What it takes to be REAL: A conversation with a young father in Uganda, Part II
Gender-based violence is recognized as a significant health and human rights issue that prevents women, families, and countries around the world from achieving their full potential. The Responsible Engaged and Loving (REAL) Fathers Initiative was born from a desire to reduce intimate partner violence and harsh punishment of children among young fathers (ages 16-25) in post-conflict northern Uganda. IRH’s Cindy Anena sat down with Peter, a 24 year-old young father from Amuru District in northern Uganda to talk about his personal experience with the REAL Fathers Initiative.
This is Part II of Peter’s story about his life after REAL Father’s Initiative. Read Part I.
Cindy: How did you first react to the REAL Fathers Initiative, and how did you adjust?
Peter: One day, I was going to drink alcohol at the home of a cultural leader in my neighborhood. Instead, a friend convinced me to go with him to a place where people were gathering to hear about the REAL Fathers Initiative for the first time. I thought there would probably be a refund for transport there so I could use the money for drinking alcohol.
At the meeting, we were asked to choose people who we feel would be a good mentor to us – someone who young fathers like me admire. We nominated Thomas. I have always admired him because he is a very responsible person in the community.
The next days, Thomas began his visits to us in our home. My wife and I asked him how well he could mentor us since he is not a teacher. My mentor gave me all the necessary reassurance that he has been trained on these things and he will do his best to make young fathers, their wives and chidlren happy and peaceful. In the beginning, this was not easy for us and our mentor Thomas, but with time we adjusted to the change.
Cindy: How has it changed you and your family?
Peter: It has changed me to look at life in a better way. I never believed I would live beyond 30 years in this world. I was looking at life in a very simple and unserious way. Now, I am confident that I will live for even 100 years! My energy has increased, and I proudly stand among my peers because I have become fit. As of now, I have five close friends who have changed too and I connect with them. You would think we were brothers and yet we are not in any way related. We always help one another.
Also, in the past, my wife and children used to fear me a lot. They wouldn’t even come closer to me. Now, my wife tells me things and I do the same. I’m so happy that we share ideas and opinions, including how to raise our children. We have even been able to get better schools for our children.
“My wife and children used to fear me a lot. They wouldn’t even come close to me.”
I think a lot of changes have happened in the life of my wife more than even me. My wife now makes her own money growing cassava. When the mentoring began in August 2013, my wife and I were inspired to plant two acres of cassava, and they were ready by 2014. This year, we planted another two acres. We won’t worry about providing food for our family. Now we work together.
Cindy: Do you think it is because of this project that you have been able to help her?
Peter: Yes. I would never help her in any way before learning what makes a good father and husband. We had lived for two years together, and I never helped her at all. From the start of the mentoring sessions, I decided to help her by taking the grain for milling in the trading center. Since it was far from home, I would ride my bicycle. I was mocked by the men who would find this strange, but I never gave up. I was determined to change because it was a mutual understanding between the two of us.
I must say if this project didn’t come, my end would have been death. It has made me refocus my life and plan for my future. I am capable of planning for my children and their future with my wife. All my strength has come from the mentoring sessions. The knowledge and skills have been so big.
Cindy: Were these changes hard for you?
Peter: When I started to make changes, some community members mocked me. Others accused the mentor of inciting my wife against me. Others thought my wife used witchcraft because the changes shocked so many people in my community.
“Others thought my wife used witchcraft because the changes shocked so many people in my community.”
The most funny one to them was my ability to do household chores, including sweeping the house. I lost so many friends. I also lost leisure time till sunset. The most difficult decision was quitting alcohol. I thought that what I was doing was okay for me even if it was contrary to what the mentor was advising me.
I admit it is really not easy to leave certain behaviors. But now I have made a lot of changes. If I were to rate myself, I think I have achieved 80% of the total score. I think I will achieve 85% in two years and 95% when I get old with grey hair.
Cindy: What advice do you give to other young people in your community?
Peter: I want to let youth know that it is not easy for young fathers to work with their wives to build their homes and even share household chores. I would advise them to always listen to one another and resolve conflicts while taking time to be remorseful. It is true that in marriage there will always be misunderstandings. It is only through mutual understanding that you will be able to agree and change it. And decision-making must be shared—household assets, selling farm harvests, purchasing anything.
Also, I have realized that there are challenges in listening to your parents and their influences. Sometimes they give bad advice [based upon old ways].
My mentor has helped me make important, life-changing decisions. In Acholi, a proverb says: ‘Someone who has offered you advice is better than anyone who gave you something tangible.’ Thomas sacrificed a lot to come to my home, mentor me, and help me transform as a young father. Someone who sacrifices and uses personal experience and training to mentor you is such a big gift.
Cindy: If you could describe a REAL Father in only one word, what word would you choose?
Peter: Transformed. I think this is a project that transforms the foundation of the Acholi culture and the lives of young people who started to have children early. It has transformed us a lot. Being able to benefit from the mentoring sessions has set a different pace between us and our own fathers.