by Rachel Yavinsky, policy associate, International Programs
After 45 minutes on Lake Victoria in a wooden fishing boat, my PRB colleague and I arrived on Busi Island, one of the Ugandan sites of the HoPE-LVB (Health of People and the Environment-Lake Victoria Basin) project. PRB, who partners on this project, came to Busi Island to see HoPE-LVB in action. Pathfinder International is an implementer on the project.
The growing population of the island (currently about 40,000 people), combined with the cutting of wood for sale to the mainland, is diminishing fuel resources and increasing the amount of time that women must spend collecting firewood. The main sources of living on the island are fishing and small-scale agriculture. Almost all households rely on wood for cooking, so I was particularly impressed with the project’s work with energy-saving stoves.
I visited two homes that are serving as HoPE-LVB model households, meaning that they practice sustainable agriculture and resource planning, have additional livelihood sources such as livestock and home gardens, and have healthy understanding of reproductive health and family planning. The HoPE-LVB project has provided energy-saving stoves and family planning/environment training to both of these families. At the first home, the parents of eight children and grandparents to two proudly showed off their new stoves and store of wood. Pointing at the gathered branches, the woman told us that before this firewood would have lasted for about two days, but with the new stoves it will last her three weeks. She also said that she used to have to sit for hours over the cooking, watching the food and feeding the fire, but now she can put some food on the stove and walk away to take care of other things, only returning occasionally and saving her a lot of time.
HoPE-LVB trainers taught the other woman I met how to construct her own energy-saving stove and she now trains other women in the area. She tells us that the stove uses less wood and saves her time that she can spend taking care of her kids: four children, including 1-year-old twins. The stove is safer for her young family because it prevents accidents and produces less smoke. She’s also a trained member of the village health team. Families she works with to build new stoves, she says, are very interested in talking with her about family planning.
Why make the connection between reproductive health and the environment? Because women’s lack of access to family planning is also an important part of the story of the challenges of Busi Island. Some initial data from the project suggest that as many as half of currently pregnant women would rather have become pregnant later or don’t want another child at all.
The trained health team member teaches families about different forms of contraception, distributes condoms and pills, and refers some to health facilities for additional information or other methods. She and her husband have decided to not have any more children, for the sake of her health and the health of their children. By having only four children (according to the 2006 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey, the average number of children per women in rural Uganda is more than seven), they are better able to manage their resources and plan for their children’s futures. Initial data from the project suggest that less than half of women have completed primary school, but this family will be able to afford to keep all of their children in school and plan for them to continue to the highest levels. For their daughters, staying in school means higher future income potential and lower chance of adolescent pregnancy or early marriage.
One frequently mentioned benefit of PRB’s integrated Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) projects is that these projects can reach the hardest-to- reach populations with a mix of health services and development activities. HoPE-LVB trained 14 Busi residents in making these stoves using locally available materials. Trainees have taught their skills to others and 266 energy-saving stoves have been constructed in 179 households on the island. The women I met on Busi Island are excellent representatives of HoPE-LVB, demonstrating how the PHE approach can better women’s lives, improving their health and increasing their resources and power in their households and communities.