By Moses Sserwanga 

in Northern Uganda 

Their lives were shattered by Jospeh Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) two decades bloody war but the women ex-combatants and child mothers in Gulu district- northern Uganda have not given up hope -they have picked – up the pieces to once again live a normal- happy life and rebuild their war torn communities. 

With the restoration of peace in northern Uganda ,many of the ex-combatants who were forced to participate in the vicious war by the then marauding LRA rebels, have long returned to their villages to live a new meaningful life away from the crammed protected camps for Internally Displaced People ,(IDP.) . 

Now living happily together , the traumatised women ex-combatants are tilling the land to produce for their homesteads and the markets . They have even set up village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) of 30 members each to cultivate a culture of saving and investment . 

One such association is the Ribe Ryemo Can, Farmer and Drama group which operates in Ibakara Parish Koro sub-county Gulu district . The Association has 30 members , 24 of whom are women ex-combatants , child mothers and 6 men. Mr. Jacob Oloya (42) the Association’s secretary says  they have raised their savings portfolio considerably since they set up the savings association in 2009. 

“ We are now in position to lend to each other at an interest rate of 10%. With the savings we have managed to construct houses for the elderly members of our village, sponsored 52 primary seven candidates at Lakwatomer Primary School and we support war orphaned children to attend school,” a beaming Oloya stated while listing a number of achievements registered since the village came together to set up the their Village Savings and Loans Association. 

Because of their demonstrated efforts to rebuild their communities the women ex-combatants have attracted support from local and international organisations. Through the Enhancing Business Competitiveness and Income for Women Ex- combatants project in Gulu , implemented by the YMCA Gulu branch with financial support form aBiTrust , the women who are organised in 15 groups of between 20-30 members each , have been given financial support to grow and produce groundnuts on large scale for the ready markets in the Acholi sub region and South Sudan . 

 Reniel Rwendeire the project coordinator, says that other activities carried out by the project include promotion of gender main streaming and establishment of Loans Associations (LA) to improve the economic and social livelihood of people who are recovering from the effects of war . 

Mr. Rwendeire said that with the financial support of shs.52M from aBiTrust the project has managed to support the women ex-combatants in agronomy where they are encouraged to practice modern farming techniques to yield high quality produce for their homes and the market. “ We have trained them to engage in agriculture production as a business and many of them are now in position to sustain themselves , “ he explained. 

 Flanked by the project Finance and Administration Officer, Perez Akanyaijuka, Dora Ayaa , extension officer, Jackline Ajok Social Worker and Wiliam Osal (28) , Rwendeire said that the project has also set up 15 farmers’ field sites or demonstration centres which operate as learning points for famers to acquire knowledge and skills to carry out good farm practices, post harvest handling and pesticides management.

 “The ex-combatant are trained to adopt to better farming methods were they plant their crops in lines for better farm management when weeding and harvesting . We provide them with high quality yielding seeds to increase productivity . we want all the farmers to look at farming as a business ,” Ayaa explained. 

Through the gender mainstream element of the project, men are encouraged to join the VSLAs and help the women to open up land for large scale farming. Families are also encouraged to plan together, budget together and share the proceeds of their agricultural produce equitably . 

“You can clearly see that people are happy and have settled back to their villages. They are working hard to rebuild their communities and earning money too because of the support extended by aBiTrust through training, provision of improved seeds and the gender component where women and men treat each other as equals, “ Oloya said, adding that men are now involved in opening up land and farming as a household. 

The project has also provided a psychologist to help the communities recover from the post war trauma by encouraging community bonding. Service provision: Groups have been provided with 30 bicycles for the change agents who move around the villages to promote farming for the market and gender equality. provision of seeds ,15 knapsack sprayers, fertilisers TSP; G.nut paste machines ,G nut shellers, Tarpaulins and monthly allowances for change agents. 

Challenges: Both Oloya and Rwendeire noted that the communities are faced with the challenge of lack of land for large scale farming especially for the women are not supposed town land due to cultural practices in some communities, effects of climate change with erratic weather partners that affect planting seasons and limited access to agricultural credit. There is also high demand for specialised interventions like training, counselling and access to markets ,all of which need more human and financial resources to manage. 

Way forward: Rwendiere said that they are preparing the groups to form a bigger Sacco to attract financing from government to continue with the work they have started with the aBitrust support. We want the communities to be self-financing to sustain the good work they have attained so far with or without aBiTrust help , “ Rwendiere said.

The writer is a media and communications consultant and advocate of High Court of Uganda


This article was first published at ; msserwanga.blogspot.com

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