The Nkolola Project has been developed by Nina Atkins van Kogelenberg, in direct response to the needs expressed by women living in rural Zambian communities in traditional Tonga culture.
Nina Atkins Van-Kogelenberg was born and raised in the Netherlands. A trained midwife and obstetrician, she went out to Zambia to work at the Monze Mission Hospital in her 20s, where she met her husband, George. Nina has lived on their farm in the Southern Province of Zambia for over 40 years. Through living and working closely with Zambians, mainly of the Tonga Tribe, she has been confronted daily with traditions and customs that affect the everyday life and health of Zambian Women. She has developed the Nkolola project in response to the needs she has observed over the last 40 years.
“Over the years, so many women have come to me expressing dissatisfaction with their marriages. They come to me and cry, “my marriage is just suffering”. I say to them “I cannot help you- I am not a Tonga, but I can help you think about what you can do to change things yourselves”.
(Nina Atkins van Kogelenberg, 2011)
Research involving over 1000 participants in 2008-2009 revealed that women felt that the widely-used ABC (Abstinence, Be faithful to one partner and correct use of Condoms) approach to HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa, was neither effective nor realistic within the context of the traditional Tribal Tonga culture in which they live. The Women in Zambia: Tonga Tribal Culture and Traditions page details some of these issues.
The research revealed that women identified themselves as the engine behind cultural development, which supported Nina’s own theory:
“The mothers of today produce the husbands of tomorrow”. Her premise is that by changing their own behaviour towards males in the home, mothers can positively influence their sons’ attitudes towards women in the future.
The women also said that current traditional practices such as Nkolola undermined their self esteem, encouraged negative attitudes regarding the role of women in society and promoted gender inequality whereby women have a lower status.
The outcome of this research was a recommendation from the communities themselves, to put in place a relevant, biologically correct gender and HIV sensitive sex education to empower the communities in Sexual Reproductive Health for a future generation. Their aim would be to promote happier sexual married life, more stable families and communities that would ultimately reduce or reverse HIV infection rates.
The Nkolola Handbook
Based on the findings of her research and also her own observations, over the previous 40 years, Nina developed the Nkolola Handbook. The Nkolola handbook is designed to be a practical and culturally appropriate resource for communities that:
- Provides factually correct information and diagrams about sexual development and reproductive health.
- Addresses the needs expressed by women to address men, concerning their sexual behaviour and the relationship within marriage with their partners.
- Incorporates the womens’ suggestions to adapt certain traditional teachings in order to:
- Promote an equal upbringing of boys and girls
- Challenge traditional male behaviour, taking in to account the customs and traditions.
- Continue to change the current mindset towards effective HIV/AIDS prevention
- Empower communities to lobby the powers that be (headmen and chiefs); to change attitudes and promote a more user-friendly HIV prevention atmosphere in the community.
The Nkolola Project is being funded by the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Lusaka, and is a two-fold approach:
- Publication and provision of the Nkolola handbook as a community resource
- Training of 18 community mentors to train people their own community about the facts and principles of sexual and reproductive health.
- To clear up myths and misconceptions about sex
- To promote gender equality
- To encourage and promote the joy of sex enjoyed in a monogamous relationship, which helps discourage concurrent sexual relationships
- To influence attitudes to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS
The project is currently in progress and the feedback from the community so far is that the Nkolola Handbook is a good tool for influencing and helping to change the attitudes of men towards women.