A Travellerspoint blog

Uganda

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)

Cross Country Runs

and a dusty cross-cultural setting

semi-overcast 34 °C

The pastel yellow dust billows behind the truck as it careers towards me like charging rhino, taking over the marram road. I get out the way by running into the ditch, being careful I don't trip on the rough surface. The cloud makes me disappear for a few seconds and I try not to inhale. Still, I feel the grains of dirt in my mouth and taste the earth. My puffy hair makes a good dust catcher as I will discover in the shower later on.
Running on the dirt road

Running on the dirt road


In the UK, I feel quite proud of myself when I pound the streets. As I race down the Edinburgh pavements, I feel part of something bigger, a culture of health and fitness. As I jog along Portobello beach, struggle up Arthur's seat or disappear down one of the network of cycle tracks criss-crossing the town, I am one of the thousands trying to push their bodies to get a little fitter. It is popular wisdom that running is an excellent lifestyle choice. There are races up and down the country of varying distances, running magazines giving advice on training schedules and specialised running shops.
Running in the Edinburgh Marathon Festival 10km 2016

Running in the Edinburgh Marathon Festival 10km 2016


Running in Africa, though, is a very different experience.

In Africa, I feel like a TV show, an entertainment for whole villages as I run by. People turn their heads towards the strange sight. I feel the eyes of everyone following me, the ghost moves by, panting and sweating in the 30 degree temperatures. Little kids with ripped t-shirts and dirty faces pause while collecting firewood to shout 'Mundu' as I pass, cheering and waving. Often, the shouts turn to chants of 'Mundu, how are you, I am fine' repeated over and over and over. I am convinced they are taught this chanting at school to practice if they are ever lucky enough to encounter any strange 'whites'. As I near the kids, some will dart away into the long yellow grass, holding up their shorts with terrified faces, scared that I might eat them. If I have the extra energy, I will chase the scared kids further into the bush and act like I am going to catch them. This gives me morbid pleasure and some brief relief on the hot run.

At other times, though, I feel like I'm a hero in a marathon as peoples' faces light up, broad smiles on their faces and they shout 'Well done'! Recently, one lady wearing a scarf and selling vegetables at the road-side started clapping loudly.

Most of the time, I try to keep focused on keeping a good rhythm on the run, rather than get distracted by the innumerable staring faces or laughing youth. On one run, I counted how many times I greeted people and it was over 200 times! Otherwise, though, I am very thankful for my iPod dance tunes that insulates me from the crowding in of others. At the end of the day, this is supposed to be my 'leisure' or 'escape' time, even if it doesn't feel like it. Before coming to live cross-culturally, the missions training encouraged us to consider what hobby or activity you would do to keep yourself healthy. In a stressful environment, it is very important to practice self-care spiritually, emotionally and physically. Running and exercise is part of that self-care for me, but is more challenging to practice here.

It feels weird running here as it is so counter-cultural. What is the point of expending that extra energy? Most people, especially the women, are doing plenty of physical labour just to survive, digging in the fields, carrying 30kg bags of charcoal on their heads or fetching water. By necessity, most people often walk miles and miles and have dirty cracked feet to show for it. I sense pangs of guilt thinking that I am privileged enough to have to work off my extra calories from the chocolate cake Emma made, in an environment where some people might only eat one meal a day and their calorie intake might barely be enough to sustain themselves. This is a context where over 10.9 million people are food insecure across Uganda this year due to poor rains and poor harvests last season. It is also in a context where South Sudan, only 2 hours drive away is suffering from war-induced famine in some areas and critical food insecurity otherwise. It is sobering thought that is a privilege to be a leisure runner and know I have some responsibility with God's help to support others who are not so privileged. This is a burden that is always in the background of life here in Arua, even while I am running along dirt tracks.
Ladies walking 10km to sell bananas

Ladies walking 10km to sell bananas

These ladies carry 30kg bags of charcoal for sale

These ladies carry 30kg bags of charcoal for sale

Fetching water

Fetching water

Contemplating Life's Issues

Contemplating Life's Issues

Posted by africraigs 01:52 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

In a Sun Scorched Land

sunny 35 °C

“This is the worst year”.
“This is my first time to see this”.

These are exclamations when talking to friends and colleagues about the current dry spell in Arua.

Of course, it is ‘dry season’ when rains aren’t expected till sometime in March and when the weather is especially hot and dry. Inside the house last night, the temperature didn’t drop below 29 degrees and it was stifling lying in bed and hard to sleep. Some local friends have told me they have been sleeping on the ground or outside. Of course, our fan couldn’t be on as the power was off. The water level in the dams are too low to produce much hydro-electricity, so load-shedding is the order. We are very thankful for our 3 solar panels that provide us some power. Daytime temperatures are 35 degrees plus.

But, this hot weather isn’t out of the ordinary. What is less common is that the normal ‘long rains’ from July to November of last year, didn’t arrive as expected and there was a lot less rainfall than normal. Crops like beans or maize that were planted dried out in the fields. Groundnuts that do especially well here, died. This has happened to vulnerable people living a subsistence lifestyle in a highly fragile environment. For these people, few buffers exist except the social networks which allow people to help each other in difficulty.

Friends and colleagues have shared their experience of what the drought has meant for them. Kevin (a woman!), who helps us with washing clothes explains that people have been sleeping on her compound to make sure they are early to the borehole near her as so many people are competing for the water. Lilian, our other helper tells us that she pays a boy about 10p to stand in line at the borehole to fill up her jerrycans as the queue is so long. Abdu, my colleague at Lifestitches says that he gets up at midnight or 1am to pump water because it is too busy at other times. Our security guard, John walks 5km to take a bath in the river since the borehole water is only used for drinking now.
Pumping water at a local borehole

Pumping water at a local borehole

A long line of jerry cans waiting for the borehole.

A long line of jerry cans waiting for the borehole.

Collecting water is an all-day process

Collecting water is an all-day process


As usual in East Africa, there is scant attention given to the plight of common people and subsequently poor media coverage of the situation so it is difficult to know what is going on, however, it seems that La Nina may have played a role in the changed weather pattern. Of course, poor land management such as denuding the land of trees surely has a big effect on the rainfall.

Although town water was a bit haphazard before December, coming only at night, piped water suddenly completely dried up all over Arua. Water levels in the river were too low for the water company to pump from. Lucky for us, we had water in our rainwater tanks which gave us a buffer for a time, but after a short while, even those ran empty.

For the first time, we had to phone a water truck to come and fill up the rainwater tanks. This would allow me to pump water into the house to let us use the indoor plumbing.
Water being transported on the back of the pick-up

Water being transported on the back of the pick-up


Thankfully, we have access to these water trucks that became very busy, sometimes making trips at 10pm to desperate customers like us!

What is remarkable to us about our friends and colleagues in Arua is how well people take these difficult circumstances. In the UK, any similar situation is unthinkable. There, we expect things to work well, or we will complain, write to the newspapers or even sue!

I am always impressed by the levels of difficulty and suffering that people endure and still manage to have a smile and laugh easily. People have an incredible attitude in the midst of suffering. It is common for friends to let you know that a family member has died in awful circumstances in a very matter-of-fact manner. On Wednesday, for example, one Lifestitches lady greeted me and then shared with me that her brother had died in a motorbike accident the day before. She wasn’t too fazed and got on with her work at the workshop. Here, death seems so common, but is an accepted part of life.

A negative consequence of this attitude of acceptance is that people have very low expectations and don’t hold organisations or the government to account for poor services. People are used to fending for themselves in all aspects of life. There is no expectation of change and little vision for a different world. This fatalistic attitude is said to hold development back. However, it could also be a ‘survival’ mentality borne out of experience of constantly being let down by systems like the health service or electricity board or corruption generally.

As someone with a Western perspective, it is incredible to appreciate that Arua’s water problem exists in a context of a nation with a significant portion of the world’s 2nd largest freshwater lake (Lake Victoria) and the source of the world’s longest river within its borders. Sadly, drought in a developing nation like Uganda is so acute because farmers rely so heavily on the rain. Less than 1% of agricultural land is irrigated. Farmers tell me how worried they are about this year’s rains as they couldn’t cope with another yield loss like last years.
Visiting the source of the longest river in the world, Jinja

Visiting the source of the longest river in the world, Jinja


Collecting water with cups from a drying stream

Collecting water with cups from a drying stream


Despite the intensity of African life such as the water problems, power issues and poverty, it is a privilege for our family to live here. I often complain about the problems, but I also realise that it helps us have a perspective on what are the most important things in life, such as faith, hope, health or clean water.

These days, signs are good that the rains are already on the way, earlier than normal. There has been rain in Kampala and winds have been picking up. Today, there is even some cloud, thunder and a few drops of rain.

All promising signs, and a reminder of peoples’ fragile dependence and smallness in a big universe.

A little girl collects water from a spring near the Congo border in better weather

A little girl collects water from a spring near the Congo border in better weather

Posted by africraigs 12:50 Archived in Uganda Comments (4)

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