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Challenges and Flexibility

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Posted Oct. 20, 2016

In Uganda, no plans you make are certain. I have learned this lesson repeatedly in the past two weeks.

People are late. Traffic slows operations. Products don't always arrive on time. Repairs don't always happen when needed.

After my week with Field of Hope in northern Uganda, I was originally scheduled to spend a few days at the goat farm. Then, I was to move to begin working at the Watoto sustainability project in Lubbe. As everything goes here, those plans changed about four times. Instead of moving, I was able to spend the last two weeks continuing my work at the goat farm in the beautiful Suubi village.

Patrick, the manager of the goat farm, was back from his leave, so my managerial duties were passed back to him. When he returned, I was relieved to find that my time of management went smoothly and no one had complaints. Not too bad for jumping in quickly. True to the farm, there were even some new kids at the barn to greet my return.

With Patrick back, I was able to focus more on managing the farm records. I have several years of secretarial experience, but I never could have guessed that those skills would come in handy in Uganda. I can happily say that they were used often, and I truly believe that I was able to leave some lasting help at the farm.

In animal production, there are so many records to track. During my time of work, I realized that they had all these papers but no organization or storage. When looking for past records, you just had to hope for a stroke of luck to find it in one of the various stacks tucked away in drawers.

suubi filesFiles from Suubi farm from 2014-2016. A place where I could use some of my skills.

When I wasn't teaching computer skills, I spent several days designing and demonstrating a simple system to keep the papers organized and easy to access. It truly stunned me how something simple could be so useful to the farm. But as everything goes in Africa, when I put in an order for materials to file all of the farm papers, they did not arrive in time. Yet another change in plans had to be made.

I left Patrick with full instructions and some inspiration. Now I can only hope that the system is implemented instead of just kept in a drawer as a good idea.

No day is ever the same at the farm, and my last week was full of nothing but surprises. Of course, this only meant more changes.

My one week at Suubi was extended again, and I had a new "last" week at the farm. During this time, it seemed like a week for dirty jobs. While the tasks weren't easy, I found it exciting to meet new challenges and truly fascinating to watch the creativity and resourcefulness of Ugandans as they worked through each problem.

I believe that every Ugandan is just born resourceful. When you lack certain resources, you learn to use things around you in an unconventional manner. If nothing can be found, you just make it yourself out of grass, trees, or anything nature provides.

The dirtiest job at the farm involved a blocked waste line that was used when cleaning the barn. The pens are cleaned daily in order to prevent diseases and provide a clean space for goats during the night. All this water and waste must go somewhere. The barn is built on a decline, and the water free flows through a built trench to the bottom of the hill the farm sits on. Very easy and virtually maintenance free … almost.

patrick clears drainPatrick works with a hoe to clear the drain.

During my time of management, I questioned what would happen if there was ever a blockage in the trench. I never expected to find out the answer.

Patrick and I spent an entire morning getting down and dirty trying to clear the blockage. The trench runs about 40 yards underground from one end to the other. This length created quite the challenge. Patrick used his resourcefulness to cut trees and jerry cans to find a solution. None could be found, so as a last resort we called maintenance, which cares for the homes in the village. They brought a 30-yard-long pipe that solved the problem after some digging and hauling water. After this job, I got to leave a little early to shower and wash my clothes. Thank goodness.

michael to the rescueMichael, with Watoto maintenance, comes to the rescue and clears the drain.

Yet again, we faced another problem the next day. A power washer that is used to clean the milking parlor was returned to Suubi after being used to clean the implements at another farm. Upon returning, not all of the parts were accounted for on the machine. It became a challenge that brought about another need for creativity and resourcefulness. I watched as Patrick and some workers fashioned a connector out of an old hose and plastic pieces found in a cabinet. This solution didn't fully work, so the final touch was added. An old compression bandage was taken off the hose. Previously it was being used to patch a hole; now it's used for the same job just in a new location. After a little ingenuity, the machine worked and the parlor was the cleanest I have seen yet during my time at the farm.

power washer mendUsing whatever necessary, the power washer was mended and ready to use.

washing milking parlorAuntie Jus using the power washer on the milking parlor.

For Ugandans, there always seems to be a solution. It might not always be the easiest or most logical, but it works. In my time at the farm, I have seen some unconventional uses of materials. It might not always be the prettiest, but I have so much respect for Ugandans. They are flexible, use what they have and just keep going.

The end of my last week at the farm was easy going. I gave out hugs, shook hands and fought back tears. I was able to personally thank Patrick for all that he has shown me. I am able to leave the farm inspired because of his influence. I gave one last squeeze to my baby goat Lacey. I secretly hope that the farm keeps her for milk production so a small part of me can always be there.

sandra and meSandra is always full of laughter. We got along so well that we even started dressing similar.

baby goatsI played with all the babies one last time.

lacey the goatSaying goodbye to baby Lacey. She's grown so much in the last four weeks.

After being as flexible as possible, it seems that I might have a plan for the next few weeks. My time at the goat farm is over, but this just means that I get to start a whole new chapter. I have new relationships to build and new things to learn. Sadly, in order to do that I must leave the beautiful village I have called home. I have come to love my walks, the monkeys and birds, and most of all the children in the village. A piece of my heart now permanently resides in Suubi with the children that treated me like family. How amazing it is that I have something so great here that makes is hard to say goodbye.

my girlsMy girls. They ran to see me and hug my legs every morning during my walk to work.

rowdy bunchA fun, rowdy bunch that was always outside my house ready to greet me in the evenings.

john and meJohn and I became good friends while living at Suubi.

About the Author

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.

Lacey Roberts
Noble-Watoto Fellow