On the Radio in Uganda – Talkin’ Bout Culture & Nutritional Revolution

At Hope Radio in Kabale, Uganda.

At Hope Radio in Kabale, Uganda.

I had to swallow back a strong cup of coffee in order to stay up for the show. The radio program dubbed “Dr. KIHEFO” was slotted from 10 pm to midnight, so Carol and I left the house at 9:30 pm and moved through the pitch-black Monday night in the organization’s ambulance (with butterflies in the stomach) to reach Radio Hope Station, located on the outskirts of Kabale, Uganda.

Radio Hope is a community-based radio station, run by a team of passionate youth volunteers, with the mandate to create and broadcast educational radio shows that inspire social, economic and spiritual transformation. In January 2013, Radio Hope agreed to collaborate with the Kigezi Healthcare Foundation (KIHEFO) to air “Dr. KIHEFO” – a two-hour talk show to share practical healthcare information with rural communities spread across southwestern Uganda, northern Rwanda, Eastern DRC, and Tanzania. Health and social workers from KIHEFO have volunteered to design shows that focus on various health topics, including – cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and alcoholism.

My dear colleague and friend, Caroline Kyampeire (Social Worker and Program Coordinator at KIHEFO) invited me last week to create and co-host a show focusing on Nutrition. I jumped at the opportunity, eager to integrate two of my passions: food and popular education through the medium of community radio. 

radio2Building on Cultural ‘Tastes’ for Food

Though I’m no expert in nutrition, I’ve learned a lot over the past three months about the culture of food (growing, storing, preparing, selling, eating) that exists at the grassroots level here in Kabale, Uganda, and contemplated the ‘breadbasket / poverty paradox’ on a daily basis. Dr. Geoffrey Anguyo (ED of KIHEFO) often laments that one of the main contributing causes of malnutrition in the region is ignorance. Personally, I dislike the implications of the word ‘ignorance’ – so let’s call it, instead, lack of information.

But the Doctor also commonly says that “if you don’t build on culture, you won’t be successful” – and with this in mind, preparing information for the talk-show on Radio Hope wasn’t an easy task…

For example, people in the Kabale region have grown up with an education in the growth and consumption of a few cash-crops: plantains, sweet potatoes, cassava, beans and maize. The stomach, conditioned mainly through an education in carbohydrates. Thus, the body, conditioned through an education in protein deficiency.

So how then to share information about the value of growing and consuming dark, leafy greens, that are packed with minerals, vitamins and important micronutrients for growth and development, when people, literally, lack a cultural taste for these foods? How to communicate that goat’s milk is actually richer in nutrients (and more accessible) than the desired cow’s milk? How to explain that rabbits are an ideal and practical protein source, and not some small rodent reserved for desperate times? I worried that some of these ideas might be transmitted on radio air-waves to homes throughout rural Kigezi, and beyond borders, and fall on deaf ears. But it wouldn’t be because people weren’t listening…rather it would be because I was the one not listening closely enough to the culture of ‘food and nutrition’ in Kigezi, Uganda.

Kyampeire Carol, Program Coordinator at KIHEFO.

Kyampeire Carol, Program Coordinator at KIHEFO.

Transmitting a Mix of the ‘Old and the New’

I was lucky to work closely with Carol in putting together content for the radio show. Carol is a ‘true Mukiga’ (from the local Bakiga tribe) as she often says, laughing, with her hands confident on her hips. She grew up in a rural village in the Kabale District, and after studying social work in Kampala, returned to Kabale to work with KIHEFO as the Programs Coordinator. She knows the people, she knows the culture, and she knows the readily available foods. She also knows the challenges in addressing malnutrition amongst different groups in society, like people living with HIV/AIDS, children under five, elders, and pregnant and lactating mothers.

So together, Carol and I cooked up a nutrition program that blended together the old and the new, and avoided importing outside ideas and ingredients. Instead, our recipe for radio success was simple…look no further than the local omusiri (garden).

At the Radio Hope Station, Carol and I sat in front of microphones, dawned earphones, and smiled through the glass window at the radio show’s moderator, Edmund. Just minutes past 10 pm, the pre-recorded show opening (the sound of a baby crying and a woman consoling the child in Rukiga) cued Carol and I that the program was about to begin. Edmund, his radio voice smooth as butter, introduced us to the listeners:

“Kyampeire Carol and Moyles Trina from KIHEFO…you are welcome…”

Carol and I covered a lot of nutritional ground in the two-hour program, providing information on categories of foods (carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins/minerals) and readily available examples of foods…and even how to prepare them. We also shared information on specialized nutrition for people living with HIV/AIDS, nutrition for dental health, pregnant women, and how to identify malnutrition amongst children. 

Below are a few of the talking points and highlights from the show that I found particularly interesting:

Nsenene is full of protein, oils and fats.

Nsenene is full of protein, oils and fats.

Grasshoppers are an excellent source of protein. Come October, November…Annie, get ‘yer gun…it’s Grasshopper Hunting Season (no license required). Grasshoppers are called nsenene in Rukiga, and they’re culturally identified as a local source of protein. Carol says they’re best enjoyed when fried. My culinary curiosity has been peaked. Can’t wait for October. Seriously.

Fifty shades of orange for pregnant & lactating mothers. Locally sourced fruits and veggies, varying shades of orange, contain a lot of Vitamin A which is beneficial for a ‘woman eating for two.’ Here in the gardens of Kabale, it’s impossible to camouflage pumpkins, mangos, carrots, pineapples, jackfruit…and my favourite: wild sweet gooseberries. Entutu, I said on the radio, using the local Rukiga word, and Edmund paused, surprised, then replied with a laugh in his voice, “That’s right, you just heard a Muzungu (white person) say the word ‘entutu’ on the radio.”

Groundnuts = peanuts

Groundnuts = peanuts

Go nuts over G-Nuts. If go to the market and ask for “peanuts” you’ll leave empty-handed. They’re actually called groundnuts here, and while they’re more readily grown in the northern part of the country, you can’t miss them here in local markets…spread out to dry in the sun on the woven papyrus mats. I’m a peanut butter fanatic – so my world was changed dramatically when I learned how easy it is to grind your own peanut butter. Or should I call it g-nut butter? It’s an amazing local source of fats and oils.

Weeds and leaves are ‘protective foods’ and build immunity. People living with HIV/AIDS need 10 – 30% more nutrients in order to adequately deal with the infection. One of our suggestions for people wasn’t to purchase spinach at the market, but to look no further than the “weeds” encroaching on their carbohydrate crops. The green leaves of several weeds (that today are mostly uprooted) including empunika contain important micronutrients that are beneficial to people who’re fighting disease and poor health. Additionally, while it takes up to twelve months to harvest cassava root, a cassava plant’s leaves are readily available most months of the year…and can be easily harvested by people and used in stews and fried with rice.

Well…enough radio ramblings for now. Glad to have (hopefully) entertained you…stay tuned for more radio shows via KIHEFO’s blog.


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