28 December 2012

Uganda: Traditional Values Become Extinct

As he walks up the gravel path towards a faded black gate, 69-year-old Joseph Tusubira, notices a girl in her early teens slouched against a fence, speaking flirtatiously to a young man. He shakes his head in disapproval.

"When I was a boy, elders in the house would never have allowed that girl to talk to a boy like that," he says. Tusubira says things have changed.

"There are men in this city who spend afternoons looking for holiday makers. The elders do not chase them away anymore," he says.

Tusubira adds that people no longer have time to meet and socialise. The wealthy also never have time to mingle with the poor.

"When I was growing up the rich families would approach a poor family and ask if their children could help during the holidays," Tusubira says.

In return, the rich man would loan a cow to the poor people for their livelihood.

Tommy MacKay, a professor at Strathclyde University, warned recently in that society is "losing its old anchor points" and added that we are sitting "on an unexploded time bomb of disturbed behaviour".

His comments come at a time when all over the world and Uganda in particular is having a massive erosion of values in homes and communities. Prof MacKay, a leading psychological authority, says parents still have a duty to "provide the foundations of traditional values by instilling in their children a respect for their parents and for others".

He adds that, "The decline in these traditional values can be traced systematically over recent decades, and with it a corresponding increase in problems in society."

About five decades ago, education and morals were taught in the homes and community, before joining the formal system of education.

Both formal and informal education were avenues through which children were taught discipline, survival skills and values to fit in the community.

Abigail Balikenda, an elderly woman, says values like the respect for elders were cherished back then. Though they did not have particular lessons to teach children how to be courteous. These values were passed on through storytelling, riddles and proverbs.

"Every child belonged to the community and it was everyone's responsibility to discipline children. Discipline and good behaviour were instilled in children right at home," she says.

Things have now taken a twist. Parenting and disciplinary measures have been left to family only, yet parents never spend much time at home.

Amon Mugisa, 76 ,who went to Nyakasura School in western Uganda, says: "Apart from learning agriculture as a subject, we had to plant flowers and cultivate the school gardens, as part of practical lessons," he says.

Mugisa thinks today schools no longer teach gardening because teachers and parents have a negative attitude towards agriculture.

Grace Oilor, a teacher at St Peter's Secondary School, Nsambya and a parent, says hand work was compulsory.

Children would collect papyrus, clay and palm leaves from swamps and forests. Fridah Katuramu, another elderly woman says today most of these subjects have been phased out. Nowadays most children cannot do domestic chores.

Rhoda Kalema, who has been an inspiration to the girlchild in the field of education, says during her school days, education prepared students to serve the community.

"Every afternoon, we would be taken to nearby villages to fetch water for the elderly and clean the surroundings," Kalema recalls.

During community outreach programmes emphasis would be put on the benefits of good hygiene and sanitation.

According Dr. Meyers Lugemwa, emphasis on community or public health over the past years has gradually phased out.

Lugemwa says this is partly responsible for the decline in the country's health indicators.

"It was the duty of health inspectors to sensitise people about good hygiene and proper sanitation," he says.

On the cultural aspect, Zadok Otojoka, of the Iteso Culture Union, says it was essential that the young were taught cultural values. Policies aimed at reintegrating the traditional and the modern life, should be re-introduced.

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