ABOUT UGANDA AND THE PEOPLE
Uganda is located on the equator in the center of Africa with the Congo to the West and Kenya to the East. Beautiful Lake Victoria, the second largest fresh-water lake in the world, is situated on the South border. Uganda is very green with fertile land. Their seasons are the opposite of ours, with the cooler rainy growing season during our Summer, and the hot dry season during our Winter. Virtually every family has a garden, that provides their own food and perhaps a little to sell. They traditionally broadcast the seed on the top of the ground, and rain usually falls sufficiently for adequate crops. There are several types of animal safaris available, but my interest wasn't in the wildlife.
The people of Uganda love Americans! On our second day, enroute to their home in Soroti, we were at a gas station when my son said, "Mom, look over at 11:00 o'clock." There were two nicely dressed Uganda women in the back yard of the adjoining house smiling and blowing kisses. I was not yet ready to shake hands and greet everyone. How quickly I learned that I wanted to make a practice of shaking hands with everyone I met. Their smiles are like a burst of sunshine. Their handshake is a handclasp, then thumb clasp, and then a handclasp. I thought that had originated with gangs in New York City! The men show great respect by also clasping their right bicep with their left hand. The women curtsey, and sometimes even drop to their knees. My daughter-in-law cautioned me to accept that graciously, as they aren't worshipping a person, they are simply showing the greatest respect they can. I saw women and even grandmothers dropping to their knees when they would shake her hand, as they love her dearly.
The women have the habit of breaking into their high pitched "yi-yi-yi" trill when happy. I was told that in one Church we would attend, an older woman might trill during the service. I was not disappointed. Three times, even during a prayer, the woman gave a joyful trill. I was hoping to shake her hand after the service. She beat me to it. She ran down the aisle, hugged me, and was gone. What a treat! In the same service, a 1 year old baby was being held by his mama when he spotted me, a frightening Mzungu, sitting behind him. His eyes got wide, and he burst into tears! I found it interesting that the mothers wrap their babies in warm sweaters and blankets. I couldn't understand it. And finally, in the same service was a man who looked really frail and sickly. I was hoping he wouldn't want to shake my hand, but he did. At that moment, I learned to be gracious, and sincerely shook hands with all.
My son thinks the history of the English colonizing them in a kind manner is responsible for their friendly attitudes. Some other European countries were harsher in their treatment of African countries. Uganda has the unfortunate history of their own Idi Amin treating his own people in extremely cruelty. They now have long lasting stability from their Christian President Museveni, and English is the official government language. An uneasy truce was made with the brutal rebel group in Northern Uganda, the LRA in 2006. They had a long history of kidnapping children, putting the boys in their army and the girls into slavery. And so, there is a relative calm and healing about the country. However, we never drove anywhere at night.
The people are lovely. They are friendly but not begging. They are dignified and want to work for a living. Most are thin, not only from the scarcity of food, but from little protein in their diets. I did not observe starvation, but saw a lot of thin children with distended bellies. I was impressed with their erect posture. It is possible that women have such good posture because of carrying parcels and water cans on their heads since they were very young. They bend over from the hips to work in the fields, keeping their backs straight. I think we could learn from them to avoid back problems.
Family clans have a history of taking care of their own. They live on land their families have had for many generations. They are expected to share their wealth with others of their clan. Some people who come into money immediately start building a permanent house, which explains the number of partially finished homes in the area. Some people believe that it is foolish to spend money on a permanent house, because they only use their mud huts for sleeping. Of course, most of the people live that way because of the extreme poverty.
The economy is very poor, and jobs other than infrequent manual labor, are scarce. Day laborers can earn around $2 US per day, and the more skilled persons including teachers can earn around $4 per day. There is very little mechanization, so everything is done by hand. Even city water lines are dug by men swinging oversize hoe type implements. Plowing of fields is still done by oxen. I plan to hire a man with ox in the future when demonstrating improved agricultural techniques. Women were in the fields weeding with these same heavy hoes. I'm taking a lot of open pollinated (not hybrid) garden seeds so they can save their seed for future plantings, and hope to give out lighter weight garden tools.
Estimates of HIV positive are as high as 1/3 of the population. Uganda has recently been successful in lowering Aids deaths through an aggressive national campaign. Many clans now boast of the fact that they now require male circumcision among their members. It is estimated that over 50% of the people now embrace Protestant or Catholic Christianity, and so morality is being stressed. However, many men have died, and many widows are in difficult times trying to feed their children and keep them healthy with no employment available.
My son lives in the central District of Soroti. The land is very productive, but if a person went farther north or east, they would find less rainfall. The Veterinarian told me that ten years ago, rustlers went through Soroti District, and stole all the cows. Cows are considered a sign of wealth. It takes about 8 to 10 goats to trade for a cow. There were meat-type goats everywhere, but I didn't see any dairy goats. My son has been told that the people don't like goat's milk. We intend to disprove that attitude. People around the world think it is delicious. We believe that any widow with hungry children will thank God every time she milks her dairy goat. Since men consider it beneath their dignity to handle goats, we don't feel our dairy goats would be stolen.
I contacted Government Agriculture people in Soroti District and Mbale District (between Soroti and the capital city of Kampala). Through them, I got the names of two Veterinarians who work with crossbreeding dairy goats. The one Veterinarian who answered me turned out to live a few houses from my son in Soroti! Coincidence? I think not. Upon my further research, I decided to get the Anglo Nubian purebred goats, and not try to crossbreed European dairy goats with local goats. The Anglo Nubians are native to Africa. They produce offspring approximately every 9 months rather than the European seasonal 12 months, and have a higher incidence of multiple births. The Anglo Nubians are easy to identify with their "Roman" noses and long dangling ears.
Our first herd of bred female Anglo Nubians is being transported in from another District, and thus will cost much more than future generations of their offspring. It will be exciting when we start to give dairy goats to widows from this core herd within two years. On this trip, I will buy less expensive crossbred dairy goats from an English Charity group from another District. We can give these out immediately without the expense of the security fencing and shelter for our core herd.
My upcoming trip will help me identify herders who will take good care of our core herds. There are several groups I will meet with on this trip, including orphanages, widows' groups and hospitals that would have immediate need of the milk from the core herds. I will also be looking into water/well needs, education and skill training for furthering their chances of employment, improving agricultural techniques, and better marketing of their products. Our Christian Charity organization has seen a need, and developed plan to help these people -- one family at a time. You may contact us at www.helporphansandwidows.org
, or write to PO Box 9362, Rapid City SD 57709.