John and Marg Docking served as African Enterprise interns in Uganda during 2009 and 2010. Being placed in a large Vocational training centre in Jinja with over 1000 youth from backgrounds of extreme poverty was an immersion into the culture.
It was not long before John observed, through his plumbing teaching, that even having a trade to make a viable living could not lift the youth from poverty while they wanted very large families (7 or more children was considered normal).
Marg’s midwifery role was to help the Institute nurse. She learnt quickly that the girls had little understanding of the way their bodies were created, and frequent unplanned pregnancies continued the poverty cycle. Many were told to leave the Institute if they were found to be pregnant. This meant they had to live on the streets, as their families would not take them back home.
The teenage pregnancy rate disturbed the Director of Nile Vocational Institute, Cannon Bennon Kwikrisor, so he formed a committee to help Marg navigate her way through the culture. Together they wrote and illustrated a manual on reproductive health now in use at NVI. It covered puberty, sex, conception, pregnancy, true love, relationships, family planning and the effect of population on the environment.
Part of Marg’s time was spent in village clinics amongst midwives and traditional birth attendants, and in the public hospital labour ward.
Here she leant that most of the tragic maternal deaths, up to 16 per day in Uganda, could be averted if the ignorance associated with reproductive health could be addressed at a community level.
The tragedy of a young girl or an older mother of 10 children, dying in child birth will remain with me forever.
It was these experiences that broke her heart and made her question, will poverty ever end.
Marg and John soon realized that the desire to have large families, and lack of knowledge, contributed to the horrific maternal death rate. People seemed reluctant to talk about the truth of sexuality leading to the high rate of teenage pregnancy.
Coupled with this was a spiritual dimension, a belief that having many children (especially sons) was a sign of God’s blessing. The strong influence of witchcraft and animism (worship of ancestral spirits ) created a traditional desire for as many wives and children as possible.
In Marg’s own words:
I remember the day I watched with horror as 3 women who desperately needed caesarian sections to avoid an obstetric fistula (maternal birth injuries), maternal death, or stillbirth, were told they could not have one unless they found the money to pay the Doctor. I left the labour ward a broken midwife, ready to give up. I was unable to make a difference at all. It was futile to even try.
Meeting a missionary Dianna Ferrell who encouraged and inspired them, Marg and John travelled to the far North to a town called MOYO. They began a two day training workshop on all things related to sexuality, pregnancy, conception, fertility cycle, and contraception. It was fun, interactive, accurate – and 60 non -English-speaking women were amazed at their newly-acquired knowledge of how God created their bodies.
At the end a lady stood up and demanded that Marg come to all their villages to teach. She also said “We prefer not to have so many children and now we know why you white women don’t have so many. When can you and Diana Ferrell come to our villages to train the men and women?”
Marg realized that there was a gap in Christian community development programs that needed to be filled. So much wonderful work is being done in Africa but the subject of sexuality, conception, and family planning is simply not passed on effectively by the health professionals, missionaries, aid workers, and pastors from all faiths.
The male leaders within churches are often influential decision makers and yet few have skills to talk to their congregation about the sensitive details of sexuality.
Marg and John returned to Australia, where they were inspired by David Cummings to form an NGO to begin a ministry that trained the trainers in all aspects of R.H.
In June 2011 Wise Choices For Life was launched. Our vision is to empower youth to make wise decisions about parenting and starting families.
The training reflects Gods desire for all people to share in true love, have families they can care for and live in harmony. Driven by our compassion to care for the weak and vulnerable we include the unborn newborn male and female and those with disabilities.
The training takes the form of debates, discussions, small group work, and games and drama. It includes life skills, decision making, relationships, communication, and critical thinking skills.
Aware that knowledge alone will not alter attitudes and behavior we take time to explore myths, traditions, and cultural practices that can be harmful.
We now have 2 regional coordinators, Dianna Ferrell and Joyce Kidulu.
5 women from Moyo have been trained to reach their own villages.
We welcome all faiths, male and female in the workshops and find the common ground amongst us that brings unity as we search for solutions.
We have had 48 graduates from the training, 8 of them in Ethiopia. They are now operating in their homes communities and work places teaching their own youth. Men reaching men.
One village worker heard about family planning and asked to learn more. His father had 9 wives and he has 79 brothers and sisters. He can be found in the village talking to men and explaining family planning.
It has been a hard journey, lonely at times, but we can now see it is all worthwhile – and there’s so much more we are yet to do.