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Putting Uganda in the picture

22 March 2013

Dave Walker, a Church Times cartoonist, visited Tearfund projects in rural Uganda. Here is his diary


Balanced diet: caroonist's-eye-view of Ogongora

Balanced diet: caroonist's-eye-view of Ogongora


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 the day.

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 had.

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 killed.

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 than "cartoons".

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 it.


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 other option.

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 gathering.


"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 things.

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, too.

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 little.

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.

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