As I conclude my first week in Uganda, only one word comes to mind to describe everything I just experienced. It's a word my group leader, Mike Hafner, used to express his amazement at the work done by the women's group: "Wow!"
After a 20-hour-plus trip including two flights, we finally arrived in Entebbe, Uganda, late at night on Tuesday, May 22. The next day we hit the road to Lira, Uganda, at 6 a.m., and I could not believe my eyes. I saw so many people awake, on the streets, walking to work. Talk about true dedication.
On our way to Lira, we stopped to meet some of the Restoration Gateway team. We got a good view of the Nile.
At 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, we headed to Field of Hope's second agriscience training of the year on weed management, fertilizer application, and pest and disease control in Amolatar District. Before arriving, we stopped to check out the women's demonstration garden. Half of the garden was done using the best known practices, and the other half was done using minimum practices.
Walter and Pastor Sam at the Amolatar District maize demonstration garden.
Each of the four districts (Amolatar, Dokolo, Apac and Alebtong) has established a ½ acre plot. These gardens are used demonstrate the most effective planning, growing and harvesting practices. All of the inputs (hybrid seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, etc.) were covered by Field of Hope, while labor and subsequent costs were donated by the gardeners. The plot is also used for training demonstrations. Proceeds from the sale of the plot's crops will go toward the inputs for next season's demo garden.
Maize grows in Uganda.
I am amazed at how well the maize is growing compared with what I saw on the drive to the district.
Before the training began, the women spoke about their demonstration garden. They were all so happy about how it turned out.
They were asked to share what they had learned from their demonstration garden, and of course they were all so eager to do so. Some mentioned how they had no idea that fertilizer or spraying even existed. Others mentioned how they used to plant in a zigzag and now had learned about planting in rows. They mentioned how much easier it is to weed now and how pretty the garden looks. Also, some mentioned that they learned they need only one seed per hole, not two.
When we arrived at Dokolo District, we were greeted with some hot tea, chapatti and mendazzi.
Throughout the next few days, we headed to Dokolo, Apac and Alebtong districts to deliver the same training to the other women's groups. Through the interactions and questions of these women and their husbands, I could tell how willing they are to learn about improving their agricultural practices.
What a wonderful experience it was to be received with welcome songs in Apac District: "We are happy to see our visitors. We welcome you. Thank you for coming. You bring us peace."
At one of the districts, the demonstration garden did not do as well because of the armyworms; however, the women were so optimistic about the next season. Some went to the extent of thanking Field of Hope for providing the inputs and trainings with all of these new technologies. One woman said, "Although our demonstration garden failed, we are now rich in knowledge."
During training at Alebtong District, we took a break to refocus by singing a song: "God is good. He loves us. Jesus is good. He loves us."
After my first week here in Uganda, my heart is overflowing with joy. These women recognize the need for change and improvement. Their passion for agriculture and desire to change excite me! Amazing things are happening in Uganda.
Iliana Rodriguez is a 2018 MIAP-Noble Fellow serving in agricultural development roles in Uganda. Rodriguez is from Laredo, Texas, and is a student in the Master of International Agriculture Program at Oklahoma State University, where she focuses on agriculture outreach, extension and education. This fellowship is sponsored in part by the Noble Research Institute.