Thursday, June 10, 2010

Farmers Initiative, and an Unexpected Visitor

I had finished gardening and was washing dishes (and dirt from my blistered hands) when the security guard came to my door. “Ma’am, there is a man here named Steve who says he knows you from Colorado.” I was thoroughly confused. “I don’t know anyone here, who is Steve, and Colorado?” When I walked to the gate, I immediately recognized the face at the door. Only two days before I was to leave for Uganda, I stopped by the apartment of some visiting Afghan students who had been using some of my furniture from the year before. They were leaving the US, and I was to collect the furniture. A professor of mine was there helping them out, as well as a new face, who I was introduced to as Steve. Only a brief five minute conversation. But apparently, when I sent out my first mass emails to everyone when I arrived in Uganda, Steve happened to be on the email (his address had been added because of my help coordinating a trip of professionals to Haiti several months ago). And Steve happened to be traveling to Uganda (somewhat as an adviser to EWB-Columbia University), and Steve happened to be attending a small donor meeting in Gulu.

They invited me to lunch (he was with a Ugandan friend who runs an organization called Pilgrim) and I ran inside to quickly clean up a bit and grab my bag (after all, I was still all dirty from gardening). I had been told about a coffee shop in town that was owned and run by an American, and whose potato salad rivaled that of any found in the US. Being the only place I could name, and knowing generally where it was (turn left at the statue and go south, no north, find the bus depot...), I suggested it.

When we walked it, the place was packed, and there wasn't anywhere to sit. I turned and recognized the UN OCHA Head of Region sitting there, so I said hello, and he invited the three of us to sit with him. We chatted a while about development, about EWB, about working in Africa. Our new UN friend excused himself (and generously paid the bill!), and the three of us stayed talking. Steve and his friend were supposed to be meeting some folks from UN IDO and a few local organizations working with farmers, so we waited.

When they finally called, we ended up on a wild adventure south of Gulu to an area where the Northern Farmers Cooperative Initiative had begun setting up a large farm area, with the intention of the organization and the facility to be a place where young people can come take courses or training on farming practices. Because of the civil unrest that has plagued Uganda's history, many children and young people have grown up in IDP camps, and much of the knowledge of farming practice has been replaced by an almost expectant attitude towards aid and handouts.

The facility was HUGE. There were buildings for carpentry, for metal work, a studio for painting, a 10,080-egg incubator, rows and rows of chicken houses (only one was being used when we visited) with over 700 chickens, running around and doing their tweeting-thing. The smell, I might add, was not the greatest, made from a room full of 3-week old chicks...

So I returned home around 7pm, with a pocket full of business cards from newly met acquaintances. It's always good to know someone in the UN in case you need anything, and there is potential for us to partner with other local organizations working on farming and community development.

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