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Sink, Swim ... or float

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Posted Nov. 3, 2016

The first day of managing a farm for Watoto is not nearly as a scary the second time around.

Like before, I was hoping and wishing for a simple, steady week of management, but of course this is Africa. Nothing ever goes just as you plan. Luckily, I feel more like a seasoned veteran able to embrace the nature of Uganda and all it has to offer.

I showed up Monday to a drizzly setting at the farm. Every morning the crew gathers in a circle to have devotions, and then the supervisor (me) divides the groups into tasks. During my week with Okello, we put together a time table of work to be done and goals to meet during his time away. With that and some inspirational words in hand, I began assigning jobs.

Upon completion, I smiled to myself proud that I had gotten the point across. So I thought. I forgot to take into account that a majority of the group doesn't understand English, and I didn't allow enough time for my helper to translate. Rookie mistake. John, my right hand man, did his best to clear up all that I had assigned.

I allowed time for questions, and one of the group leaders spoke up. He began asking me about extra harvesting of sweet potatoes and packing of beans that had to be done. Apparently, several changes had been made while I was away during the weekend. As things go, this was just one set of many challenges that I would face … on my first day.

bean distributionDistributing beans into packs to be sent to homes.

The rest of the week I had various other changes and challenges to work through. It brought on a real sense of sink or swim. These impromptu experiences have been the perfect training tool to teach me how to apply problem-solving and communication skills. I have had many chances to let the inconveniences take over and sink, but with the help of the other workers I feel like we have really been able to rise above and tackle the challenges head-on this week.

measured packsThe packs are measured to ensure each house receives the same amount.

Throughout my time this past week, I learned another valuable lesson. Sometimes it's not a choice between sinking or swimming. There are opportunities to relax and just float.

After arranging for the beans and sweet potatoes to be picked up and delivered to the village homes, the workers had a few days to catch up on the original goals set for weeding sweet potatoes.

Since it is the start of the rainy season, unexpected showers must be accounted for when planning for work. The community members can work in the rain, but not when it rains as hard as it does here.

weeding muddy fieldThe weeding process moves slower in the muddy field.

I can't control the weather, but I am proud to say that I learned to relax and rely on the people to get the job done. During one day of catch-up work, a shower came pouring down. My first reaction was to frantically try to keep my head above water and push everyone to work impossibly fast.

flooded sweet potato fieldPart of the sweet potato fields are flooded from the rain.

Instead, John encouraged me to take a breath and sit back to watch. The workers picked up the pace and met the goal, but they did it in their own way. Instead of desperately trying to swim, I just floated and let the workers naturally do their job. In the end, the work was done well, I was less stressed, and the workers were happy. Sometimes it really is better to just float.

climbing treeJohn had an idea to help me relax. He taught me to climb trees to find ripe jackfruit.

We wrapped up the week with a few trips to the Suubi goat farm in order to weed and spray the maize field that was planted a few weeks ago in the forage fields. Like many places in Lubbe, pests have begun to take a significant toll on the maize. The area was large, and I was tempted to stress over how we were to get it all accomplished in time we had scheduled.

indication of pestsIndicators of pests can be seen throughout the field.

ants on maizeAnts find the maize plants to be a good source of food.

With my new lessons in mind, I assigned some tasks and ensured the community group leaders understood. Then I just stood in the background watching them work like a well-oiled machine. I had time to check the plots, visit with Patrick at the goat farm to understand his desires for the field, and continue to build relationships with the community workers. It was another successful few days of floating and letting the nature of the work carry the team to success.

suubi workersThe workers moved quickly as they weeded the maize field at Suubi.

In the end, my time serving as manager might have been the best thing for me here in Uganda. There's nothing like complete immersion in the work to really learn to sink, swim or, in my case, float.

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