5 April 2005

Uganda: Red Cross Aids Expectant Mothers

Kampala — KITGUM is a bedrock of LRA hot zone. Since the beginning of the insurgency, residents here know nothing else beyond the debilitating life in the camp.

Without relief or aid, nothing gets done. Sanitary pads or safe delivery kits are luxuries here. Most expectant mothers visit maternity wards without any.

With the dehumanising conditions in the camps, men have turned devout idlers, drinking and chatting away.

Women are now the sole breadwinners. Babies strapped on their backs, firewood balancing on their heads and pregnant, they must provide for their families even if it means risking their lives outside the camps where the LRA are waiting to cut off their lips and breasts.

"We've lived to beg and given birth to beggars who in turn have given birth to other beggars. The begging seems universal and eternal," says Millie Ajok.

"The future of northern Uganda," says Robert Kwesiga of the Uganda Red Cross Society, "lies in the hands of these women. Mothers must produce healthy children that must live. Those children may be leaders of this country."

With intervention from partner agencies, effected by the disaster committee and the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, men merely watch on the sides. Aid has become addictive.

The Red Cross Society is determined to take on the challenge. Already, thousands of mothers in Acholibur are now receiving safe delivery kits -- some big change indeed.

The kits dubbed "Mama Bags" are a drive initiative to avail all camp women safe delivery kits. The kits contain basic maternity needs, sanitary wear and toiletries, cotton sheets, soap, Vaseline, safety pins for mother and child, razor blades, stitching threads, sanitary towels, basins and jerrycans. "Come rain come sunshine," vows Kwesiga, "the Red Cross Society shall stand by the IDP women."

There are over 1.5 million people living in the camps.

Apart from the Red Cross Society, other funds come from local and international volunteers.

"Under the social corporate investment, health, with emphasis on HIV/AIDS, women and children are our concern," says Barclays Bank's Lilliane Byarugaba. "Women are an economic pillar. Rendering them a helping hand enhances and boosts growth."

Volunteers take part in every activity. Two years ago, a similar appeal, the "Warm Bag" spontaneously raised children's wear and bedding for camp kids.

"We raise funds annually for a particular course," says Mrs. Angelina Wapakhabulo, a volunteer. Wapakhabulo and Rose Sente of Deloitte and Touche are some of volunteers that launched and took part in the distribution of Mama Bags in Pader. Sh104m raised in cash helped buy the first batch. But in a situation where the majority are women, 3,600 bags are just too few.

"You live under air-conditioned rooms in Kampala, not knowing what happens out here," remarks Standard Chartered's Jacque Uwera.

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