Stories of Change as told by Households Benefiting from TPO Interventions
Supporting Young Girls rediscover their potential after conflict
Just a few years back 18-year old Janet was on the brink of suicide – today she is part of a youth group, working with children and young people traumatised by the 20 years of conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan Government.
At the age of nine, Janet suffered the same inconceivable fate as hundreds of other children in the area, when she was abducted by LRA rebels and taken to Sudan. Today, she calmly recounts the terror of the seven years she spent in Sudan, detailing incidents simply too horrific to repeat in writing. Suffice it
to say it is a wonder of human strength and survival instinct that Janet is here today, overcoming what she has been through.
A few years back, when the rebels went into the camps in Sudan to loot for food, Janet managed to escape and sought refuge with an LC in the Pader district who initially took her in. But his intentions quickly turned out to be anything but honourable, when he started sexually assaulting her, and in May
2007, Janet escaped another devastating situation for the second time in her young life, but this time a woman working for a local NGO took her to a rehabilitation centre. Whilst here, Janet was sending letters back home, trying to track down her parents, but nobody came for her and eventually she
returned to her village where more shattering news awaited her.
Both parents had been killed by the rebels, news that left Janet with no strength remaining, her only thought to commit suicide to end the suffering and follow her parents. Janet’s salvation came in the form of a local youth group working at community level, offering emotional support to the many children and youths in the area whose lives have been wrecked by the conflict.
Members of the youth group continually receive advice and support from TPO staff on how to identify and counsel child victims, and offered Janet what no one had done in the past; emotional support to work through and eventually overcome her trauma. Today Janet is an active member of the youth group, and has turned her dark
past and experiences around to help other girls in similar situations. When I
share my admiration for this immense effort and remarkable survivor instinct, she nods silently in agreement, then adds; “mostly it feels like an illusion….like a nightmare. I feel like I’ve been touched by the devil.”
Some names in this story have been changed to protect identities
Sowing the Seeds and Reaping the Benefits
100 farmers’ groups… 1,750 households… 3,500 members – these are the immediate beneficiaries of TPO’s livelihood projects in the Eastern districts of Soroti and Kaberameido. All this impact for little more than the training of nine Field Extension Workers and donations in forms of seeds and livestock.
By comparison to the war-ravaged Northern regions of Uganda, this part of the country ‘only’ suffered a few years of LRA insurgency. Nonetheless, the consequences are much the same; a displaced and traumatised population, livestock and fields plundered and destroyed, abducted and orphaned children and so the list of damages goes on.
As a response to the insurgency TPO moved to the area in 2004, conducting its psychosocial programmes, and in 2006 programme activities were expanded to integrate livelihood projects. The pilot project included 18 groups in total, whose members were all vulnerable people within the communities;
such as those suffering from HIV/AIDS, parents of formerly abducted children, and caretakers of children with epilepsy. Based on the outcomes of the pilot project, the TPO livelihood project was formally launched in late 2007, supported by a multi-year fund from USAID through ACDI/VOCA.
“The pilot project showed great improvements and helped us improve the design of the project,” explains Obongo Isaac, Project Coordinator of the TPO Livelihood programme. “It was an emergency response to the impact of the conflict, and though people didn’t benefit much financially, at least they were now food secure. When people are displaced it means that the social and cultural settings are all disintegrated, and returning home from the camps means beginning afresh. Relatives are missing some abducted, some killed and people are traumatised by witnessing the brutalities and killings by the hands of the LRA rebels. The loss of property and livestock left people impoverished and dependent on relief and humanitarian agencies.
“With this new project we’re now trying to move from emergency relief to structured rehabilitation and development. Our main objectives are that all vulnerable
households restore their food basket, that they are supported to increase their household incomes,
and to ensure that they embrace improved hygiene and sanitation practices.
We are very optimistic that the communities will benefit greatly irrespective of whether they have been directly involved or as secondary beneficiaries as the impact spills over to the rest of the community. When we achieve that, having successfully integrated the livelihood projects in to the core psychosocial programme and seeing the results multiply within the
communities, then we will have realised our dream of an integrated, holisticapproach.”
To realise this dream, TPO employed and trained nine Field Extension Workers, who each are responsible for moving forward between 10-12 farmers’ groups. One such member of staff is Florence. “When TPO started counselling these groups, restoring resilience and hope, it really helped them
overcome their emotional problems, but their stomachs were still empty,” explains Florence. We watch her as she’s working with one of her groups in the Kalaki sub-county in Kaberameido, improving the group’s demonstration field, which initially didn’t meet the standards set by TPO as it was too small
and poorly planted.
This group is particularly challenged, as the majority of its members are either disabled or weak due to old age and illnesses such as HIV/AIDS. “When I first met this group, their farming skills were very poor, but we have already seen progress,” explains Florence. “What we’re doing with this demonstration field is to show the advantages of modern farming practices such as measuring the fields and planting in rows, and the long-term importance of investing in better and more resistant seeds. Group members
have been able to replicate these practices and skills to their own homes and villages.
“The nature of the services and the design of the project requires TPO not to work in isolation, but together with the local governments who are very aware and supportive of our work and are now advocating many of our initiatives, particularly within hygiene and sanitation. We expect a good yield
and great changes, and it’s not something you do in one day, it’s a gradual process, but already you can see the difference the programme is making as their quality of life is slowly improving.”
Henry, one of the group members, who – with a big smile fixed on his welcoming face – couldn’t agree
more; “This new way of planting seeds is much better, we can already see the difference it’s making, we
weren’t doing well before. TPO has been very good to us; they have given us good groundnuts and sorghum seeds and hoes, things that we couldn’t afford before. So now we can get started, and with the next harvest we can buy more seeds and continue feeding our families. I am very happy!”
Another village, and another story – illustrating the scope of TPO’s work and its ability to adapt to individual groups’ strengths and needs. We’re in Alere in
the Katine sub-county and Suzanne, the chairperson of this group, enthusiastically explains the progress she has witnessed. “When we came back from the camps, a lot of people had nothing to do, all they did was drinking and smoking. Many of our community members had common problems, for example if a child became sick there was no money and no way of getting treatment. Myself, I felt very lonely and isolated and thought that everything was lost. And so we realised that we couldn’t get back on our feet
alone. We started working in groups, rotating between different gardens and started a group field where we planted sugar canes together.
“Then TPO became involved, they gave us four oxen to help with the gardens, and they gave us better
seeds so now we can do better farming. They also helped us setting up our Village Savings and Loans
Association. It is a group savings initiative, where each member contributes 500 shillings per week and of that money, members can get small loans to buy seeds or produce to sell at the market. The loan is then repaid with a small interest, and from the profit group members make they can buy household products, pay for medical treatment, more seeds etc. And at the end of each year, we distribute the money made from interest between all the families. This initiative has been a great help for us.
“They also helped us with our drama group so we can use it to educate the community in issues like HIV/AIDS and hygiene and sanitation through music and drama. Before, people feared those who were affected by HIV, but now after the education it is much better and gradually, the stigma associated with
HIV/AIDS will be demystified. “Now that people are part of a group they feel energised and supported. The best thing about our relationship with TPO is that they have sensitised us in sustainable agriculture and hygiene practices. Hygiene and sanitation used to be a big problem, there were no toilets, but now TPO train us and people have adopted that.
TPO has really helped us so much, they have changed our lives.”
A Glimpse into the Life of a Refugee
Few people I have met in my life have left a mark on me like that of Pastor Paul. A Sudanese refugee in Northern Uganda for fifteen years, Paul’s fate and the survival and future of his family is entirely in the hands of governments and NGOs – just like those of hundreds of thousands of people who have sought refuge in the region over the past two decades. Yet, he exudes grace, warmth and kindness – even as he describes suffering upon suffering to me. This is his story.
“We left Sudan in 1993 by foot. We first settled in Kitgum district, living in a camp called Achol Pi. There we were attacked by the LRA rebels many people lost their lives there, including women and children. We
were all affected. So we fled to Lira where we stayed for two weeks until UN transferred us to another camp
in Masindi, where we stayed for two years in transit whilst the government of Uganda tried to find a solution to relocate us. So we came to this refugee settlement in Ariwa. It was difficult to come to this place because we feared we would face the same problems as in Kitgum district, but we were forced to go. “When we fled Sudan we were welcomed by the government of Uganda and we felt safe again. But then the reality of being a refugee hit us when we
were attacked in the camp. You know, we moved from Sudan to Uganda because of the insurgency and terror in our homeland, so we hoped that we should be safe here and when time comes we can go back. But then we experience the same thing again, which shows us that there is no difference.
We might as well have stayed in Sudan, because there we feared death, and now, here it’s the same thing. In case of looting, the looting is there. In case of killing, the killing… the torturing…. it’s all there. What is different? Most of our people by that time decided to go back, that it is better they go back and
die there in their homeland. The rest of us thought to endure the situation, which we did right up until the camp was overtaken by the LRA rebels. That’s when we fled again. “Things were better in Masindi, because it’s further from the border and less rebel activity. In fact, I enjoyed living there because I could sleep from six in the evening to six in the morning.” As I smile and jokingly think ‘lazy bum’ to myself, Paul laughs gently and elaborates.
“Compared to Kitgum where you could sleep maybe for one hour, most of the time you are just alert. You are watching out, listening to the sound of footsteps, is it coming this way…. or that way? You are affected when the day comes like that. You don’t understand why, because we are living in transit,
we are harmless, peaceful; you can let us live without worry.” I’ve stopped smiling. “But in Masindi, we were ok still, the government thought it better we transfer and resettle here in Ariwa. This caused us a lot of psychological torture, because we knew that from 1994 to 1996, a group of Sudanese refugees was living here, and they were attacked by the rebels and chased away. Many people died in this place. So we have this information, and still we are being forced to go there. Psychologically, we were touched by that, we were scared and confused. The government of Uganda wants us all be killed…. or what?
“When we came to Ariwa in 2003 the rebel war had just ended and the settlement had been demolished
by the military police, who had bombed with teargas and burned the huts, so it really was a very big
chaos. We had very little hope as to how people could live in this place.
But we settled here, trying to see that the situation had changed and that conflict was in the past. And this is how we’re currently living, through the help of NGOs. Especially through the help of TPO, they have carried out a lot of activities trying to harmonise the refugees and the local people.
In the beginning it was very difficult, there was a lot of conflict with the local people everywhere, in market places, at the wells, in schools, even at the health centre. But TPO and my sister Faiza (a TPO social worker) have done a lot of work teaching and discussions – for us to overcome our differences and live in harmony, and now things are much better. We can now live here in peace,
and when time comes we can leave this place and go home. “My parents are in Sudan, but they have now become old… they are unable to… they need some help from us. Your parents bring you up, and when they get older and weaker and need help, then it is time that you give some assistance to them. But we are unable to help them – it’s like a link is missing somewhere, and it is so cruel…”
For the first time Paul trails off, goes quiet, then lets out a long, strangled laugh. After a while, he points at his children and continues.
“Like these kids here, I think I should provide them with an education, a proper education. But I’m unable to. All of my four children were born in refugee camps; they have been moving from place to place and instead of progressing from one class to the next, they keep repeating. The young ones
should have the opportunity to have education, so that tomorrow when we, the parents, are no longer here, it can help them stand on their own. It affects them very much as you can imagine. It’s not easy.
“I have a hope of returning to Sudan one day; most of our people have already gone back. But my wife is HIV
positive and very weak so it’s not easy to go there when
health care is still not well organised. Here, at least, she
is getting treatment. It’s very difficult to stay here, but if we had gone back, I think by now I would have been a widower.
I think we would all have been dead. She is really broken down, I cannot leave her for long. All I can do is domestic work – make firewood, collect water, go to the market, cook our meals. If we were back in Sudan, there is no way I could do this and provide for us at the same time. And in Sudan, there would be no one providing food like here. So I don’t know how much longer before we can go back, it depends on the improvement of the sickness of my madam. I want to go back and help with the struggle of our people,
mobilise communities to improve standards of learning. Just like we have done here with opening the nursery school.
“When she gets better, we will all go back.” I wonder if no one has had the heart to explain to him that most likely she won’t get better. But maybe he knows that already. He must have witnessed enough people dying from this disease during fifteen years in refugee camps to know. Maybe he simply doesn’t want to know. Maybe he just won’t put words to the heartbreaking reality that until his wife passes away, he can’t go back.
Meanwhile, TPO social worker, Faiza, works tirelessly to heal the wounds inflicted upon the refugees. “In 2003, when they arrived, there were about 8000 refugees, most of whom have been repatriated in Sudan, though
some of them have since come back to the camp. About 3000 remain here; they’re the special, and most desperate, cases. Some have problems in their homeland and are afraid of returning, others, like Paul’s
wife, are HIV positive and remain here for treatment.
“Their psychological problems are immense, and many of them are not willing to open up about their reasons for refusing to return to Sudan. We, as social workers, are able to explore their cases further, counsel them and provide emotional support.
“Whenever we have had conflicts between the refugees and the locals, we sit together with the people involved, the leaders of the community and try and resolve the problems, increase mutual understanding. But it’s always an interactive exchange – never me giving them solutions. Our goal is to educate
and build capacity, so that if we are no longer here, if funding runs out, they will be better equipped to manage conflicts and psychosocial problems on their own.”
I hope that funding doesn’t run out. I hope that families like Paul’s won’t be left to fend for themselves, with
no emotional support. I hope he’s going to be all right.