A Travellerspoint blog

Uganda

The other me

rain 26 °C

I’m back in my other life.

I know that because my body is bouncing and jostling while I drive our almost-vintage 4WD Toyota Prado on one of the countless pastel-yellow ribbon dirt roads criss-crossing this crazy continent of Africa.
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It is rainy season here and I am highly cognisant that there is a risk the car will slip and slide into a big dirty tea-coloured puddle and get caught in the slimy mud that affords limited grip.

Curious and excited children run barefoot towards the road chanting ‘Mundu, How are you’ over and over again. A baby peers round from behind her older sister’s back and starts howling.

I pass compounds surrounding homesteads planted with the long, skinny stems and serrated leaves of the paw-paw tree pregnant with her large fruits. There are the enormous verdant leaves of the ubiquitous banana plant and beneath these canopies the small weedy plants used for green vegetables growing irregularly.
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A stubborn bedraggled goat is roughly tied to a stubby bush and a rooster ruffles it feathers, cranes its neck and proudly gives its best call.

After being in the UK for an unexpectedly long time, returning to Arua has been a rich mix of re-connections with old, familiar friends and also an instant reminder of the brokenness that gives us the vision to have set up home deep in the African countryside.

The incredible sight of the milky way arches overhead as I lean against the wall and catch up with my security guard who tells me the horrendous story of his 3 year-old niece being attacked with a machete knife, slicing her head open and killing her. It happened a week previously and John tells me he thinks there was a sacrificial witchcraft element involved.

‘Things are not easy’ people tell me as they explain about their lives and the struggles they are facing. Funerals, sickness and exhausting poverty are an everyday reality for people and survival is the aim of life, just simply getting by if possible. As my friend told me, the innumerable challenges people face make people give up and turn to addictions or even to go mad, but for him, he has to focus on being strong and getting on.

One of the card makers in the project that Emma oversees grasps my hand and tells me he has missed me and says he is off to a funeral in the village as his cousin was killed when a mob set upon him. Another man’s older relative has been knocked and killed by a speeding car on the road to the South Sudan border.

The easy smiles and laughter often belie the incredible hardship of life here and the resilience of people who ‘get on with it’. The lives of countless South Sudanese refugees all around us are a strong testament to this. People often reference God after they tell you about their difficulties reminding themselves of their continued hope in the inexplicable darkness.
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Visiting our 13 sponsored Cheka children was one highlight of my time in Arua. where this hope is being brought through supporting kids to access school who would otherwise not be able to. Our small local team have a big heart and vision to care for the most vulnerable children in their communities who are orphaned by AIDS like Joseph or exist in heart-rending poverty like little Pasca. We followed up with Princess Lenia who is one of 10 children, whose dad died last year and whose brother was electrocuted when playing with exposed cables on the road and has since had his arms amputated. I felt it a huge privilege to be able to play a small part in supporting these kids. It is definitely what helps give me purpose in life and for what I believe the message of Jesus Christ is all about. This is a project I hope to focus on while in the UK by starting a UK charity with friends (and my dad!) as board members and starting a website (chekachild.com - not much on there yet, though!).
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As we approach Christmastime, we want to share the hopeful Christmas message to our sponsored children and other desperately needy children and their families whom we profiled. This will be through providing gifts in the form of basic necessities that people greatly appreciate: a long bar of blue soap used for everything from washing clothes to washing the floor, rice and sugar. If anyone feels a burden to help out in this regard through giving something financially, please be in touch and we can encourage these kids with a little bit of light.

Posted by africraigs 05:20 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

Road to Nowhere

sunny 36 °C

I was amazed to see the road between the swankiest hotel in Arua, Golden Courts (which is supposedly owned by Idi Amin’s remaining family!) that runs towards the President’s Arua residence, being re-surfaced for the 3rd time last year.

It is a road I know well as I like to run up it because it is wide and quiet and is adjacent to the green grass (or dry-season yellow just now) of the colonial-built Arua golf course. The well-maintained golf course with its large purple-flowering jacaranda trees is a refreshing sight contrasting with the haphazard and chaotic nature of other parts of Arua.

The other time, I noticed that the smoothness of the tarmac lasted a week until the heavy tropical rain came and showed the shabby work of the road workers for what it was. The tarmac was only a few millimetres thick, a thin layer on top of the pastel coloured marram.
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This time, the same thing happened. The tarmac on the road lasted a short time before potholes began to appear. The road looked good for less than a month reminding me of how some new, shiny items I’ve bought disappoint because they are shoddily made.
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In the past month, 2 senior officials from Arua have been arrested on suspicion of misappropriating 436 million Uganda Shillings or £90,000 that were designated for road construction in Arua. (https://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Arua-officials-charged-corruption/688334-4991822-qmj2t9/index.html)

Hopefully justice can be served on these men and others that were involved.

The organisation Transparency International notes that corruption in Uganda is endemic in all sectors of society, with giving Uganda a score of 149 out of 180 countries.

The story of this road shows just how destructive corruption is as the roads that were meant to be completed are just as bad or worse now than they were before. Public money that should be used to improve the lives of ordinary Ugandans is being ‘eaten’ by big people trusted with its investment. And this in one of the poorest countries in the world. It is especially sad when so many people desperate for school fees, medical care or clothes should be betrayed by the people meant to help. It is sad when medicines are stolen from hospitals, when money for education is ‘diverted’ and money for refugees disappears.
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Corruption angers me because it undermines development. More than that, corruption undermines society.

Our vision for Uganda is to see a society developing and progressing with good, godly values to produce an honest, hard-working and creative society so that people see betterment in their situations. Corruption is one obvious manifestation of human brokenness that really makes life worse.

Posted by africraigs 13:17 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

Light in the Darkness

Community Development Training

overcast 28 °C

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Last week, I was part of a 3-day training in community development provided by Baptist missionaries from the US. I have always liked the concept of ‘community development’ and especially the idea of transformational development where wholistic positive change takes place in peoples’ lives. I figured the training could help give me more ideas for the work I am trying to do in Arua.

I found the course very helpful in providing some practical skills in how to understand and ask questions about a community and how it is doing. As well as other tools, the trainers described the Problem Tree, Vision mapping and Resource analysis.

To look at these tools, we often split into groups to think about them practically over the few days we had together. I was in a group of mainly Ugandans which helped me really understand the issues on the ground.

The Problem Tree helps a community look at one problem and consider the causes and effects - or the roots and the fruits of the problem. As a group, we looked at the problem of drugs and alcohol, a big issue for the community. Here is a look at our problem tree.

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As we discussed the issue of drug and alcohol use, I felt a greater and greater sense of heaviness and sadness. There are so many problems in the communities we live amongst. Material poverty, family instability, lack of jobs, mental health problems, trauma and other causes increase the risk of drug and alcohol abuse. The effects are sicknesses, early death, child neglect, increased hopelessness, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy amongst others.

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As we discussed these problems and went into the field to speak to groups of people, it is hard not to be overwhelmed.

One of the participants in the training talked of a ‘depressed society’ where so many people are struggling with many burdens. There is a hopelessness and heaviness that hangs over many people.

Working in the society where there are so many problems, we also start to take on a sense of hopelessness and burden. It is known that there is a risk for workers in difficult situations to get burn-out and to take on the similar poverty mindset that keeps people trapped in their own mindsets.

As ‘change agents’ in this society, we need to keep ourselves healthy to bring the vision of hope and inspiration for a people in great need.

Ironically, one way we are reminded of Christmas in Arua is because of the increase in insecurity as people feel the pressure to buy meat or chicken and new clothes for their families. This week this has brought us an armed robbery, a revenge killing and a police crackdown with gun battles in the forest. However, we believe that Jesus came to bring light to darkest places. As Isaiah says,

'The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.’

Community Development is about change for the better, something we all long for! I hope that we all get encouraged by the Christmas story of hope despite all the darkness and discouragement around!

Posted by africraigs 11:28 Archived in Uganda Comments (2)

Tiny Beginnings

overcast 25 °C

The Anglican Church of Uganda recently celebrated a big milestone of 100 year anniversary in the West Nile region. 100 years ago, the West Nile region just been returned to British rule after been part of the notorious Belgian Congo with the regime’s brutal treatment of people for ivory and rubber. In this area, elephants had been hunted for ivory and slaves were captured by Arabs coming down from the north. The mighty Nile river runs alongside the Eastern borders while the land rises towards the west along the hilly Congo border.Man Wearing his Special Centenary Shirt

Man Wearing his Special Centenary Shirt

The Lugbara Bible

The Lugbara Bible


Jacob at the Centenary Celebrations

Jacob at the Centenary Celebrations


With my friend Stephen. I wanted to celebrate the Scottish influence in West Nile too...! And got interviewed on radio because of it!

With my friend Stephen. I wanted to celebrate the Scottish influence in West Nile too...! And got interviewed on radio because of it!

In that year, 1918, a missionary couple called Frank and Edith Gardner arrived in West Nile, entering from Congo through an area called Vurra. Frank’s brother Alfred accompanied them.
The Gardner Family in Later Years

The Gardner Family in Later Years

Frank Gardner Looking Like a Typical Missionary...

Frank Gardner Looking Like a Typical Missionary...


The Gardners were ordinary people. Frank was a railway engineer and son of a postman from Chipping Norton. Edith was a butcher’s daughter and shop assistant. They had a new baby, although they had also left a toddler aged 3 in England. Edith Jr was 11 when they next saw her! This seems like a cruel thing in our eyes these days, but during the precarious time during World War 1, they were concerned for the toddler’s safety traveling by ship.

Initially, they came as a couple to Africa to work with a mission agency started by the renown CT Studd in Belgian Congo, but after 2 years there were disagreements with him and they transferred to Africa Inland Mission (AIM).

AIM had been asked by the British District Commissioner to help to distribute food to deal with a severe famine in West Nile and this is what initially led the new AIM recruits to the region.
Arua in 1918

Arua in 1918


The Gardners had a difficult time in their fledgling work. Edith struggled being constantly watched and peered at by the local people. Neighbours would also fill in the wells they dug for getting clean water. Since there had been a famine, there was little food to eat.
The Gardner's Home, Arua, Painted in Watercolour

The Gardner's Home, Arua, Painted in Watercolour


During that first year, the Gardners succumbed to Spanish Flu, a pandemic of sickness killing people around the world. Edith nearly died. Frank had already been ill with malaria and black-water fever several times but fell sick again. He too nearly died. The family were advised to move to an area with a healthier climate and so went to work at Kijabe, at the AIM station in the mountains of Kenya.

The Gardners had only been in West Nile from June 1918 till February 1919, eight short and difficult months.

However, as the book written to commemorate the church’s history, ‘Celebrating Our Centenary’ mentions, ‘Christianity has made a greater impact [in the West Nile] than in other parts of Northern Uganda’.

Despite the inconspicuous and frustrating start which must have seemed like failure to the Gardners, the church grew. Today, 90% of the Lugbara people the Gardners settled amongst are Christian according to The Joshua Project ( https://joshuaproject.net/) and the church has hundreds of thousands of adherents.

As one of the descendants of Frank and Edith says:

“I hope this encourages us never to think fruitfulness and faithfulness are judged by size. That even in pain and seeming failure, God is still at work. No matter how small the seeds we think we are sowing today, God is the Lord of the harvest and can bring forth fruit a hundredfold. So, don’t despise the day of small beginnings and keep sowing!

Rev Adrian Beavis, St Luke’s Church, Earl’s Court, great grandson of Frank and Edith.

When I heard the Gardner’s story, it touched and encouraged me.

Emma and I are ordinary people that left ‘normal’ jobs in the UK but we can often struggle with living and working cross- culturally. We can feel irritated when a simple jog can turn into being a comical spectacle, or different cultural differences in parenting or education can gain unwanted comments… We can relate to health and sickness scares: insect bites, malaria, high fevers, a broken bone, and how the physical can quickly affect our emotional and spiritual outlook. We’ve sometimes looked at our work, our projects, our failings, and wondered whether we’re making any difference and whether we should pack up and go home, especially since what we are doing is such a backwards move in a career sense. When we hear stories of missionary heroes, they seem so incredible that we can’t relate to them, yet the Gardners seem so normal, so human, so ordinary, and their trials so real and understandable.

And yet, like the story of the Gardners, there is change because of the small seeds they sowed.

We, too, are hoping and praying for God to work through us in our vision to see transformation in peoples’ lives through God’s love and hope.

  • That through the income generating card project, people will see that God can use someone’s hard work, skills and creativity to help them support their families.
  • That through the Hibiscus tea project, people can see that Africa and their people are rich and the poverty mentality people often hide behind can be challenged.
  • That through the Lifeskills teaching, people can see that God can provide us with wisdom to live effectively in all areas of life to God’s glory.
  • That through the sponsorship project, Cheka Child, vulnerable children who would not have otherwise had much hope and even less opportunities, can be given a hope and a future.

The story of the church’s beginnings in West Nile are an encouragement to any ‘small’ people out there like Gideon in the Bible, wee Zacchaeus, or us…

If anyone is interested, here is a link to a video of the Frank and Edith Gardner story done recently:

Posted by africraigs 04:51 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

Names will never hurt me

semi-overcast 27 °C

‘Meet my best friend’ called our friendly night watchman, as another jovial guy walked past the house… After the usual greetings, I asked the watchman what his friend’s name was, ‘Oh,’ he replied, ‘I don’t know.’

It made us laugh that he didn’t know his best friend’s name, but we’ve seen this happen a few times here in Arua.

For instance, other local friends live together in a shared homestead: three brothers, their wives, children, extra orphans and various animals, all doing life together. So it surprised us when he didn’t know the name of the sister-in- law who they share a home with. He said he just calls her ‘Mama Lilian’ after the firstborn child.

We have had the privilege of naming a few of our friends’ children recently. Two of the new babies in Arua are called ‘Zoë’ meaning ‘Life’ after Emma’s youngest sister. Another friend took Emma’s suggestion of ‘Aaron’ for his son. He likely isn’t aware of the Scottish island that our Arran is named after.
Big Zoe celebrating her 1st birthday!

Big Zoe celebrating her 1st birthday!

Baby Zoe with Mum and big sister

Baby Zoe with Mum and big sister


In our culture, there is much thought, discussion and even prayer when choosing a name for the unborn child. Names are chosen because of its meaning, or because of a significant person or sometimes because of the attractive way it sounds. Most of the time, the baby name is chosen beforehand. Amongst many African households, a baby is traditionally not named until a baby shows he/she is surviving. The infant mortality, although falling, is still high and so it is not practical or emotionally convenient to name a baby from the outset.

Lugbara names have traditionally been negative. Children will be named according to the circumstances they were born into or how the mother is feeling. During wartime, children may be named ‘Adiga’ meaning ‘war’. If a mother has been having struggles, a child can be named Driciru, a girl’s name meaning ‘suffering’. A lady I worked with had a mother who had many babies that didn’t survive infancy. For this reason, she was called ‘Drajoru’, meaning ‘Death in the place’. Drateru and Dravoru (‘Dra’ meaning ‘death’) are other names related to death. Another lady is called ‘Lekuru’ which means ‘dislike’ because her dad didn’t want to have another girl and actually wanted her thrown away. She was one of 9 girls in the family (out of 12). Another lady is called ‘Useless’ in Lugbara because her dad didn’t want another girl.

The sad name list goes on…

The name ‘Candia’ is translated ‘Misery’, and is a surprisingly common name for girls and boys. A woman whose husband ran away after giving birth called her son ‘Foolish’. A colleague I work with at Lifeskills told me her story of being abandoned by her father when she was a baby. Just before giving birth, her mother was homeless. Her mother ended up giving birth amongst the cassava plants in a field. Her mother called her ‘wanderer’.

Although there are still plenty of unfortunately- named people running about, thankfully, there has been some change in the way children are named as the hopeful message of the Bible takes root and Biblical names like Love (Leta) or Joy (Ayiko) are being given. The hope of the Bible message is the reason I appreciate it so much. It is the reason we work here in West Nile. Whether it is in the family, in farming or in doing commerce, the Biblical message is in the business of changing lives and making a difference for people, including how someone is named. To me, Christianity is not a religion to help people pretend to be pious and act holy, it is something which can really make positive change. That should be good news for new babies being born in West Nile…

Posted by africraigs 00:59 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

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