“This is how we have been living ever since”

IMG_0252This past week, we’ve been moving along with the Farming for Peace trainings and watching our crops, and our students, grow.

Before class one afternoon, Max and I went with a CPU social worker to visit the home of Moses, one of our students. He lives just next to Coorom Primary School, in a cluster of huts near the water pump. His mom welcomed us into the mudbrick hut where they typically eat meals, which was just big enough for the four of us to sit. Max knew Moses from being involved with the peace club last year, but it was my first time sitting down with him and hearing his story.

Moses was five years old when he fled with his mother and siblings to the IDP camp. His father was killed when the LRA reached their village, but the rest of them managed to escape. Unfortunately, they escaped capture only to face life in a camp with terrible living conditions. There was a lack of clean water and very little food to eat, which was provided by UNICEF. Life in the camp was his entire childhood. Finally, in 2009, he and his family returned to their village in Ogur. Moses told me he was scared to return, but the camps were closing and they had to leave.

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Again, they escaped life in the camp only to face the struggle of starting over their lives on abandoned, overgrown land. Since then, Moses and his mother make a living through subsistence agriculture while his two siblings are in boarding school (through CPU sponsorships). “This is how we have been living ever since we returned,” he said. He typically eats one meal a day, often with stretches of going hungry when there is not enough food to eat. “What do you remember about life before the war?” I asked him. Echoing the reply I’ve heard from so many northern Ugandans, he replied, “It was good.” Now, despite the challenges of post-conflict recovery, Moses still says he is doing fine.

When I asked him about how the training program is going, Moses was enthusiastic. He told us he has been learning new skills he didn’t have before, and the consensus among his friends in the program is that it has been useful and new information. Every time I hear this from students, I am both pleased and surprised. I’m glad the program is making a real impact in the lives of people who really need it, but it is still shocking to me how these young subsistence farmers can still be unfamiliar with basic crop management techniques. Our pre-tests are confirming what the students are saying. “Most of our learners do not know the basics,” Calvin said when he was looking over a cabbage management pre-test with an average score of 20% (it was a multiple choice test). Hopefully, our post-test data will show good progress, but even if a student retains no new information from the program whatsoever, at least they will leave with a full belly and a generous supply of seeds for their household and their neighbors.

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Because educational opportunities are so rare and coveted in the community, it’s easy to see how much students care about the course. For example, a student named Moris showed up sick to class one day. With severe stomach pains, he put his head down on the desk and didn’t eat lunch. He was trying to complete the pre-test, which Calvin gives orally since many students are illiterate in both Langi and English. During the test, Moris’s face was contorted with pain and he had tears on his cheeks. Saskia stopped Calvin and they took Moris outside. Calvin had to explain to Moris that it was okay if he missed the pre-test — his health was more important. We were able to get Moris some medicine from a nearby drugstore, and our very kind food service provider drove him home on his boda. Moris was fine in class the next day. I was amazed to see him there again the next day, but even more surprised that he had walked all the way to Coorom with such pain just so he wouldn’t miss class.

Later that day, another student demonstrated to me just how important the program is for these students. A girl named Shannon got a scholarship to go back to school, an opportunity she could not refuse, so she dropped out of the program. However, her mom Grace showed up this week to take her place. She would take notes and convey the information back to their family.

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I am amazed by this dedication and desire to learn. Jane said something to me today that helped me understand why: “Once you have addressed the issue of food, you are addressing so much with rehabilitation and empowerment. You are addressing nutrition, self-esteem, livelihood, health — even these people who have no status in the community are being given the opportunity to learn.”

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At the end of the week, we distributed packets of cabbage seeds. Saskia visited Sharon’s home for some filming, and saw that she had already created her own cabbage nursery bed for her new seeds, just as we had done together in class.

We’re busy preparing for our last week on the ground, which will be hectic as we aim to fit our nutrition and seed saving curriculum into the last five class sessions. Despite the many challenges of daily life on the ground, which can leave us worn thin some days, I always feel strengthened by a visit to the field and interactions with our amazing students. Things are growing here.

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