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Nsubuga Bruhan, Imam and Local Council Official in Kikoma, Buikwe District, Uganda

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am Nsubuga Bruhan, married to one wife and blessed with 10 children. On a day-to-day basis, I oversee 50 mosques in Buikwe District1, here in Uganda. In one of the villages, I am an elected Local Council2 official that is in Kikoma-one of the sub-districts in Buikwe. Here is where I also head a mosque for the past 24 years.

 

As the imam, I get to interact with my community on a more personal level and with my Council leadership role I represent their issues. As a council, we work in partnership with local communities and organization – including the public, community and private sectors to improve services and quality of life of we who are living in this communities. I am happy when I am lending a hand and these two roles have provided me that link to my area residents.

 

I am a married man to one wife and a father to ten children.

 

Was family planning a topic that was discussed when you were growing up?

Growing up in the early 80s, family planning was not an issue you brought to the table not even there outside when relating with my fellow kinsmen. And since no one talked about family planning, we only relied on what we were told. The conversation only began when we were already grown up or married.

 

How important do you think family planning is for you and your community, and why?

The truth is that I am one of the people who never wanted to hear about contraceptives. As I grew up, I thought that the discussions around family planning and contraception should best be held in the privacy of a clinic or in the bedroom behind closed doors.

 

As a Council leader, I have children I send to school because the parents do not have money to do so. Most even leave their children with their aging grandparents. So, I knew that the community needed to be sensitized on family planning so that they understand the benefits of family planning and dangers of not using it - to me as an individual, the family, community and the country because family planning can save the county from future population challenges if well-planned and educated.

 

One day in a colorful and loud community outreach session, Village Health Teams3 came to our community to have a very public conversation about the importance of family planning and how we as men can support it. Village elders were upfront and supported the idea and a sensitization training forum was organized for us.

 

During the training, there was spirited conversations between the village health teams and us. We were taught and made to understand all about the benefits of family planning. And that’s when I realized this information needed to go to more people in my community – they needed to be empowered. With time, we chose our own community teams who would work together with the nearby health facilities to walk around and share information. You can see them holding up unfurled male and female condoms, plaques of contraceptive pills, syringes with injectable contraceptive, implants and IUDs, as the extension worker explains through the megaphone the benefits and side effects of each.

 

If someone produces children without a plan, one is likely to have many children who are not educated and can turn out to be a burden to the family, community and the country. Again, some parents find challenges taking care of their own children, if they produce them without plan.

 

My door is now always open to anyone who wants information about family planning, I have leaflets and I know how to counter the misinformation around contraception. We need to teach our people and communities their responsibilities.

 

What does family planning mean for your life?

Growing up in a very rural and economically impoverished part of Uganda, I have always been interested in how communities can take action to improve their own lives. Little did I know that this interest would be through family planning. And over time, I have observed impressive change happening when a family is able to put their children through education, take up careers and do the things I was unable to do for my ten children. For my case, it is me who encouraged my wife to go for family planning because it was just too much on her health and I never wanted to produce any more children. Taking care of them is not easy. My wife tried to tell me how she was fearing contraceptives due to what she had been told by friends, but I talked to her about it and she finally accepted. Ever since she got the method, she has never had any problem. We now have peace in our family.

 

The training was an eye-opener; we grew up knowing we can produce all the children God has given us. However, I realized that was wrong and it was reflecting in my family and the life that I wanted for them, more so the more burden you attract.

 

Am an optimist in heart and mind, I believe family planning means peace to me, because it reduces the pressure. As a couple, you are able to have children that you can look after in terms of shelter, education, feeding and medical care.

 

Like for my case, I wanted to ensure that I am doing everything within my power to protect my 10 children. My wife could not bear that burden anymore, and what I told her, I have also told many more people and collectively we have shaken ourselves out of old tales against family planning.

 

How have you supported your community members/Muslim community to embrace family planning?

The Village Health Teams are now working with us. We hold community dialogues frequently and even allow them to come to our meetings to sensitize more people about family planning. We have chosen our own community-based distributors to offer information and services.

 

I hope to fully embrace family planning and use my role as a leader in the community to help create some points where we start to see decision-makers outside the health system (in education, faith/religion, nutrition, agriculture, etc.) come together to support us and rally systems that will enhance access to quality family planning health services.

 

I tell my congregants that God gives us wisdom and power to make decisions that are beneficial to them. God has given us the responsibility to judge our capacity and to be able to balance the love. I tell them to reflect on their families – it’s not a sin to produce fewer children that you can manage.

 

Every time I am invited to talk about issues in our community on radio or local council meetings, I encourage listeners to support family planning and the well-being of our girls and women everywhere. In this community, we also hold Kikoma’s day4 once in a year, this brings together all the sons and daughters of this community to socialize, talk about the achievements and challenges of their community. I use this day to educate people about the benefits of family planning.

 

What kind of progress would you like to see in the area of family planning?

We still require more family planning services and information sharing, our community needs to be educated. We want to do more community dialogues and have health providers to come and talk to our us.

 

Do you have any advice you would like to make for your community members and leaders?

First and foremost, I want to thank the collaboration between the Ministry of Health and TCI (The Challenge Initiative) for the training. Not only is it vital for various groups to support family planning needs, but it is also important to find cross-sectoral linkages to serve youth needs holistically.

 

I want family planning to move from being a sensitive or behind-the-doors subject, to being a critical component under our government’s health package. At the community level, I call upon the parents, more especially the women, because they bear the burden of raising children to embrace contraception. Men should be open to discussions around their wives’ reproductive health. And to my fellow religious leaders, it’s not written anywhere that using family planning is a sin. We need to know that we can’t leave everything to God, we must take charge of our lives.

 

Lastly, our district and national leaders must prioritize family planning because it’s very important and if we don’t plan for our children and families, then our country is doomed and even religion will vanish because once our children are not planned for, not educated, then there is no future for our country.

 

What are some of the initiatives you have initiated. or been engaged in, in advocating for family planning in your community or with other leaders?

We have been so fortunate to be able to work alongside the other leaders within the faith-based communities, beyond us as Muslims, we do a lot of sensitization and even educate our communities on family planning benefits. I am also involved in various discussions with the local government officials and we have been requesting for support to hold more community dialogues to discuss issues around health and social services in our District.

  • 1. Buikwe District is one of the highly populated regions of Uganda with an approximated population of over 422,000 total persons with a majority residing in urban areas
  • 2. A local council – a national government level creation for administrative purposes
  • 3. Village health teams commonly referred to as community health volunteers and provide health services within their areas.
  • 4. Kikoma Day is a celebratory cultural event held by the Council as a way of sharing some of the achievements and challenges within the community.

For further information on religion and family planning: speaking at the TEDxSummit in Doha, Qatar, Hans Rosling discusses further data over time and across religions – see the video below.