Innovative projects for refugees, former child soldiers, and host communities in northern Uganda
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Nov 2011 25

“I was beaten twice to the point of death… Let’s farm together now and be all right”

Posted in Featured, News

Atere, a member of the GRG group in Olwal, shares his insights on our projects and farming

By Federico Rodriguez

Cabbage, onions, and tomatoes have helped Atere Omot make a living for most of his life. The 40-year-old resident of Abole is a self-made farmer still struggling to emerge from the ashes of war-torn northern Uganda.

The knowledge that I have — I got from my friends. I watched how they worked, and I copied what they did. So I started to plant cabbages, carrots, and other vegetables. But when the war started, we had to move to the camps (IDP camps) and I stopped”, he said.

Unlike some members of his community, Atere is not a former child soldier, but he suffered tremendously at the hands of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army).  Unlike many in his village, he managed to go to school, but the war forced him out. He did not make it past Primary 2 level (second grade in elementary school), and he has never gone back to the classroom.

While the war raged on, he got married and struggled to live off of his crops. However, his efforts were hampered by constant attacks from the rebels. He was beaten by members of the LRA who raided his village regularly — killing, looting, burning huts and forcing residents to flee.

I was beaten by the LRA because I was a farmer. They wanted food, chicken. I was beaten twice to the point of death but I woke up when people carried me home.” He adds that thieves also joined in the rampage. “They wanted beans, chicken. I was a hard-working farmer. I had groundnuts (peanuts) and rice at home so I was being disturbed constantly. They also wanted money but if you didn’t have any, they would beat you up. It is by the grace of God that I am still alive.

The LRA is no longer active in northern Uganda, and Atere is a member of Kica Ber, a GRG group in Olwal community. GRG offers capacity-building trainings and other re-integration programs aimed at reconciliation and economic development.

Based in Olwal (Abole), the 34-member-group has already secured a piece of land and will soon undergo agricultural training with the goal of teaching them the most effective techniques for growing vegetables such as cabbage, onions, tomatoes and okra.

The main idea behind the program is to give the members a starting point from which they can launch their own businesses and generate enough revenue to become self-sufficient and less dependent on outside aid.

As part of the capacity-building program, GRG will provide the seeds and the farming tools. During a recent pre-training meeting, the group decided to grow onions, cabbages, tomatoes, green peppers, eggplants, okra and dodo (a local green vegetable). After the training, it will be up to the group members to organize themselves and apply their new skills in the fields.

Atere Omot is already excited about the project.

The group is wonderful and if the seeds that they (GRG) want to bring are properly taken care of, it will be ok. And I already have some knowledge about taking care of vegetables. But in the past there were some challenges. I didn’t have watering cans, I didn’t have pesticides and I ended up with a poor yield of my vegetables,” he said.

He shared some of his farming knowledge stressing the importance of getting the seeds at the right time and preparing the land well for plantation. “The swampy areas are seasonal, so it is good to use them during the dry season so that when the rain comes the crops will not be destroyed by the floods.

The Kica Ber group has already undergone training in “bol li cup”, or microfinance. The group learned how to lend, borrow, and repay money, as well as how to keep the accounts. They have been encouraged to use the money in the future to open small businesses, buy cattle and other farming products. Bol li cup savings are often used to pay for school fees.

Bol li cup was so exciting and I managed to understand it so well. It’s quite different from the other trainings that I had in the past”, said Atere. “It is of importance to give more training to our secretary and to the treasurer and to those who take care of the key to the bol li cup box”, he added.

But the farmer is aware that before the group can move on to larger-scale projects, they must prove that they can work well together.

I see that this training will help us in the future, if our group is not divided and if we associate well. If we do, then the group will grow strong and stand for a long time.” Atere said.

In a place where hundreds of NGOs have come and gone, Atere is cautiously optimistic about the future. He feels weak from his old injuries but with eight mouths to feed, he understands the need to keep trying. “I am now weak. I cannot use a bicycle to ride long distances nor carry heavy weight. Staying in this group can help me because I get encouragement and it helps me to do other things. A group can do things that can help you as an individual.”

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