I AM packing for a trip to Uganda with Tearfund. I am one of
three bloggers from the UK who are going to write - and, in my
case, draw - about our experiences. My bag contains a well-stocked
pencil-case, a number of electrical wires, and a door wedge (to
stop middle-of-the-night intruders). After much deliberation, I
remove the scanner from my hand-luggage (the plan is to use my
phone to scan any drawings that I do), and replace it with an extra
pair of sensible shoes.
I MEET my fellow bloggers, Liz Clutterbuck and Bex Lewis, and
also Katie Harrison, from Tearfund, at Heathrow.
The four of us arrive at Entebbe Airport late in the evening.
There is sudden warmth as we step on to the tarmac, and then we are
off to a nearby hotel. It is my first ever time under a mosquito
net, and I lie awake for several hours, watching imaginary
mosquitoes and filling a few extra pages in my notebook, in an
attempt to stop thoughts buzzing around in my mind.
TODAY is largely about waiting around, and then sitting in a
van, but I don't mind, as everything is new and interesting. We
meet our local guide for the week, Odiirah. She works for the
Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG), who are Tearfund's partners in
Uganda. We drive all day, but a late start due to traffic delays
means that the last hour and a half is in the dark. Ugandan roads
are frightening at the best of times - and after sunset is not the
best of times. Overtaking is continual, and potholes are many and
unexpected. We are glad to reach the hotel at Soroti, our base for
the rest of our trip.
I DON'T think I will ever forget that first moment of stepping
out of the van on the first of our three visits to the village of
Ogongora. Mud huts, smiling faces, the Ugandan three-part handshake
(see illustration), children greeting us nervously, the
girls bowing. The nursery school, which meets in the church, is in
progress, and shortly after our arrival the children stop for their
daily bowl of porridge. For some, this will be their only meal of
We are visiting Ogongora as an example of a village that has
been through a "church and community mobilisation process" known
locally as PEP (Participatory Evaluation Process). The reality is
far more interesting than the acronym. In summary, PEP is a course,
run by the church, but for non-churchgoers, too, which helps people
to see that change is possible.
They are encouraged to look for the resources that they have,
even if they are small, and then to work on improving their lives
through hard work and working with others in the community.
I am glad of my sun hat (Go Outdoors, Basildon, £1) as we walk
in the heat of the day to meet some of the people for whom PEP has
been life-changing. One of these is Elizabeth, a widow with leprosy
who had to survive by begging before the PEP process came to the
village. In her case, the resource she had was land; so she has
been able, over time, to make a significant change by growing and
selling crops. She showed us her granary, over-flowing with corn,
millet, and sorghum.
We then meet Richard, a man who, until a few years ago, used to
drink heavily, and beat his wife. The abuse of alcohol is a
critical issue in the communities that we are visiting. The Bible
studies that are part of the PEP process showed Richard that
another life was possible, and now he provides for his family and
has ambitious plans for the future.
Then there is Pastor Peter, who is keen to show us large fields,
where various crops are planted. Church ministers have to support
themselves here, and Peter tells us how PEP gave him the boost that
he needed to make the most of the land and possibilities he
Lunch is provided: we are given chicken and goat with rice,
which is a luxury here, and we are honoured to be given it. Back at
the hotel, I upload some photos to Flickr, and write my blog post,
as I will do every day while we are here. So far, no drawings.
STILL in Ogongora, we meet groups that have been formed to work
on important projects. We hear about proposals for a brick church
building to replace the mud one; an im-proved road; and a new
medical centre. The first scheme due to be completed will be a bore
hole, to provide clean water in the village.
We are told that, each year, 20 children in the area die from
dia-rrhoea and other diseases caused by unclean water. A site has
been donated, and some money has been raised, but there is now a
wait for government money to come through. We visit the site; and
some mild digging takes place for the camera.
During the course of the day; three people tell me about the
insurgency in 2003-04. When rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army
(LRA) occupied the area, the people had to flee to refugee camps,
as young people were being taken to be trained (if they survived,
which many didn't) as child soldiers.
Sanitation in the camps was poor, and there was little food.
Some would come back to their homes in the hope of harvesting their
crops, but often those who did would be captured, tortured, or
Hearing this story from three perspectives brings home how much
the people we have been meeting have been through. When,
eventually, they were able to come back to the village for good,
they found their houses burned, and they had to start again with
nothing. It emphasises how much the PEP programme has achieved in
helping people to rebuild their lives from scratch.
I take my trusty cardboard cartooning file around with me today,
and do some sketches. No humour, though - I'm glad that I promised
the Church Times I would provide "illustrations" rather
Before we leave, I have a chance to ride a bicycle that belongs
to someone in the village (I'm a keen cycling enthusiast). It's
heavy, with a sturdy steel frame, sprung saddle, and rod brakes.
The design dates, I imagine, from colonial days; but, on these
roads, solid-built is far more important than weight. Those who can
afford them use them to carry crops, livestock, and people. I give
Joseph, our driver, a lift - "roles reversed", as Liz describes
WE VISIT Ogongora for the final time, to join the people for a
church service. Secretly, I had been slightly worried about this,
as Pentecostalism isn't really my preferred flavour of church these
days, but I need not have been. The singing is amazing - full of
joy and life, with everyone clapping to the upbeat songs, and
singing harmonies during the slower ones.
I'm not going to pretend I follow every word of the sermon, but
one part was to do with "borrowed things". My notebook says: "Think
of the things you have - are they yours? . . . Whatever God has
given you - use it carefully."
WE TRAVELLED along a different bumpy road to a different PAG
church, in the village of Willa, to hear stories of how PEP has
helped another community. Essentially, the scheme is a way of
encouraging people to start small businesses. There is no social
security here; so for most people in these rural areas there is no
We visit some of these businesses, including a bread shop, and a
building that will one day be a cassava-flour business. It is our
first opportunity to walk in a street with shops, and people
"I'M JUST one of the people around here." John Julias introduces
himself in an understated way, but it seems to me that his
achievements have been remarkable. He has funded two of his
children through university, involving what must be vast sums of
money for a farmer in Uganda, and he has done all this by raising
livestock and selling crops.
Our visit to his village, Amilamil, is nearly a very short one.
There is some doubt, on our arrival, whether the people here will
be willing to tell us their stories. Apparently, some previous
visitors had made prom-ises, and hadn't kept them, and there is
some confusion as to whether we are connected with the group in
question. We wait around, and blow bubble mixture with the children
while negotiations take place. A phone call to the Bishop seems to
smooth things over.
This confusion does, at least, help to dispel our concerns that
every aspect of our visits to these villages have been carefully
stage-managed to involve only participants who will say the right
Among the people we meet is Isaac, who shows us his brick-built
house with a metal roof. He has been able to construct this by
growing and selling cassava and other crops.
Grace tells us how she started her business with 800 Ugandan
shillings (about 20p). By making bread, then buying and selling
fish, she has reached the point where she is able to buy a cow
(390,000 shillings), which has given birth to two calves. Her
quality of life is much im-proved.
TODAY, we begin the journey home. The traffic becomes very busy
towards Kampala. If anyone saw an Assemblies of God van tailgating
an ambulance through the outskirts of Kampala - that was us.
There has been so much to see, hear, and learn. The Tearfund
approach to development - working through the local church - seems
to me to be a good one, although I'm sure other methods work,
That said, finding a use for my cartooning skills here has been
incredibly difficult. It feels as if most cartoons, especially
those involving any comparison between aspects of life in Uganda
and the UK, would be inappropriate. Although, perhaps, a better
cartoonist would manage it. There is plenty of humour being shared
by the people, but I would need to stay longer than a week to begin
to be a part of it.
There are many aspects of this trip which I want to remember:
not least, some of the lessons learned. Chief of these is to be
slow to complain about difficulties in my life, when I have so
much; and to remember that a great deal can be made from just a
Perhaps only completing one-and-a-half drawings on the trip was
OK, after all.
Visit www.cartoonchurch.com/tfbloggers to see Dave
Walker's Uganda blog posts.
Also see www.tearfund.org/bloggers.