Strengthen the Family, Build the Nation: What are the Opportunities and Challenges

Dr. Ruth Senyonyi




At the National Theatre


15TH MAY 2017



The international Day of the Family (IDF) is observed on the 15th of May every year. The day is to raise awareness of the role of families in developing the nation. The family, despite being the smallest unit of society, is where the development of an individual begins. Today therefore serves as an opportunity for individuals, families, organizations and governments to carefully consider the quality of life and relationships enjoyed in these homes. This year the theme is “Strengthen the family: Build the nation.”


The year 2017 was dedicated in Uganda as the Year of the Family by the President of Uganda, His Excellency Yoweri Museveni and by the Archbishop of Uganda His Grace Stanley Ntagali as approved at the 23rd Provincial Assembly of the church of Uganda. A nation is only strengthened by strong families and our cry to the Lord this year is that families of the nation need to return to the Lord (Psalm 22:27). We pray that God come and take over our weakened families. 



The diverse face of family: includes the Nuclear family – father, mother and children; the Extended family – grandparents, uncles and aunties, cousins, clan; the Blended family – includes children from a previous marriage; the Single parent family; the Polygamous (Composite) family and the Co-habiting family.  The families can be faith or cultural based and influenced.  

Structural Family System

Structural family therapy sees the family as an integrated whole or as a system.  Structure refers to the invisible set of functional demands that organizes the way the family interacts; it defines roles, rules and patterns allowable within the family.

The structural theory defines three subsystems that must have clear boundaries in order for the family to function well. It can be compared to an engine in the car that has many parts that work together for it to function.

The first sub system is the spouse subsystem. It is assumed that this subsystem is independent from family of origin, can adjust through the different years of life, understands and defines the gender roles and is able to communicate around issues of finances, work, and there must be mutual support in the development of individual unique talents and interests.

The second subsystem is the parental subsystem which totally transforms the system of family. There needs to be new skills learnt and mutual support and accommodation of the offspring. This subsystem demands that the parent remain in charge.

The third sub-system is the sibling subsystem that allows children to be children and to experiment with peer relationships They learn to negotiate, to compete to work out differences and to support one another without the responsibility that accrues to the adult. The relationships between the subsystems define the structure of the family.

The clear boundaries enable the family members to receive support and nurture and to facilitate change and stability in the family. 




It has been said that you can choose a friend, but you cannot choose a family. The family has been found to be the best crucible for the nurturing of a human being.

The Christian Home (family) is the Master’s Workshop where the processes of character molding are silently, lovingly, faithfully, and successfully carried.”

(Richard Monckton Milnes)

The family is God’s idea. It was designed to provide the joy, happiness and satisfaction every human being longs for and needs. The family is a place for each to be extremely happy whether as a child, wife or a husband.  A man leaves his father and mother and cleaves or is committed (holds fast) to his wife and they become one flesh and eventually are given children as a gift. (Genesis 2:24)


The Alternative Service Book 1980 indicates that:

“Marriage is given that husband and wife may comfort and help each other, live faithfully together in need and in plenty, in sorrow and joy. It is given that with delight and tenderness they may know each other in love and through the joy of their bodily union, may strengthen the union of their hearts and lives. It is also given that they may have children and be blessed in in caring for them and bringing them up in accordance with God’s will to his praise and glory.”




  1. The Family is significant for Happiness. It is a place where we should find our supreme contentment. The family provides happiness and satisfaction. Indeed when we are happy at home, we are happy in the Church, in offices and wherever we are. The converse is also true – unhappy people in the family make for unhappy people in other places.


  1. A strong family gives us a safe place to live and to develop into ‘healthy individuals’. The Family is that place where you can safely grow through all the mistakes of life; and no matter your mistakes you still belong! You belong and you are free to go in and out. It is where you learn to cry and it is OK, to laugh with abandon too. Happiness and sorrow maybe experienced without losing yourself.


  1. A strong Family is where a child is trained through the example, love and culture of those who have traced the path before. They learn morals of respect, responsibility, obedience and the values that will guard them later in life. Family should be a place where we are trained in the art of living to become useful and responsible citizens. It is a place where character building is done and a place to where abilities are developed. The family gives the foundation of learning to love and nurture others. The family is a place that helps one expand thinking. My husband always tells our children that, “I have been where you are; you have not been where I am.” This is simply to say that I have an experience that will save you the mistakes I may have walked through or known of. It is wrong for the parents to lead their children through the same mistakes they have fallen in before.


  1. A strong Family is a place that allows for development; The individual is nurtured spiritually, physically and emotionally. This allows individuals to acquire the life skills needed in life: decision making, time management, self esteem, problem solving, self control, assertiveness, service, integrity, a sense of right and wrong, honesty, social etiquette, reality and in the family we are allowed to expand our thinking. The family then becomes a base for wellness and heath.


  1. A strong Family is a place where we get our first answers to life’s endless questions. We have four children and I know those incessant questions they have asked time and again. To them the Father/Mother is all-knowing! In any case when the parents do not know they can find answers for the children, or better still with them. From “where do children come from?” to questions of science, the parent is supposed to be an inexhaustible source of knowledge.


  1. A strong family is a key indication and a foundation for good governance, productivity and socio economic development of a country.


  1. A strong family is interconnected (has social networks) with others such as Neighbors, Family members, Relatives & Kinsmen, Workmates/Business associates, School, Church /MU /FU , Clubs i.e. Rotary, health clubs. The family social networks are beneficial for support especially in times of death and illnesses, protection in case of adversity, political and economic support as well as strengthen our belief and value systems.


  1. A strong family protects children from an unfriendly world
  • An unfriendly world – Exposure to movies, internet sites, friends, casual sex at 12, Sexual aggression, Prostitution, homosexuality.
  • Rejection -Feeling ugly, unloved and unlovable, loss, grief,
  • Sexual abuse (rape, incest, STD’s, HIV sleeping around, Abortion, teenage pregnancy)
  • Selfish Culture (I, self, anger, self hate/glorification..) –
  • Drugs & Alcohol
  • Protects from sibling rivalry, accidents, incidents, opposite sex and abusers.





 “Family life today is under attack. Why? Because when families are strong, the nation is also strong. Strong families reflect contentment, attract hard work, and general development.


There is a high rate of disintegration and fragmentation of the family both before and after marriage. Casual relationships and cohabiting are often without commitment.


Families are beset by divorce, a crisis in roles, absenteeism of parents, a breakdown of authority, preoccupation with things, inadequate time together, financial pressures, and a host of other problems. …”


The modern breakdown of the family foretells the downfall of the future generation.




  1. Divorce and separation

This refers to the break up and the loss of unity in the family. Research indicates that 42% of the adult population in Uganda is single, widowed, separate or divorced. Uganda has a high rate of single mothers and fathers that are bringing up children single-handed due to divorce, death and conflict.


  1. Family Conflicts

The average Ugandan does not find satisfaction in the confines of his home because some of the most hurtful, miserable experiences that human beings have are done in the family:



Harms, Injures, Endangers health and safety by causing

  1. Physical Violence (56%) – Harm to the body– beating, hitting, kicking, cutting, burning, locking up


  1. Sexual Abuse (42%) – defilement and rape, exposing the nakedness with intent, nakedness, sexual abuse of children. Homosexuality, pornography and prostitution.


  1. Emotional – Verbal – Psychological – insults – name calling (Okusooza); threats, possessiveness (Ebbuba); jealousy, invasion of privacy. Spousal emotional abuse (42.9%)


  1. Economic abuse – depravation of all or any economic or financial resources that they are entitled to ie household necessities, money for food, rent maintenance, land grabbing.


  1. Harrassment – Intend to harm, annoy, aggrieve i.e. abusive phone calls or letter.


  1. Reckless lifestyles and unharnessed behavior, before and after marriage leading to HIV/AIDS, Abortions, Street children (10,000 in Kampala alone), Child sacrifice, Suicide child labour, STD’s, death, child headed homes, alcohol and drug use and increase in the orphaned population.


  1. Harmful Cultural practices that lead to early child marriages (40% are married before 18 years), Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child sacrifices, sexual abuse, child trafficking and child prostitution.


  1. Competing demands of the modern world. i.e. vocational demands, career advancement, working 2 or 3 jobs for survival,. Hurry and busy lives that do not allow the family to be together. Sophisticated and affordable technology that engulfs families who spend countless hours on their phones and computers and do not know how to communicate with each other any more.


  1. Absenteeism of heads of families and providers:
  • Absentee Fathers: Research indicates that children in fatherless homes are more likely to drop out of school, suffer from poverty, have children out of wedlock, commit delinquent acts and engage in alcohol and drugs.
  • Absenteeism of parents: Children are mentored by teachers, Housemaids and the electronic world (Surrogate parents). They are away from home for a total of almost nine months! You have been allocated three months to influence their lives per year!
  • Husbands and wives are night partners! Some are weekend partners!
  • Absent husbands and wives due to busyness or work related issues leads to Lack of sex and romance and dissatisfaction.


  1. Financial stress and poverty – where families are poor and cannot afford the basics of maintaining their families. If the family is deprived in two or more of these: lack of water, unhealthy living conditions, lack of hygiene/sanitation, lack of money and basic essentials, lack of food, education and information.


  1. Aging – Lack of retirement plans and support. Can be due to loss of close family member.


  1. Selfishness –More people marry for selfish reasons. Wealth, status, job etc.


  1. Alcohol and drug abuse are on the increase. This leads to reckless living and loss of jobs and responsible living.


  1. Children are in a sexuality crisis Children are sexually active at 6-10 years
  • 1st Sexual encounters
    • 23% before age 15
    • 64% at age 18
    • 90% by age 25
    • 8 average age for women
    • 6 average age for men


  1. Young population – Uganda has 50% of people below the age of 14 years . 17.1 million (56% ) are below the age of 18 years. 






  1. Government will and involvement:
  • Judiciary: provides the family and children court and
  • The Uganda Police has a child and protection directorate.
  • There is a Department of culture and family affairs under Ministry of gender and many other structures that support the family unit and the promotion of positive family values.
  1. Early child development:

 80% of brain development occurs by age 3- the age when children are still nurtured by family. Advocate for children to be at home with their families before the age of 4. Reduce the strain on children in schools. Policies that enable parents to have more time with their children.    

  1. Involvement of the Church
  • Mothers’ Union that I represent as the Provincial President of Uganda.

Since 1876, when Mary Sumner first brought together parents in her own parish to build their confidence in bringing up their children in the Christian faith, Mothers’ Union has grown to over 4 million members worldwide. MU members work around the world bringing hope and practical support to millions of people every year through our marriage, parenting, literacy and community development programmes and as part of the volunteer base of local churches.

Today over 4 million MU members in the world have had tremendous impact on families all over the world. We have members in the 36 dioceses of Uganda who model stable family life.  Our objectives state clearly what we are about:


  1. To uphold Christ’s teaching on the nature of marriage and promote its wider understanding.
  2. To encourage parents to bring up their children in the faith and life of the Church
  • To maintain a worldwide fellowship of Christians united in prayer, worship and service.
  1. To promote conditions in society favourable to stable family life and the protection of children.
  2. To help those whose family life has met with adversity



  • The East African Revival:

Humility, repentance, brokenness are the hallmarks of the East African Revival most developed in the 1920’s and 1930’s and are still very powerful forces in our country. In Ankole Diocese research on marriages indicated that many couples had satisfying and long marriages (60 – 70 years) attributed to the fundamental values of confession, repentance, restitution, walking in the light, brokenness, praying fellowship meetings witnessing for Christ  and reading the bible. This alone instilled in the families the value for education, hardwork, honesty and cleanliness in homes. This revival changed communities.


  1. Efforts from Non Governmental Organizations –
  • Family Life Network headed by Engineer Stephen Langa and his wife Beatrice started parenting courses for Ugandans.
  • The Seruyanges had a couples retreat for pastors and their wives.
  • Uganda Counselling Association – the professional members offer counseling to family members.
  • Orphanages – SOS – foster care fro their orphaned children.
  • Plan International efforts





 Improving intimacy and friendship

  • Spending time together (Eating, weekends)
  • Sexual intimacy and delight
  • Unity as a couple & closeness as friends

Preventing marital strains and stress through teaching and preparing for marriage.

Parenting strategies

Financial support for existing programs in Church – Mentoring programs; Government –Policies and structures NGO’s and Individuals  – pre marital counseling, marital enrichment and parenting classes



Programs that help the population come out of poverty.  

Job stability for stable income

Agriculture programs for financial support


  • Ensuring that the marriages are registered.
  • Government Policies and protection.



 Will writing

Stabilizing life for family

Family retirement home



Balancing work, life and family

Understanding and accepting the changing roles of male and female in the workplace and in families.


In conclusion, Family is of utmost importance in the building of our nation. It is foundational for good governance, productivity and socio economic development of a country. In view of all this, effort from all of us as citizens of Uganda must be placed into ensuring that the family structure is maintained and protected.


Strengthen the Family; Build the Nation: “Families of the Nation Return to the Lord” (Psalm 22:27)’


For God and my Country.


Ruth Senyonyi (PhD)

  • Provincial Mothers’ Union President

Church of the Province of Uganda


  • Assistant Director /Counselling & Welfare

Human Resource Department

Bank of Uganda