Uganda project visit (2) by Jane Best

Moving on to Soroti in Uganda – March 2012

  • Morungatuny re-settlement project run by M-Proj – Resettlement Kits for Returnees from Morgunatuny
  • Going to Soroti
  • Introduction to project
  • Impact of funding
  • Beneficiaries’ stories
  • Imelda Asalo’s homestead
  • Making a difference
  • Distilling in the Acholi Quarter

From Kitgum I moved on to Soroti. This flight was on a slightly larger plane – Cessna 208 Caravan with seats for 12 people. Again it was a great flight. From the air you can see clearly how sparsely populated the country is and how few trees there are. You can see flecks of white everywhere – not snow, but cotton that has blown off bushes, trucks or whatever.

The river Nile looks amazing from the air – it is legendary in the history of Africa – really impressive.

Soroti has a tarred runway and lots of buildings. It was the pilot training centre but has fallen into disuse so there was no ground staff anywhere.

Soroti is in the Teso region in north-east Uganda and has experienced trouble from several factions: the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) mentioned in my previous blog post, the Uganda People’s Army (UPA) and the Karamojong cattle raiders from the north. The UPA insurgency was short-lived; the LRA has left Uganda and the Karamojong raiders have been causing less problems recently with cattle raiding (and they have fewer arms).

So here people are also returning home.

M-Proj has been assisting people from Morungatuny camp to re-settle in their villages. We drove to Morungatuny (about 1 hour) and met with leaders of the various communities. Four villages were selected for support: Achele (125 households), Ateuso (78 households), Aboket (89 households) and Omunyi (75 households).

David who is a volunteer with M-Proj was very excited that someone from RIJ was visiting and he, alone, made me feel our work is so worthwhile. David told me some of the history of the area: 1986 the UPA wrought havoc, 1994 there was a drought which led to famine and in 2003 the LRA entered the Teso region on 15 June at a place 8km from Morgunatuny. There were massacres and crops uprooted. So more people fled to Morungatuny camp swelling the numbers to over 24,000.

David was thrilled when M-Proj secured funding from RIJ to fund re-settlement kits.

Later David took us to the house he has been constructing – a small two-room brick structure – where his wife Agnes served us lunch of rice, cassava and boiled chicken. All the meat cooked in the rural areas is cut with the bones and quite difficult to eat.

I heard time and again that support provided through RIJ funding enabled people to send their children to school. This is clearly incredibly important and to be admired. People with almost nothing to live on and very basic housing put huge emphasis on schooling. Uganda has a policy of Universal Primary Education but this is not happening and it costs quite a lot to send their children to school. The schools are basic but well kept and have a prominent place in the villages.

One man was thrilled with the re-settlement kits – he said that his children had malaria and the hospital costs amounted to 120,000 shillings/4,000 yen which is a huge amount to someone who has no income. Since he received the kits, which include a mosquito net, his children have not suffered again and he has put the money he saved to their schooling.

To put costs into perspective, a teacher earns about 200,000 shillings a month before tax – when they get paid!

We went to visit Imelda Asalo’s homestead in Aboket. Imelda told us how much she benefited from the re-settlement kits – a slight woman, she stood up and said she is a stronger person as a result. She harvested groundnuts and cowpeas with the seeds provided and she showed us her abundant stocks of both. As a result of being able to sell some of the harvest she is now able to pay school fees and hospital fees – and buy a goat or two. In addition, she has helped 4 of her neighbours.

The shovel and pick-axe in the kit meant she has been able to dig a deep pit latrine, thus improving sanitation. (In Ateuso village, they have increased the number of pit latrines from 10 to 62.)

Imelda then went on to form a community group of 50 people who make micro-loans to the villagers.

It was clear from Imelda and other people in the community that the kits have made a huge difference to people’s lives and given them the confidence to re-settle in their homesteads.

The villages are very spread out  – each homestead being a cluster of three or four mud huts and access between them is narrow bush paths. In the dry season, this is easy access but not so easy in the rains.

The nearby camp of Obalanga has a population of about 30,000 people and few people have returned home from this camp. It is another case of ‘one leg in the camp and one leg in the village’. People are building houses in between the camp huts so it is growing up into a town in its own right – it really looked like a wild west town. It was the scene of dreadful massacres when Kony’s LRA entered in 2003 and people found bodies when digging their land – there are mass graves in the camp, some with 15 to 20 bodies in one grave.

The next day we drove south from Soroti to Mbale. The roads around Soroti are very good – except for the road to Mbale – there were potholes all the way. 100 km drive took us 4 hours! The drive took us past Lake Kyoga and across vast wetlands down towards Mount Elgon. Driving in Uganda is not the best but the potholes ensure that no-one goes very fast in that area!

The roads in Mbale are generally in worse condition than in Soroti. Apparently this is due to corruption (mostly tribal conflict) in Mbale.

In Mbale we visited a place called the Acholi Quarter – basically an IDP camp for people from the Acholi region. We went with Christine who works with M-Proj. Christine has been giving assistance to people in the camp – mostly widows – by providing goats and concentrating on sanitation (apparently with some success as there was little rubbish around and there are latrines). The camp wreaks of the smell of distilling. Everywhere people, mostly women, are distilling the local brew known as warachi. Huge barrels of molasses are turned into an alcoholic beverage – heavy and dangerous work. The men are mostly drunk all the time and this affects the women and children too. As a result domestic violence is high. This is a very sad result of traumatised people, displaced from their homes and living in a place where they are not welcome. On the positive side, the widows I met were thrilled with their goats – they can sell the offsprings, but more importantly they have something that is their own.

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