I joined the IOGT Movement in January 2012 as a Program Officer in the East Africa Regional Office. The past 12 months have been incredible and encouraging. What fascinates me the most is how the general public is totally unaware of the negative effects that alcohol brings to our lives. I see there is a need to educate the masses, not just our target groups but groups like the other international NGOs and Embassies so that they understand that alcohol is a contributor to Violence Against Women, the spread of HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Disease (STIs) as well as cancer and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
During the last 12 months, I have come to know the amazing work that our partners are doing in their countries i.e. Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. These organizations have been very effective in raising awareness about alcohol use in their communities and countries as a whole. Some partners have managed to engage the media who no longer need prompting from them to publish articles on alcohol use. One more partner has had a song with a message against alcohol use recorded and played on the airwaves. This year alone has seen a partner produce a film on the production of informal alcohol as well as put up billboards showing how family finances get swallowed up by alcohol use. Their remarkable work has caught the attention of the beer manufacturer who approached them to conduct mutual activities. To this collaboration they have given an emphatic NO! because the partner understands the hazards that come with such a relationship. A different partner has produced extensive articles in print media regarding violence against women and alcohol and has gotten their nation talking. All this shows how much can be done when people are dedicated and passionate about a cause.
During monitoring, I have seen how successful the interventions in schools have been. Little girls and boys are talking freely and confidently about the dangers of alcohol and not only amongst themselves, but to their siblings and parents as well. Other partners have been so successful with their intervention that private schools invite them to talk on the dangers of alcohol use and refugee camps have invited them to come and sensitize their refugees on the same issues.
Networking in East Africa has been superb as shown by the participation and presentations made at the East Africa Conference on Alcohol 3 (EACA3) held in Arusha, Tanzania in September. The EACA3 Conference was a great success and the resolutions to ACT NOW! Against Alcohol use still reverberate in our ears. The most terrific part during this conference was that the East Africa Alcohol Policy Alliance finally adopted a constitution and elected a new board. The 5 East African countries now also have an Alcohol Policy Alliance (Burundi –Burundi Alcohol Policy Alliance BAPA; Kenya-Kenya Alcohol Policy Alliance KAPA; Rwanda-Rwanda Alcohol &Drug Abuse Policy Alliance RADAPA; Tanzania-Tanzania Alcohol Policy Network TaaNet; Uganda- Uganda Alcohol Policy Alliance UAPA) that is up and running and eager to delve into alcohol policy advocacy in their respective governments. Among these, only Kenya already has an Alcohol law so KAPA’s work is to find ways they can assist in dissemination and implementation of the law. Future work for the networks is cut out for them because research on alcohol in East Africa is lacking and needs immediate attention in order for the networks to have some ammunition to use to get the message of the need of alcohol policies to their governments.
I have traveled around East Africa and have met dedicated young women who are trying to make their environments and communities a much better place besides all the odds lined up against them. These girls have inspired and encouraged me. Once I thought Africa was full of potential but now I KNOW it is and all that its people need is to be given a chance. I definitely know that 2013 will bring even more changes and I see that there is no going back. Look out! beer industry, Look out! informal brewers for here comes a fight that you can’t ignore. 2013 FTW!