Uganda. Gulu Town. One community. Many, many stories of alcohol harm – and an initiative to bring transformative change. This blog is the beginning of a series exploring how community resolves to tackle alcohol problems and the challenges they face in doing so…

Alcohol harm in the community

“What problems does alcohol bring in this community?” Ocan Geoffrey asked an old lady leaning against the edge of her hut, picking tiny stones from a shallow basket of rice.

Alcohol breaks up families. Liver disease. Young boys steal from their families to buy alcohol. It makes men do nothing, no farming, they just sit drinking…”

Then solemnly she added:

Impotence. Women are not getting satisfied these days.”

Community survey

‘Wakonye Kenwa’, our community organizing group has been out and about with our survey, asking our community in Lacor about alcohol. What kind of alcohol brings the most problems? What time should bars open and close? Do you support a ban on sachet alcohol (100ml of ready to drink 40% spirits sold for 20 NZ cents)? And the open ended last question… “Do you know anyone who is negatively affected by alcohol? Can you tell us about their life?”

Our survey served two purposes:

  1. To hunt out keen people who care about this issues to recruit to our group.
  2. To collect evidence to support our campaign for new alcohol laws in Gulu District.

Our research taught me a lot about alcohol use in our community. I’ve also learned about how (and how not) to do research with keen but new-to-research volunteers. Take that last question. Each volunteer was asked to try and capture an example, a story, about how alcohol impacts on people’s lives. We did role plays to drum it in. Yesterday I translated and typed our 98 questionnaires into excel. But the responses recorded for that last question were varied…

The most unhelpful response: “Yes I know someone” or “I know lots of people!” (no elaboration)

The break-all-confidentiality response: A list of names (but no stories), usually followed by a plea of sorts “they need help.” One lady wrote, “my neighbor, David Komakech.” The next form I picked up was… wait for it… was David Komakech. In response to the last question he answered “Yes. Alcohol is a problem for me. I’ve lost all my money.”

And of course, some interviewers understood the question properly and got their interviewee to give a detailed example. Here are a few extracts from stories we recorded…


Personal stories of alcohol harm

The first story highlights how alcohol burdens others than the user.

I know many people, but the one closest to me is my mother.

Any money she gets, anything you give her, she just sells it to drink alcohol… sugar, food, anything. If she drinks a lot then she gets accidents. I have taken her to hospital many times. It disturbs me so much.

She is always asking for money. I don’t give it to her, because alcohol is killing her.” (41 year old man)

Another story shows how alcohol can harm individuals.

Yeah, me. It can be a problem for me. Yesterday on the way back from the bar I stubbed my foot. My foot still hurts.” (24 year old man)

The third story is about power relations, gender-based violence and HIV/ AIDS.

My husband drinks, he uses all our money for drinking, and he is hardly ever home.

When he is home he hits me when he gets drunk.

I know he sleeps with other women. I’m worried I will get HIV/ Aids.” (30 year old woman)

The fourth story shines a light on alcohol as obstacle to development and productivity.

My uncle drank so much he passed out and has now been in hospital for one week with liver problems.

He has drunken alcohol for many years now. He doesn’t work, he sells things like his land to eat food and drink more.

Last week he sold his motorbike. He no longer sends his children to school.” (32 year old woman).

I did 20 interviews myself with members of our own group. So, so many people had stories like this.

‘Wakonye Kenwa’ is a community organizing group started in Lacor center, Gulu Town, Northern Uganda in 2014. It is made up of around 30 community volunteers who want to bring change in their community. After tackling the problem of lack of clean drinking water in their community in 2014, in 2015 they chose to focus on the issue of alcohol harm in their community.