To have a good conducive home environment for a better living, Lusubilo Community Care with financial assistance from Catholic Relief Services is implementing the SMART (Strengthening Marriages and Relationships through Communication and Planning.) Couples project in Karonga district. The project teaches cohabitating couples on better ways to communicate and adopt joint decision-making behaviors. The intervention uses the social-ecological model of behavior change. As such the project targets vulnerable couple households in Group Village Headman Mwangwera to transform them and be responsible couples. The project targeted 20 primary household beneficiaries with 180 households as secondary beneficiaries. These couple beneficiaries have been transformed and two couples in Msomba village and one in Mwangwera village are a testament to this transformation.

The identified couples are grouped and made into classes. The Smart Couple approach (schools) is the key element for improving couple relationships toward improving household resilience by strengthening the family.  Couples attend a multi-session “school” topics like love, faithfulness, respect, communication, and reconciliation. The lessons taught use The Faithfull House curriculumtostrengthen the capacity of couples in terms of couple relationship; effective communication; joint decision making; women empowerment; a healthy household well-being and reduced gender-based violence.

Impact of the program

In Msomba village the family of John Mwaulambo and Capaus Namusongole is a great example on the positive impacts of the project. Initially, the household was in problems, gender-based violence was the order of the day. The husband frequently battered the wife, he could overindulge in beer drinking, he could sell farm produce without discussing with the wife and the husband could not support the family financially. The family could not make any plan and budget together; instead, the husband was only demanding what to be done, sometimes even asking to eat delicious meals that he had not provided for.

As being enrolled into the project, a great transformation has taken place.  As a family, they resolve disagreements amicably now, as opposed to the past when the husband would physically abuse the woman. As a husband, Mr Mwaulambo provides financial support, as he now provides for the family’s needs as a result of the lessons he has learned, and they are living a happy life.  From the lessons, they have discovered that it is their duty as a family to create plans and budgets together, and that it is often more beneficial to use both partners’ ideas than just one. They plan as a couple whenever they want to market their produce as in the past “throughout planting season, all tasks were completed in unison; however, after harvest, the husband took charge” said Namsongole.

Mr John Mwaulambo, a transformed husband

In addition to this, gender-based violence has stopped as the husband has stopped beating and chasing the wife away, he is able to help in household tasks and he is able to escort the wife to antenatal clinics.

Another family that has benefited from this project is that of Bughane Mnyenyembe and Gift Ngwera. This family could experience more domestic violence-related issues including assaulting the wife more frequently, wife living like a slave by performing more tasks, not jointly making budgets and plans, struggling to communicate and sort out their disagreements.

What this family is currently experiencing is beyond imagination. At first the husband was not taking responsibility of helping the wife with their child, but now he is able to take some responsibility of taking their child to school, going with a sick child to the hospital together with the wife. Budgets and plans can now be made jointly, and they help each other with their household chores. Issues of domestic violence have reduced; they are able to settle their differences and disputes amicably. They have a vision as a couple, they want to buy a plough which will be of help in their farming tasks.

A happy and transformed family of Mr and Mrs Munyenyembe

In Mwangwera village the project cannot be left unnoticed. The family of Ford Mwakasendile and Edinala Nankhonde testifies to the project’s impact. As it is with other families, this household also experienced a number of gender-based violent issues. The wife could work like a slave with so many household chores to her back. The husband being drunk and frequently beating the wife and not providing basic support necessities to the family where the husband was then forcing the wife to visit beer halls in order for her to obtain funds to support the kids. The wife was buying property and hiding it at her parent’s place due to the behavior of the husband. The family could not make any joint plans; instead, the husband was only giving orders.  

Soon after being in the SMART project, the family witnessed a tremendous change. The husband now provides for the family’s needs as a result of the lessons he has learned, and they now settle disagreements amicably and never resort to violence.  At present, the husband utilizes the money for its designated purposes, they openly discuss whenever they have money on what to buy and create budgets and plans together. They now attend church activities together and since they are now faithful to one another, arguments brought on by infidelity have stopped.

Mr and Mrs Mwakasendile in a happy mood

This project is showing that SMART Couples who successfully adopt the new behaviors and communication techniques are better able to plan effectively and advance the well-being of the family. In addition to this, the family has better communication, a commitment to shared goals and empowers women to have a stronger voice in how family resources are used. All these results enhance a steady growth of the household members thereby empowering them economically, socially and physically.

By Communication Office.

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