We (the people team here at innocent) had a lovely morning with the guys at Life Clubs last week.
As you can see, we were fully fuelled for some deep thinking after starting the morning with a scrumptious breakfast at the Life Clubs' base camp.
Nina guided us through a great exercise to ponder our past, present and future. Taking the time out to reflect helped us all realise what is most important and how much has and can change in only a matter of years.
It gave us some great areas of focus, ideas to consider for the future and left us full of energy and inspiration.
Thanks to Nina and everyone who made our day.
Hope Greeners Farm in Ngora is a training centre for farmers run by Helen Kongai, the Send A Cow Zonal Coordinator for eastern Uganda. It is here that I meet the remarkable Anna Grace, a woman like no other I've ever met before.
It’s 8am, I’ve just had breakfast, and I’m trying to shake off the ants that collected in my shoes and are now running up
my trouser legs, when out of the corner of my eye I see a woman bounding towards
me and waving her arms wildly, her face obscured by a huge grin. That woman is Anna Grace. She’s
64, and despite the fact that she left school at the age of 10 to get married,
she greets me in English. She says she might not get the chance to see me again
and she can’t let me go without giving me a message for everyone back at innocent.
Anna Grace is one of Send A Cow’s Peer Farmers and a member of one of the groups funded by the innocent foundation. Just listening to her speak makes you feel as though you could do anything in the world if you wanted to. The way she talks reminds you how exciting it is to be alive, and if I'd had internet access I wouldn't have been at all surprised to find myself signing up for the London Marathon, registering an Astrophysics degree at the Open University and booking myself in for a tattoo once she'd finished talking.
Here's what she had to say:
“When you go back to innocent I want you to tell all your friends that I, Anna Grace, love them. I LOVE them. I used to be so poor I didn’t even have clothes. When I went to the well everyone would leave me to pump the water by myself because I was so smelly. I only had one item of clothing and it was in tatters. I was disgusting and everyone hated me.
Noone would help me. Not even my husband, or his family. They left me to rot. But Send A Cow taught me the rules by which to live a healthy life. They taught me how to look after myself and be hygienic. To take pride in my body and keep it clean. They taught me to plant trees and crops to feed the cow and feed myself. They taught me to eat vegetables so I could be fit and strong.
Look at me. I’m 64 and I am strong. I can do whatever I want. I can run, I can dance...anything. Thank you, thank you all.”
And with that, she skips off back to her farm, laughing away to herself and leaving me to get back to the business of removing ants from my trousers. What a woman.
A couple of days ago I travelled to Ngora in Eastern Uganda to visit the Send A Cow projects the innocent foundation has funded. I'd been told the journey would take around 3 hours. It took 8 and a half hours, because roads in rural Uganda aren't so much roads as never ending farm tracks riddled with giant potholes and sneaky speed bumps. The journey was akin to going round and round on the Grand National at Blackpool pleasure beach in the baking sunlight, discovering every so often that pieces of the track are missing, closing your eyes and hoping for the best.
Luckily for me though, meeting the farmers from the innocent foundation projects was well worth the bone-rattling ride. And because they were all so grateful for our support, I got the VIP treatment and 50kgs of organic gifts to take back with me. Sadly they're not going to fit in my backpack, but I've been so inspired by their wonderful farms that one thing I will be taking home is the desire to start growing food of my own.
I got green oranges from Resty (that's her fame-hungry dad in the background).
Four years ago Resty became a widow, and as a consequence was rejected by her husband's family and the rest of the community. With no friends and noone to help her out, Resty was, in her words, "a nobody". Now, thanks to Send A Cow, Resty is a successful farmer who can afford to send her 8 children to school and who's thinking about setting up her own juice business. She's also found a group of lifelong friends in her project group who get together regularly to share ideas and advice, to talk through their problems and have a good old gossip. Resty is one happy lady nowadays.
Next I got a nice plump pumpkin from Janet. Janet joined Send A Cow back in 2008 as well and lives with her husband Otai and their 7 children. Janet and her husband are currently building their third home (considerably bigger than homes 1 and 2, and with a corrugated iron roof to collect rainwater) and now eat 3 good meals every day (they could only manage 1 before) and send all of their children to school. They're also planning to get solar power installed so their kids can do their homework at night without having to use a candle.
Next up was more of those lovely green oranges, this time from Joyce and her husband Edait. When we arrived at their farm Catherine, one of the extension workers, was there training them and the rest of the project group on sanitation and hygiene and gender issues, something which all participants in the Send A Cow programme get in addition to agricultural training.
Then I visited Rose and her husband John. Rose was desperate to express her thanks for the helped she'd received from innocent and Send A Cow, jumping up and down and shouting "All my bones and all my heart is happy to see you". Greetings don't get much better than that.
And her generosity seemed to be in direct proportion to her excitement, as I got cassava (fresh and dried), sweet potatoes, aubergines, groundnuts and even more oranges.
We had a great feast that night thanks to the kindness of all the farmers, and there was so much left over that my friends at the Send A Cow head office in Kampala will be feasting for many weeks to come.
Today, after driving about an hour and a half north of Kampala on a journey which was like being on an incredibly slow, incredibly bumpy rollercoaster, I had the privilege of meeting Edith (above), her family, and her two lovely cows.
Edith and her husband Edward live in Mwererwe with their ten children, and they joined the Send A Cow programme back in 2010 after Edith was approached by the women's group there.
It's a very special time for Edith and her family, as tomorrow they're getting a visit from the Prime Minister of Buganda. They're one of ten families in the area who've been selected to have Biogas systems installed by Heifer International, something which wouldn't have been possible if they didn't have a cow.
In a place where electricity is in very short supply, but cow dung is plentiful, Biogas is a fantastic solution. Here Edith is mixing cow dung and urine in this chamber, which then gets sucked down into another compartment underground and gives off gas which powers their kitchen stove and a light in the living room, and also produces slurry which they can use to fertilise their plants. So nothing at all is wasted, and as well as giving them milk to drink and sell to pay school fees, their cow also powers their home and helps their plants grow. I reckon there's quite a bit we could learn from them.
Edward said of working with Send A Cow: "Before Send A Cow people didn't see us. Noone would help us. Noone would come anywhere near us. They were too scared. Send A Cow were the only ones brave enough to help. Now things are so much different. Now everyone sees us. Now everyone wants to help." So because families can only graduate from the Send A Cow programme once they've proved they can be truly sustainable, other organisations know that these are families who will be able to put in the hard work needed to get new projects off the ground.
Edith says her dream is to have a new house in five years time, and she's invited me back to come and see it. I really hope I can.