Sister organizes radio announcements to help families
In Ugandan cities and towns locked down tight by COVID-19 restrictions, families are feeling the pressure. In some areas, lack of work and resources and imposed isolation have taken a serious toll, resulting in increased incidents of domestic violence. Looking for a way to intervene, educate and create awareness around this issue, Sister Semerita Mbambu, CSC, took to the airwaves to reach communities in quarantine. After mobilizing the Association of Religious in Uganda (ARU) in the Diocese of Fort Portal, she created several radio public service announcements and organized a program series to address violence in the home and to direct individuals on where to report violence and get help.
“The men are not used to staying at home without working. Since they are no longer working, they do not know how to handle family stress and issues,” says Sister Semerita, who, with other sisters, learned of the growing problem while distributing food during the pandemic and through news reports.
Radio campaign expands to talk show
Seeking funds for the radio aid campaign, Sister Semerita approached the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN), a U.S.-based Catholic advocacy group that focuses on U.S. policy toward Africa and also works with congregations to support peace building, human rights and social justice. (The Congregation supports AFJN with its membership.) The organization generously agreed to pay for an hour-long talk show that aired once a week for a month in Fort Portal—where local residents could call in—and for radio segments that ran three days a week in districts where the Holy Cross sisters serve, specifically Fort Portal, Gulu and Jinja. “This is a big need, and I wanted to run the announcements every day, but funding was limited,” Sister Semerita says.
The radio spots, delivered by radio station staff, depict a combative and frightening family encounter, followed by an arrestive warning: “Stop!! Take a deep breath! Think about what you are about to do!” The delivery grabs the attention, hopefully landing the message before tempers flare, or a hand is raised, or an irretrievable act is committed.
“During the radio talk shows, people called in seeking help and others reported sexual abuse of children within families, confirming that the need for intervention is great,” says Sister Semerita, who participated in the call-in programs with ARU collaborators. “I have been following up with individuals who have called in and want someone to talk to.”
Effort informs other needs
The effort is also informing how Sister Semerita ministers with other vulnerable individuals during COVID-19. In June, after learning of two families in need of secure shelter, she and Sisters Angelica Birungi and Spera Muhindo enlisted community members to build two semi-permanent houses, each with four rooms, for the families. Knowing the strains and constraints families are feeling, she says, “I was called to action to help these families have multiple living spaces and to ensure that parents and children are not sleeping in the same room.”