Chunagmeno group to talk about Prevention Plus,” he recalls. “These were guests from South Africa who had come to talk to the women’s group, I was impressed by what they said!”
The topic around Father’s Legacy hit a raw nerve. “As a father, what kind of example was I setting?” he remembers asking himself. Agamile used to abuse alcohol, return home in the wee hours to start fights. “When I was around the compound, the children were all quiet!” he narrates regretfully. “As a man, I used not to give chance to my madam to say a word; my words in fact were final in the home.” On a good note, Bako says that man is long gone. “My husband is good to me and my children,” she starts. “Can you believe we save together, we clean and cook food together, and he plays with the children?”
Almost instantly, their little child runs into Agamile’s hands, the peace in their homestead is visible, but is what Afetia said that made this even better. “Rophin is just one example, there are many men who came to save money, but instead became good fathers and husbands,” she says. “We invited the Prevention Plus team to train us on how to keep peace in our homes, and now no single member of our group has lost a tooth since.”