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“He sells his land to drink”

‘What problems does alcohol bring in this community?,” Geoffry 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 satisfied these days.”

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 trickiest 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 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 my community. But I’ve learned more 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. Approaches to answering to 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.”

The story response: And of course, some interviewers understood the question properly and got their interviewee to give a detailed example. Here are a few:

“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)

“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)

“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)

“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 group. So, so many people had stories like this.