My feet are dirty from the dust. It’s dry, way too dry actually. The people in the village are waiting for rain to come. Normally the rains have already started, but over the past years it’s become more and more unreliable. As we are driving through the rural areas of Agago district in Acholi, I let my mind wonder. It goes back to classes in university, about climate change, refugees and the rationale behind people on the move. However, it is not just theory. I am driving to places where struggles to find an income and keeping youth away from alcohol are a day to day reality.
It’s my first day in the field with ZOA Uganda. I’ve been here now a week, but it feels much longer already. It’s really nice to get the opportunity straight away to go into the field and actually meet the local staff and most of all, the people we are all doing this for. Acholi is a region in recovery after many people got displaced in the times of the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Kony. A conflict most of us in the West have forgotten about. But here teenage mothers and former child soldiers are still suffering from the consequences of those times. The ZOA programs here are very practical. Land rights. Food security. Vocational training. Yet behind it are strong social ideas about giving people their dignity back and letting them grow in their own capacities.
I meet mama’s that can’t believe the day has finally arrived in which a mzungu (aka white person) has arrived to their village. I meet young men that have recently joined youth groups and talk about their vision for the future. I meet young woman that have bought goats from their first loans and are now motivated to work hard for their future. One of the young ladies, her name is Agnes, said: “I never had the opportunity to go to school, but now I really want to learn how to read and write, so I can check the books of our Voluntary Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) myself.”
Watch strikes me is the determination in her eyes. Later on she poses for a picture with her goat. Both proud and a little shy. Just a young woman like me. We are about the same age. However, I can type this story, but she doesn’t know how to even spell her own name. Yet. Because these people are the reason that ZOA exists. They are the reason that I came out to live and work here in Uganda. And sure you can ask all sorts of questions about why I need to be here and why local people can’t do it themselves. I assure you they do. But a little bit of extra support from outside and just showing up is highly appreciated as I saw today.
I still have a lot to learn. About the people and mainly from the people. About how it is to live and work here in the north of Uganda. My key lesson of today. As a farmer’s daughter I have always been taught to appreciate rain. But many of us Dutchies will think of it as a curse. Especially if you have to catch a train and your only means of transport is a bike. But here rain is a blessing. Because rain means food. And food means life.