We have been in Uganda for 6 weeks now. The Life AGAIN project, in which women learn to garden and thereby feed themselves and their families, is running at full speed. The project was intended for 100 women, but more and more women are signing up. More than 160 women are now participating in home gardening.

Three schools are also involved in the project. It is a true experience to see how proud the children are of their garden. The idea behind this is that the children tell their parents how to do it and that they can not only eat the harvest themselves, but that they can also sell it. In this way they can provide for their own livelihood.

The woman in Uganda

Because we live with a Ugandan family, we learn a lot about the customs and rituals of the Ugandan culture. For example, about the relationships between men and women. For example, it is customary here that if you divorce as a woman and you stay behind in the village, you will be ostracized if you have no sons. When the man dies, the children go to the brother of the man. In many cases the man decides everything, or, as we hear in many stories from the women, the men have run away and the women are left with often more than five children, and without money. Most of these women have no education. They are often married off at a young age. Remarkably, loss plays a major role in almost all the stories we hear. Many have lost their parents and one or more children at an early age. 

Buffalo cards

 These stories came to the fore because we had made association cards at home with images of Ugandan Culture. They have given the association cards the name Buffalo cards here, after Lisette’s clan. Lisette and I were given the Ugandan names Nanyanzi and Mubiru. Later we understood that this is a great honor. It means you will be included in a clan. Nayanzi (Lisette) belongs to the Buffalo Clan and Mubiri (myself) belongs to the Catfish clan.

In every village we come to and we imagine ourselves, the women are bursting with laughter. And the cards stirred up a lot of emotions. Sometimes with a smile, but usually with a tear. Some of the stories were heartbreaking.

An elderly woman lost her mother when she was eight months old, was abused by her stepmother and was burned as a child. The scars are visible on her face. She lost three children in one year. One son has been missing for 35 years. Prayer and faith keep her going.

A woman lost her mother while in third grade. After that she never went to school again. She was raised by her grandmother. She lost her husband when she was 22 and was left with four children. The in-laws wanted her to marry her brother-in-law and her sister wanted her to sell the house. She received no help from her family. She has worked hard to educate her children and now she can send her children to college.

A 43-year-old woman grew up in a family with many problems. She studied clothing making and started her own company when she was 19. She married a man who abused her. She had five children. She contracted malaria when she was 27. She barely survived. She was given an injection against the malaria and from then on she lost her hearing. Her husband left her and took the children with him. Due to problems with her ovaries, she had to have surgery and no one from the family supported her. This woman never gives up. She always has a smile on her face and works as a seamstress to support herself and she has managed to build her own house without an architect.

“A woman said that during the 25-year rebel war, all her siblings were locked up in their huts and burned alive. She herself was lucky with her husband and children. They both fled in different directions. Her husband was hit in the arm and leg during his flight and is now unable to perform physical work. They have 5 children together. She built her own house herself.”

Vegetables twice a month

 The use of the association cards strengthened the mutual bond between the women. The healing power of storytelling motivated them even more to become self-sufficient and no longer dependent through the Life AGAIN project.

To give you an idea, life for these abandoned women is a hard one. Poverty reigns in all the villages we visit and some children see a white person in real life for the first time. Most have eaten vegetables at most once or twice a month in the past year after the Covid. Just because it’s too expensive. The money they have to spend on average is 5000 schillings, which is 1 euro 25. Many say that they often do not know whether they can feed their children the next day.


Pride, passion and fire

Last week we were in Kisimu village. We are sitting next to a church that is still under construction. It is one of the few places where there is shade. About 30 women are present. The colors of the clothes they are wearing remind me of a painting by Van Gogh. The plastic chairs are removed from the church, many prefer to sit close together on the floor. Three quarters of women carry a baby with them. They breastfeed them regularly and that is the most natural thing in the world. There is a lot of talking and lots of laughter.

Grace starts with the training on Home Gardening and gives practical tips and advice. Questions are asked and the women also give each other a lot of advice.

Meanwhile, Lisette places the 50 association cards in the grass. All images from Uganda. Grace gives us the floor and we explain the rules of the game and the healing power of storytelling.

What happens then is unimaginable. The group stands up and everyone bends over the cards. After this, the women take the stage themselves. They proudly show the card and tell with pride, fire, passion and with a lot of body language what the card evokes in them. They applaud, nod in agreement, cry and laugh. The strength and the interconnectedness come over me like a heavy blanket. It makes me feel small and we get a sense of humility.

Life is so raw

The survival power of these women to provide for their livelihood and family is strong. The loss and trauma that surface in almost every story hits us like sledgehammers and sometimes we can’t take it anymore and we break. But for the women there is no time for that. They cannot afford that time, it is not possible to dwell on their trauma. Because they have to continue, otherwise the loss will be even greater. Standing still and doing nothing means loss of property and security. Security they built independently. Their shelter. Their house. Standing still and taking the time to grieve means no income and no food. The result is the streets and homelessness. That’s how raw life is.

Spiritually, there is an even greater power, which one believes unconditionally. That’s Jesus. Faith, that is what they draw strength from and they tell us that they are happy that they are alive and that it could always be worse. They stand still through prayer. They start and end with it.

At first, we look at each other a little estranged. But now it feels like a mindful moment.

Sponsor the Life AGAIN project for the Dutch people:

For people outside the Netherlands, you can donate this project:

About the Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like these