The noises of Kampala faded away as I and ten other people made our north at the beginning of this week. Polluted air became clean. Brick buildings and homes turned into mud huts. Concrete and sidewalks disappeared and fields of maize and rice began stretching across the landscape.
In this past week, I have learned more about Ugandan history and agriculture than I expected. I saw shifts in practices at smallholder farms, less diversity in products, and more apparent need for simple trainings to boost production.
One person who has stepped up to meet that need for Ugandans is Brandy Young. A farm girl herself, Brandy knows the importance of agriculture. But what is better is that she knows the importance of agriculture training for Ugandan farmers. She co-founded Field of Hope as a way to help those in need through agriculture missions.
Brandy listens as Mr. Sam tells us of the history and current setup of Otino Waa Children's Village.
Field of Hope is a nonprofit organization that partners with churches to provide farmer trainings to communities around Lira, Uganda. Field of Hope's largest contribution is drip irrigation systems to children's homes in the area.
As I traveled this week, I saw how loved Brandy is by those farming in villages and those working in children's homes that benefit from Field of Hope.
While traveling through northern Uganda, I saw how children's homes are doing an amazing job of not only raising children who might not have survived otherwise but also giving them a fantastic education and providing opportunities to succeed for the future. Unfortunately, this is not the norm for most of Uganda. Several homes don't have the same quality of teachers or access to resources like the places we had the privilege of visiting.
An Otino Waa student studies as we prepared a panel discussion between Field of Hope and agriculture students.
Our first stop was Otino Waa Children's Village right outside of Lira. It is an amazing little setting that has homes for the kids, a school, a student-run garden with drip irrigation, and a chicken production project. It also has a small string of cafes that the students can contribute to and work in to learn valuable skills such as cooking or tourism.
Future agriculture leaders show off their garden and explain the drip irrigation system.
The gates of Otino Waa advertise products produced by the cafe.
We sat in on a weed science class (something I'm familiar with) and listened as Patrick provided a lesson sourced from memory and notes he took while in college. Another sad reality for many in Uganda: textbooks are rare and most teachers must rely on information they learned during their time in higher education. This can result in outdated or missing information. Even when doing their best, sometimes teachers can't help but be lacking in resources.
Patrick teaches students how to classify different weeds around Uganda.
That's where some of my team members come into the picture. We spent the week visiting several homes in order for curriculum writers from Vivayic to get a sense of Uganda's needs.
They learned by asking questions of teachers and students. I had the honor of watching this process take place. As they gathered information, you could see wheels working in the minds of Alex and Whitney to build an agricultural curriculum to benefit teachers specifically in Uganda. I may never see the end result of their work, but I know in my heart that Alex and Whitney's skills will be beautifully used to bless those working hard in Uganda.
Brandy and Field of Hope volunteers meet with Lianna to discuss curriculum needs.
After thinking that I couldn't see anything better than Otino Waa, we went back into Lira in order for Evie to conduct a farmer training. I have never experienced a farmer training on the ground, but throughout college I have seen photos and videos. This one training put all others I have seen to shame. We estimated that around 300 farmers attended to hear Evie teach about basic farming practices and ways to improve their yields. The hunger for education is unreal. The attendance number really spoke for how much more training is needed. Farmers were taking notes and asking a lot of questions.
Evie leads a farmer training as people crowd around to hear.
While it was a great turnout, there are many distractions and inconveniences that trainers have to work against. With such a large crowd, you could tell that some were not able to hear. Others might not have been able to read the handouts that were provided because they were in English. There was also a celebration taking place at the location where the training was held, which caused distractions. With all these struggles and more, there were still so many who were greatly helped by Evie's efforts. It's not always a perfect scenario, but Field of Hope is able to roll with the punches and make the best of every situation.
Throughout the week we visited two other homes: Restoration Gateway in Karuma, and Barlonyo.
Restoration Gateway is one of the greatest achievements I have personally seen in development. Hidden away in the African bush along the banks of the Nile, green roofed homes circle up in "pods."
One of the houses that makes up a "pod" circle.
Founded by Dr. Tim and Janice McCall in 2005, Restoration Gateway (RG) has managed to spread like wildfire across the bush. There are three pods, which each contain six houses that eight children and a momma call home. On the premises, you can also find a school for the children, biblical training classes, auditorium/gym and a medical facility that is currently undergoing construction to expand and provide for more people. In the future it will be a large fully functional hospital that not only trains medical professionals but can also provide medical care for the RG community and others in Karuma. There is a dental facility with one dentist working full-time. In addition, there are fields that provide food and an agricultural demonstration garden that agriculture students can use to apply what they learn from an agriculture class taught by Lianna Scholz. Dr. Tim and Janice aren't done yet. There are more plans for a retreat area, children's camp, fishery demonstration area, university, and to top it off: a first-class resort.
A student enters the library at Restoration Gateway.
I was put to work at RG when we got to spend time with some of the agriculture students in the garden. I spent about an hour pulling weeds out of carrots, spinach and watermelons. I had two young men watching me closely to make sure I didn't pull any baby vegetables up instead of weeds. We discussed what they liked about agriculture and sports. I don't know if I will ever say this again, but I wish I could have spent more time weeding in the garden with them.
Field of Hope team members Brian and Tobin explore the garden and drip irrigation system.
We sat in on Lianna's Senior 1 class the next day to ask questions and learn more from them. They answered questions about what they like about agriculture, what they want to learn more about and how they can use their knowledge in the future.
In every scenario from Otino Waa to RG, I was floored by the students. By just sitting and listening I could tell that the students involved in agriculture know the importance of what they are learning. They are smart, driven and big dreamers. I am honored to have met the future leaders of Uganda. I believe that if the country continues to pour into their youth, great things will continue to happen.
Carrie and I had lunch with Momma Florence, one of the 12 amazing mommas that raise children at RG.
In a sermon a few weeks ago, the pastor said this about Uganda: "We can't do everything, but we can do something." I wholeheartedly believe this is true. I can't provide for every need but after working with Brandy and the Field of Hope team, I am inspired to find my "something." It might be teaching, it might be research or it might be weeding a garden. Whatever it is, I am honored and want to humbly come beside those working for a better Uganda.
Farmers work to plant cassava in fields at Restoration Gateway.
Thank you Brandy and Field of Hope for allowing me to learn with you and from you. I am full of hope, and I'm ready to go to work.
Farmers examine a field and ask Evie how they can improve their yield in the future.
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.