I have been writing a lot about my first days and first experiences. Now is the time to write about my last days as my time in Uganda comes to a close.
I have never been to Africa, and two months felt like an eternity when I set out on this journey. I questioned how I would cope with being away from my family, and I honestly doubted that I could make it to the end.
Now, two months later, I am clinging to every moment I have left. I am hugging my new friends tighter and pushing away any thoughts of leaving. I wanted my last days at work to be filled with hard work, love and laughter. That is exactly what I got.
I began the week still in my managerial position, so I set about assigning tasks and rolling with the punches as other things were asked of me. True to Ugandan culture, we had an unexpected issue and had to hand sort through almost 300 kilograms of beans. We had to remove beans that were eaten by weevils or ruined by moisture.
Beans at the bottom of my hand are discarded due to discoloration from moisture or holes from weevils. Beans at the top are good quality.
Watoto keeps a high standard for everything produced and distributed. Some of the beans didn't quite meet this standard which meant using valuable weeding time for hand sorting instead.
I saw first-hand how important it is to have clean, tightly sealed storage and mechanization. The storage is a solid structure, but there are many opportunities for loss due to bugs and rodents. Machines that sort beans quickly are too expensive, and the maintenance would be difficult in the rural area of Lubbe. This leaves only hand sorting, which is the custom way that Africa has survived on thus far. It's tough and tedious, but it works. We were just lucky to finish the work just as rain began to fall.
The group picks out the bad beans and places them on the bag in the center.
Eventually all the beans were separated and the rest of the day could continue on as scheduled. Instead of constantly worrying about being behind on work goals, this job has taught me to continue the work without panic and rely on the hands of those who have known this farm since its creation. I won't be around to see the final goal of weeding and replanting being met, but I know that the farm is in great hands after I leave. I am just visiting after all.
I did take one day off from the farm to visit Buloba, which is the site of the poultry sustainable project for Watoto.
Week old Watoto chicks
Andrew was gracious enough to show me around the area to see the final project piece that fits together to help run the agriculture sector of Watoto. Unfortunately, my time in Uganda is during a time of restoration and changes for the poultry farm. This means that I didn't actually get to see the farm up and running. Instead, I am able to see where the farm has started and what changes are being made for the future.
I did get to see where the birds for this next season of production are currently being raised. Seven thousand day-old chicks were delivered to Markmat Agroprocessors in Mukono, Uganda. They will live here until they are three months old. After that time, they will be transported to Buloba to live out their lives in a newly renovated barn.
Just a portion of the 7,000 chicks to be raised at Buloba.
Back at Buloba, there is currently only one structure that is used to house birds and a separate structure that is used as a feed mill. Andrew described the current process and some of the challenges associated with the current setup. The long barn, for instance, is difficult to keep track of the stock numbers as well as watch for sick birds that could contaminate others. Andrew and his team have come up with some simple changes that can improve the system, including simple gates built to divide the barn up into six sections. It's cheap and allows for easier maintenance of 7,000 birds. That is music to any producer's ears both in Uganda and at home.
The empty poultry barn undergoing renovations.
I was also able to see the feed mill that provides feed for the chickens as well as goats at Suubi goat farm. This is a brilliant way to cut some costs when operating many different sustainable agriculture projects.
Auger and two of the three silos used at Buloba for grain storage and feed production.
The feed mill is also undergoing large renovations. During the first construction of the poultry farm, the feed mill was equipped with all the grinders, hoppers, bins and augers that it needs, but they weren't necessarily placed in ideal locations. Because of this, a fellow international volunteer, Sid, has been working with Andrew to restructure the building and make things run smoothly. The feed mill is expected to be up and running in January, and I just wish I could be here to see the final product. Everything that was once just sitting idly by will now be used to quickly make clean, quality feed.
Grinders and bins not in use that will be updated in the future.
After my venture with poultry, I attended the monthly agriculture meeting to represent Lubbe farm. As manager, I presented updates of Lubbe and what had been done at the farm in the past month. These monthly meetings are great because it keeps everyone accountable. I have been able to sit and watch as the whole team discusses ideas and corrects and encourages one another. That is what makes a successful team, and it proves that each section is well-thought-out and researched, which sets the projects up for success.
Discussion of sales and production during monthly meeting.
This all led up to my final day. It was everything I had hoped for. I addressed the team one last time and let them know that I'll be going home. They asked me to stay, which just touched my heart. It feels good to know that they have enjoyed my company just as I have loved getting to know them. After fighting back tears, I thanked the group for welcoming me into their community and gave my final assignments. It was a full day harvesting sweet potatoes and drying beans. A perfect send-off after two months of work.
Beans are laid out to dry in front of the storage area.
Loading up packed sweet potatoes to weigh and deliver.
I dug up this sweet potato that was as big as my forearm.
I was able to get my hands dirty one last time while sharing food, laughs and stories. A piece of my heart will be left with the people at Lubbe, Suubi and Buloba. There have been so many people that have come into my life to help me grow, and I can never thank them enough. It was such a blessing to end my time on a high note just working as hard as possible. I will be leaving Uganda with dirty hands and a full heart.
Lacey Roberts is a 2016 Noble-Watoto Fellow working at Watoto Child Care Ministries in Uganda. Roberts is from Gail, Texas, and has one semester left in the master of international agriculture program at Oklahoma State University, where she focuses on international development and extension education.