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Greetings from Uganda
  by Mary Edgar  
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First I want to thank everyone who helped me and the project during the summer. Cooking for the Harvest Dinner - helping me sell crafts - buying crafts - donating - making tea - playing music - and all those other things that are invaluable. Thanks to everyone from me, but more especially, from the women of WENDWOA, here in Koboko.

Leaving home in the snow was a challenge, but I arrived safely in Uganda after an otherwise uneventful journey - only to find when I arrived in Koboko that things were missing - stolen from my carryon bag at the hotel (probably) in Kampala. I lost 2 cameras, my laptop adapter, internet modem and also various cables. Nothing could be replaced in Koboko so I had to return to Kampala and now I've replaced one camera and the adapter and modem. I felt really isolated without my laptop and internet so now I'm happier! The other problem has been my work visa which I was told I had to have this time - the paperwork seems to have been lost in the Internal Affairs office. I'm hoping things will sort themselves out.

When I arrived in Koboko I found t h a t the area around the WENDWOA compound was occupied by refugees from D.R. Congo as a reception centre for the refugees and periodically they moved on to an established refugee camp at the other side of Koboko. The problems in this area of Congo have quietened down and now the refugees have stopped coming and the reception centre has closed. Just a few days after it closed problems started in South Sudan - so now Koboko is getting refugees from there. There are a lot of Ugandans in Juba (S. Sudan's capital) - some have returned, but many are missing. We are hoping the missing ones are safe.

We have a Japanese student here again, teaching the students in the vocational school computer and English. There has been a disaster with the computers since four arrived three years ago. One was stolen, another 'disappeared' - presumed stolen, but not really understanding how it happened. The third one refuses to work. We have taken it to a computer expert who seems to be baffled by it's problem. The last one here at the school works well as long as there is constant power - the battery is completely dead! There have been 5 students sharing, and it has worked okay. Another laptop was given last year, but it went to a university student - even here university students can't really manage without a laptop!

I can't find a picture of Kengo teaching the computer - and everyone has now gone home for Christmas so I can't take one - I can only find one of Kengo acting 'silly' with one of the students! Kengo is a student from Ashinaga, which is a Japanese organization for orphans and they work with orphans when they come here, to Uganda. He has a special empathy for the students.

Thanks for the medical supplies! The doctor, Keifa, is thrilled to see all the medicine and other medical supplies - and many WENDWOA members have benefited already. Kiefa was a little overwhelmed - of course many of the items he has had to make do without - and much of the packaging is new to him so things were difficult to recognize - but he took all the information leaflets and is studying them!

I was happy to see the goats again! A 'batch' is being taken out to be tethered in an unfenced patch of grass and weeds for the morning. In the afternoon they will be free to graze the field. Already the dry season is making grass scarce.

The goats had a few health problems when I was away. The goat keeper quit and the people left to take care of them didn't know that the goats shouldn't get some medication when they were pregnant. Many aborted - most distressing and disappointing. Things seem to be under control again and now, with a new caring goat keeper who we hope will stay.

We have had 5 goats donated from Canada and we are going to give them to a family to help improve their lives - with the understanding that the first female born will be given to another such family. This plan is encouraging members to contribute to the organization and help - when the recipients of the goats have been chosen, we'll let you know!

Before starting workshops we had a planning meeting, of course, where we tried to assess what we had been doing over the years and what was still lacking. We felt that while many women had benefited from learning handcrafts, many should be able to improve their life and income a little more than they had. We have had entrepreneurial workshops too to help with this, but still, women should be more successful than they seem to be. It was suggested by one of the sympathetic community minded politicians who is on the Board of Trustees of WENDWOA that the women were still suffering from the effects of the war - it seems to be difficult for them to do more than 'react' to situations, and planning ahead even a little is difficult. During these discussions we decided to adapt the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop to a sharing of war experiences. We talked of what war is, the causes of war, and how it affects people, communities and life. What peace actually means was also discussed, as well as reconciliation.

We spent one day discussing these things - there were 30 participants, mostly women, but some men. We had the most amazing revelations. So many of the women had been raped during the war and during their time in the 'bush' in exile. Stories were heart wrenching.

One woman had three sets of twins - all the children were very young - and she was also pregnant - probably with twins. The husband was a soldier, but he was at home at the time that word came that the 'enemy' was coming and they should go to the barracks, some miles away, for safety. The wife took one child on her back, and one on her hip, together with some food and other necessities. The husband put the remaining four children in a box and tied it on to a bicycle, which he rode / pushed. They went as fast as they could, but it wasn't very fast with all the children and luggage. They came to a place where there was an obvious ambush coming up - the husband stopped, took the children off the bicycle together with other things, and told his wife he was going to bicycle to the barracks - he wasn't going to die because of the children. So now the wife was left to face whatever came - there was no way she could move with all the small children.

The husband arrived at the barracks and evidently had a pang of conscience about leaving his family - but his fellow soldiers reassured him and told him not to worry - he could always find another wife and have more children...

Meanwhile the woman, stranded with her 6 children, was found by the enemy soldiers. The soldiers wanted to shoot the boy children - but the highest ranking officer there was compassionate and prevented it. She was asked who had left her there - and she said it was someone she didn't know who was helping her, and then left because she was tired and couldn't continue walking with the children. She didn't know where he had gone. She was protecting her husband - if she had disclosed the information she knew she would have endangered him and his colleagues. He, her husband, hadn't minded leaving his wife and children in danger...

This story was an example of how women were left to deal with all the problems... and how the men only thought of themselves in these situations. This is by no means the worst story - others involved rape and torture - even in places that were supposed to be secure and safe.

As you can imagine this workshop was a very emotional one - when discussing it afterwards with participants they said they felt relieved to tell their stories and to hear other peoples experiences. It made them realize that they weren't over the experiences and that it gave them courage to do things for themselves that would contribute to lasting peace. Amnesty came for the various groups in the West Nile area in the early 2000s. Since then they said they feel that they were waiting for help - but their new realization that waiting for help was useless - helping themselves is the only way. So - let's hope they will get the courage to take advantage of the opportunities we are giving them by teaching hand crafts which are salable in Uganda and other things. There are some women who have really done well by making and selling these baskets made from bale strapping - one woman has sent her orphan grandchildren to school - others built a house - all from making and selling these baskets. I'm hoping the workshop women take courage in knowing that it is possible to improve their lives by their own effort... with a little help from us too, of course. The workshop included the making of these baskets as well as life beads (made from recycled paper).

One of the WENDWOA members, Winnie, attended a course in Permaculture in Arusha, Tanzania, in June this year - thanks to the generosity of Yarmouth Monthly Meeting. She returned with lots of enthusiasm to put what she learned into practice. She has already started compost in three of the districts. During this workshop she discussed with the participants the various topics she learned about, and suggested that if any members were interested in something specific, they should ask her and/or WENDWOA for a workshop so she could share her knowledge The topics that interested many people are water conservation, insect control using local plants, growing in sacks in the dry season, and compost making. One of the topics she learned about was mushroom growing.

There is a demand for oyster mushrooms it seems, and Winnie learned how to grow them in her course. Unfortunately she didn' t discover where to purchase the various supplies she needs in Uganda - and when searching we found an organization who has supplies but who also teaches mushroom growing. We decided to ask their help. They to supply us, but wanted to come and teach us too - which they did at this workshop. Winnie now knows where to buy the various things necessary - and 4 other people also learned how to grow them too. We were told that oyster mushrooms have great medicinal value - I don't know if it's true or not, but the facilitator who came reported on testimonials people had given where oyster mushrooms were credited with curing all sorts of diseases, and helping (not curing) in the treatment of AIDS. I don't know if this is true, but if there is a market for them, it seems like mushrooms are a profitable thing to grow, and the capital needed to start is very low, which makes it easier.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas - and New Year. I will be in Koboko for Christmas - I don't think we'll be having turkey this year... last year we were given one. Maybe a duck this year - we have a number of them waddling around the compound! I know I will be thinking of you all when I'm eating my Christmas dinner! Sheila Havard is coming to Uganda from Coldstream so I think we will be spending New Year together in the Rwenzori Mountains in the west of Uganda...

The refugees from DR Congo came with a dog - and when they moved to the main camp it has stayed behind with us here. When it arrived it was lame and very unhealthy looking - but now it's recovered and has become the WENDWOA dog. He doesn't have a name yet - any ideas?

Thanks go to everyone for your help to the women and their families here in West Nile... they wish you a very merry Christmas and Happy 2014!

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