The Kira folk take me on a tour of the crops
“Amigos is a small NGO (non government organisation) which means most of the income comes from fundraising. Amigos was set up to teach skills to Ugandan kids from poor rural committees. A lot of the kids I met were ex-child soldiers in the LRA so on top of the programmed teaching and training they are also taught conflict resolution and personnel development – this has worked wonders in these kids’ lives.
Kira Farm is the Amigos development centre which is set up just outside Kampala. Each year forty community-selected kids from rural Uganda are invited to spend one year on Kira farm where they are taught life skills, conflict resolution, conservation farming (the biggest project) tailoring, hairdressing, carpentry, bee keeping and business skills. By the time they go back home they are really tooled up to teach their communities how to produce very high yielding crops (we saw up to 5 times the yield of conventional farming!) as well as set up micro businesses to benefit themselves and their community.
TITUS IN KIRA FARM GARDENS
My one week journey in Uganda started on Kira Farm where I met the local folk that deliver the training and take care of the kids and the visitors.
Titus, a fabulous guy who heads up the conservation farming and rural extension work showed me around the farm. Its amazing, they are successfully growing a huge variety of produce that supports all at Kira including us visitors, very little is bought in which really helps show the trainees what can be done.
The tailoring and carpentry workshops were buzzing with activity and they were producing some great dresses and chairs – a fantastic skill set to be taking home with them. Kira Farm is truly on its way to becoming a centre of excellence!
Mary runs the kitchen, is “matron” to the trainees and pretty much is on top of everything that goes on. Richard is the head honcho and ensures that everything runs according to plan and on budget. Joseph takes care of the child sponsorship program, and Titus manages the rural extension work and the farming at Kira.
In total there a team of eighteen staff, and they are a formidable team!
ON THE ROAD TO KITGUM
We drove for 8 hrs to Gulu (up North) where there was only time to grab a beer, food, and sleep.
We visited the farming community where Titus has been delivering training on conservation farming. These crops are seriously big with incredible yield, as I mentioned before about 5 times that of conventional farming. Everything about conservation farming is natural; it’s all about managing crop rotation, nutrients and planting – the methods are simple and staggeringly effective. Uganda’s soil is fertile and when managed carefully can produce wonderfully rich crops.
CHECK OUT THE SIZE OF THIS MAIZE CROP - ITS FIVE TIMES THE SIZE THESE GUYS EXPECT
The local farmers were so happy, they had formed smaller groups to maximise the farming potential and had already thought up group names, opened a bank account and were discussing with us the possibly of a grain store in order to hold the maize until the price was right to sell – how amazing is that!! This is life-changing for these guys as they now have the money to send their kids to school, buy solar lights, see the doctor when they get ill…..
We shared a delicious lunch with the farmers, great food which I am sure tasted even better as we ate by hand (there are no knives and forks that far out)
While we were there one thing that Titus picked up was that they could be making good use of three local plants:
- The Moringa tree – this tree is amazing and has loads of uses including human food (very high in vitamins, especially vitamin C as well as plenty of other nutrients – it seriously helps tackle malnutrition) animal fodder, water purification, fertilizer, living fence and its a natural pesticide too.
- The Neem tree which is an awesome plant and can be used in grain storage (bugs hate this plant so putting the leaves in with grain storage keeps pests such as weevils out) It is also used as a mosquito repellent and in malaria treatment
- Artemisia which is a fantastic natural medicine and is used in treatments for malaria, bronchitis, skin rashes (artemisia ointment), strengthening the immune system especially HIV/AIDS patients, used to treats stomach and intestinal problems aswell as candida albicans in the mouth.
These plants are now going to be grown on Kira and given to all farming communities that they work with as well as all trainees when they go home, the benefits are huge, especially to young kids suffering from malnutrition.
ONE OF THE LOVELY MANY YOUNG FAMILIES I MET IN GULU
We stayed in Gulu to meet up with the previous year’s trainees to see how they were doing. Wow, what an incredible bunch. Not only are they all conservation farming (and all reported great crops) but as they have also been taught other still sets they were all either tailoring, hairdressing, doing carpentry…. All self employed and all making a good living! We are all truly blown away by what they are achieving, it’s seriously not easy for them but (as confirmed by all of the trainees) Kira farm has equipped and empowered them to have the confidence to better their lives, the results are incredible!
We drove to further north to Kitgum and delivered a motorbike to Sam the extension worker there who is another ex-trainee doing very well. The motorbike will greatly increase his effectiveness in the field.
THE MOST NORTHERLY SCHOOL I VISITED
THE KIDS HAVE NO PENS OR PAPER AT ALL. THEY LEARN EVERYTHING FROM THE BLACKBOARD
Next we visited a very rural community school at Gilli Gilli (we were now getting really close to the Sudan border) that is being funded by the farmers who really don’t have a lot - the lack of rain in this region means crops do fail so there is very little spare money but they still find a way to keep it going. One of the major things lacking was fresh/safe drinking water so the kids literally did not have anything to drink all day, after school they had to walk up to five miles to get home before having anything to drink. The teachers told me how the kids suffered from dehydration – it seriously limited how much time the kids could spend at school.
WATER BRINGS SMILES TO THE SCHOOL KIDS IN GULU
But the news is good – Amigos has put in a bore hole and pump at the school – I think the photos tell the rest. The kids are now able to stay at school and have a drink when they’re thirsty!
On the way back we dropped in at a school where Amigos has put in water butts to harvest the rain water – these are simply to give the kids fresh and safe drinking water – they are putting them in as fast as the funds come in. Here we learnt of a terrible disease called “nodding disease” that only affects this particular area, it is not found anywhere else in the world. From what we were told by the head teacher the kids who have it get really agitated and then drop and have massive fits. Many of these kids have died and as yet there is no know cure. We met fifteen of the kids that have it, its so very sad – makes you realise how fortunate most of our kids are.
THESE GORGEOUS KIDS ALL HAVE NODDING DISEASE
We headed out to visit another farming community that had been taught conservation farming, what great folk – we had such an amazing welcome!
Unfortunately as I mentioned before this region gets hit hard by lack of rain and their maize crops had failed. Maize is Uganda’s staple diet, so when maize fails it’s really tough on them.
The crop farmed in conservation farming definitely had a better yield but not enough to boost their incomes but they have seen the potential so are going to persevere. The good news is other more resilient crops like ground nuts and Cassava (a sort of sweet potato, high carb content and not a lot else) are doing well so they won’t stave but this is where these other nutrient strong plants will be life changing. These farmers have also set up a group and are going through the process of legally formalising it. They then plan to open a bank account and also discussed a grain store - how’s that for optimism!
CHECK OUT THE SUNSHADE FOR THIS LADIES BABY!
Day 7 saw us on a massive drive back to Kira Farm, Kampala. On the drive Titus told me about another awesome idea that Amigos is helping to spread around communitites. Cooking inside over open fires is a problem in Ugandan communities for two major reasons – it causes huge health problems as the houses fill with eye-watering, lung-burning smoke, and also it requires loads of wood meaning lots of trees are chopped down to use as fuel. Using these efficient ovens which are built by hand using naturally found products means wood is conserved, there is a primary and secondary heat source and all the smoke is chanelled outside. Again, a simple idea, but hugely effective.
Back at Kira Farm I met the kids and teachers from Braunton and South Molton schools who had come out to stay.
One of the successful fund-raising activities is to invite schools or groups of people (20 to 40 at a time) from the UK to come and experience what they are doing and visit game parks, go white water rafting….. It’s a life changing experience for them and I would highly recommend it. On my first day there were 28 kids/teachers from Hockerill College and on my last day there was a mixed group of 25 from Braunton and South Molton Comprehensives. The accommodation is surprising and far from basic; the food is great and best of all the guys that run it are super-friendly and brilliant at what they do.
Amigos is a success story, an example of hard work and dedication turning a vision into reality, and people all over the world are starting to sit up and take notice. I was invited to Uganda to help manage this, to help make plans to roll out the Amigos model over a wider area of Uganda and into other countries, but I’ve come away with a huge amount of knowledge and respect for everyone who is working towards this extraordinary goal, and succeeding.
I’m already planning when I can next get back out there!”