Thoughts from September 2012

gifts galore

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). oranges from resty

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.

janet giving me a pumpkin
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.

oranges from joyce
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.

cassava from rose

groundnuts from rose

balancing 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.

one family and their cow

edith and her cow

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. edith and the biogas

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.

the light

the stove
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.

my new desk

jojo's desk in uganda

This is a photo of my new desk at the national office of Send A Cow in Uganda, where I'm lucky enough to be spending the next couple of weeks. It took five and a half minutes to upload, so I'll be picking my photos more wisely in future. I'm thinking more cows, fewer desks.

 Send A Cow are one of the innocent foundation's partner organisations, and our funding helps them to help people out of poverty and hunger by teaching them a combination of essential life skills and sustainable farming techniques. I'm here on behalf of the innocent foundation to meet some of the families that have been helped by Send A Cow, and to help tell their stories.

It's day one of a two week trip, and as I write this I'm sitting at my new desk, drinking a cup of very milky tea, listening to the rain hammer down and occasional blasts of Wannabe by The Spice Girls through an open window. So far, not so different from home, but I have a feeling tomorrow will be a completely different story.