We are really very grateful to all the people who in one way or the other played a role in making this first phase of the Family Transition Center in Kitgum happen. This was really received with great joy from the ladies!! It's really all very exciting to leap from one level to the other.
With the funds raised, we finally bought land in Kitgum. It was quite difficult at the beginning to find one, since many people are looking for places to resettle now after being away from the region for so many years, with this long period of displacement, people have developed different visions. Initially many people would just want to go back into their villages of origin and settle among their kins, but living in different parts of the country, and with better ideas of how beneficial education is to their children, they would rather stay near towns so that they can get better schools for their children to go to, so to get an ideal place for our cente , took us a bit of time but finally it is done!
The land is so ideal, it’s about 6 miles from Kitgum town and also about 6 miles to Lamwo town council. Just 1km from the border that separates the two districts. It is conveniently situated by the road side,actually touching the road itself. Being by the roadside, it will not be difficult to access. You can use a boda-boda(motor cycle taxi) without any fear of getting stuck in a wet road or you can board a direct bus from Kampala and just jump off at the trading center at a place called Ocet-Toke in Labongo Layamo sub-county , which is a stone throw from the the piece of land. There are many buses daily to Kitgum town , but one specific one that goes direct to Lamwo which is the ideal one , but once in Kitgum town ,it’s just 15 mins on boda to the land. The ladies feel that they actually do have have a starting point now and come what may, they can easily go and even pitch tents on their own land, while they begin working out ways of resettling into their villages
With all the above advantages that we have with the location of the center, I am very happy to say that all our partners who have ideas that they would like to implement to help with the development of the new center, will not find any difficulty at all in making it happen because here you can easily transport anything that you may need, to make it happen.
We can say this has been our greatest achievement this year and the foundation of the new beginnings for the ladies because with the land ready, it’s always easy to plan on the second phase.
This then brings us to the next step. I know that it has been quite a long journey to reach here, but we still have a destination to reach, one which am sure all of us who have been keen on this project, would like to see us reach the final destination. Our next phase will be the building of the huts. With joint efforts, we can make this happen. We shall soon set up simple campaigns to allow everyone have the opportunity to support different things , which will range from buying bricks, bamboos, or even just a bunch of grass or even sponsor a whole house.
With all these in mind, we shall soon be requesting for help from the different people on how we can set this up in a simple way that will be easy to handle. We shall be updating you on these developments.
I had mentioned before that there has already been need for these people to go back home. When we did our yearly needs assessment , some 3 years or so ago, everyone's priority was "going back home". Life has not been very easy for these ladies, they live in very small mud rooms which is supposed to act as a living room, a kitchen, a bedroom and any other activity one can think of or even chicken rearing as seen in this picture. Irene(in picture) says "we all have to sleep in this small room with my six children, others on the floor and the younger ones share a bed with me separated by a curtain so difficult , sometimes they have to sit outside while I cook".So before the whole mess about the land issue that is now forcing them to leave immediately, they had started planning on how they would slowly develop the strategy of finally getting there, but oops! it kind of caught us all unprepared, that's why we are trying to save the situation by helping them have a starting point.
Many might have asked why we have to create a center for these people when they are going back to their own land? Yes they are , but after almost 25 years of being away from a place, you can never be so sure.Some people lost their husbands during the war and as per our culture, land is a communal property own mainly by men, unless you first clarify such issues, it's so difficult to just go with the children all at once , you can easily be stranded . For others who had some better jobs , they would once in a while travel and check on their land or whatever they had left behind, but remember these people have been living in very hard situations barely earning $2 a day ,which is not even enough for a day's meal, their main jobs being stone quarrying( which most have been turned into living areas) and others hawking sweet bananas around town on their heads( this has also become difficult since the city authority has prohibited any kind of hawking in the city), there was no way they could save the money to visit home. So for a smooth transition, this center will be a stop over whenever they would like to go and check on such issues, and to live until their own houses are finally done . Initially the Acholi people were very social people, that members of a clan would look at one another as brothers , but the war has robbed them of this very exceptional value, people no longer look beyond their immediate families, this is not because they do not care but they too are lacking, everyone is just trying to resettle, and that is why we need to do something and fast to help these ladies.
We have been trying different ways for them to generate some income , like making beads, mushroom growing and others doing tailoring, but they still had school fees to pay for their children and the orphans who were under their care .Almost every family who we are working with,have more than three orphans from relatives who would have died in the war.There were also other necessities like paying rent for the ramshackle houses that they live in, medical bills ,clothing etc.. . This though, does not mean that our work has been in vain when I talk about them having such conditions, a lot has been achieved and they will be able to practice the new things that they have learnt when they finally get there, but first we need to help them get there, it's a difficult task , but together we can make this happen. Please look at the fundraising that we have set to help them realize their dream of living in a better environment , you can click here ; http://startsomegood.com/lia to donate something towards this cause or just let your friends know about it. It's just 5 days to go , but with your support, we can still make it.
My friend Jennifer is such a tiny woman, that she's hardly taller than her 8 year old daughter. She is wise beyond her 27 years, however - very intelligent, quick to learn and creative. Her experiences working with the Life in Africa group on craft product design, quality control and computers, plus her ability to speak good english, landed her a steady job last year with a local designer's shoe company. The painful trade-off is that in order to take the full time position across town from the displaced camp/slum she calls home in Kampala, she's had to send her young children to be cared for by her mother and sisters, who have recently resettled in the war-torn North of Uganda, 400 km away. Jennifer didn't know how much she would need the Family Transition Center that Life in Africa's now raising funds for until after she'd sent her children to the North, when one of her sisters called with the news that neighbors had destroyed most of the crops they'd planted, and were disputing the family's claim to the land they were on. Ostracism has been a familiar theme for Jennifer's entire life - If I spoke Luo I might have guessed why from Jennifer's second name "Adoch," which means that her mother has leprosy. The land the family's trying to rebuild on was given to 10 families affected by leprosy before the war, much to the unhappiness of surrounding neighbors at the time. Twenty years later, and the myth of contagion prevails in the current context of post-war land grabbing: Jennifer's frail widowed mother is not welcome, and will need to find somewhere else to live. There are 5 more families there facing the same set of impossible conditions, and Jennifer feels the weight of their plight on her shoulders.
Jennifer and her 2 youngest children at home
With Jennifer's steady but not huge salary, she is now supporting her mother, her 2 younger sisters and her own 3 children (whose irresponsible father is no longer in Jennifer's life - a fact which her friends tend to think is a good thing). She is also supporting herself and her daily transport to and from the displaced camp called the Acholi Quarter - which she now needs to leave since it's been sold for commercial development and will soon be torn down. She is saving as much as she can to be able to help her family resettle once again to a place where they can grow their food and live in an environment that will provide her mother with peace in her old age, and where Jennifer could join them. If she could, she'd invest in land enough for the entire leprosy-affected community she knows. But she doesn't yet have enough to buy a piece of land even for her own family, and needing to move from the Acholi Quarter now is an expensive setback. A bit of hope is in sight for Jennifer through her 7 years of membership at Life in Africa. LiA is a longstanding group of self-empowering displaced women in the Acholi Quarter, who are now planning to leave the Acholi Quarter together and establish a Family Transition Center in Kitgum District, which will invite Northern Ugandan families who are in the process of resettling back home to work and learn together and support each other. While most of the LiA ladies have land to resettle on and might only stay temporarily at the Family Transition Center, part of the land to be purchased will be available for 8-10 of the 35 member families to stay long term and help build out the center's programs and services. This plan is a godsend for those among them - like Jennifer's family - who really have nowhere else to call home.
Jennifer is an extremely capable young woman, and a natural leader in the Life in Africa group - in spite of her small stature and young age.
What's more is that Jennifer's skills, wisdom and leadership experience gained through growing up displaced in Kampala have always flourished in the Life in Africa group context. The Family Transition Center would not only solve Jennifer's most pressing family challenge, but will also provide a nurturing framework through which she can give the best of herself to rebuilding Northern Ugandan society. From there, perhaps she could still do something to help the other families who've faced some of the same challenges as hers has. In an interview last year, I asked Jennifer "What do you hope to contribute to the community you will help to rebuild? Why should Acholiland want you back?" She replied:
It’s me now to stand up for the people there and help to bring their voice. I just have to go where those people with my mother are to get started. Children’s rights, women’s rights, domestic violence, there are a lot of things concerning the law that people need to learn about and I can help them.
There's a week left for making pledges to Life in Africa's Family Transition Center campaign, which will help this important and urgently needed initiative get underway. Please make a small or large pledge today to help with the end of campaign momentum, and share Jennifer's story if it's touched you in any way.
“When a man is knocked down once, he would have twice the energy that he had before when he gets up”
This is the kind of energy that we have right now in re-launching our campaign at Startsomegood. We feel that we do have the capacity to reach this goal. The ultimate goal is to have our ladies go back home safely, because a minute longer that we would take now in planning how to move on with this, could mean another disaster for them. As one of the people who has first hand experience of being displaced, I would not wish to see this happen again. Though for me, it was a blessing in disguise!
I too was caught up in the war zone and when the fighting intensified, my children and I had to trek 6o kms to reach the main town of Gulu. The children were as young as 8, 6, 4, and 2. Their father had been abducted by the rebels and would never come back again. We had to spend several days on the move, in many cases with no food at all for the children. It surely was a very tough time, just like most of the Life in Africa ladies experienced. My own experience later became an inspiration to find ways of helping these ladies. This experience was coupled with my luck to have had the opportunity of attending a good school in the north, and getting good enough results to receive a district scholarship at one of the top secondary schools in the capital city.
In our days no girl would be allowed to go to school as it was believed that this introduces them into prostitution. The only training that a girl needed was to know how to cook (the Acholis are believed the best cooks in the country) and work in the garden, and course take care of children, which was typically done by a mother or an aunt.
I was one of the very lucky ones who managed to go to secondary school. I also continued into college to do a Business course in Hotel management. Somewhere in the middle there, I had a blurred path and did not know where I should really be with my career. I tried many different things ranging from teaching to catering and doing many kinds of odd jobs etc.. But my heart kept telling me that I did not belong to any of those. I kept feeling that I had a mission to accomplish, but did not know how until I met Christina, Life in Africa's original founder, who I think has been my greatest inspiration and role model.
Working with her I found everything that I was looking for, she introduced me to all the different ways of becoming this person that was quiet inside me. I got free tutorials in managing different things ranging from the use of internet as a tool in accomplishing our work as social entrepreneurs, to different ways of sustaining our projects including crafts which remained our main source of income to date. To be very honest, no one I have ever met can compare to Christina. She remains my mentor up to now. Since 2009 I have been the chairperson of Life in Africa.
I really did not mean to divert your attention from the main point, but it was necessary that you also know who I am and how I got involved in this work. I shall be talking more on how I feel it is important for these people to go back home, even were there not this urgency of them being displaced again. Please see our campaign for a Family Transition Center at http://startsomegood.com/lia and help if you can.
The atrocities that happen in war are often unspeakable, thus hard to imagine, even for those who have experienced them. For Betty, what happened to her during Joseph Kony’s war still lives larger than life within her. There is a duality she experiences in her own sense of identity - she knows she has goodness in her heart, but feelings of guilt, unworthiness and shame over what the rebels forced her to do eat at her from the inside. More than 20 years later, she still experiences outbursts of violent rage that she knows are “bad” but sometimes finds very hard to control. On occasion she’s had to pay the hospital bills of people she has fought with and injured.
What Betty remembers as the time she was most proud of herself was when she got her husband through dancing well. Before the war, the Acholi people would have huge festivals at the end of the harvest season, where everyone would come together to dance. Young people from different villages would dance in competition, and in hopes of catching each others’ eye. The year Betty and her husband noticed each other, she was named the best dancer of the whole festival. His family approved of his choice, and was eager to have Betty become a part of their family so she could also teach their girls to dance and sing so well. Following tradition, this translated to a significant bride price that was paid to Betty’s family in compensation for educating her so well, and earned Betty a place of high respect around her new husband’s family campfire. (The Acholi campfire was like a cultural home-school - families would gather each night to tell stories from the past and teach the children about Acholi foods, customs and traditions.)
Just a teenager then, Betty truly loved and was loved dearly by her new parents-in-law. Her mother-in-law had also been a great dancer in her day, and treated Betty like she was special and worthy of all the good things their life had to offer. She took time to teach her, was patient and kind, and never scolded when Betty made all the typical mistakes that a young girl is prone to make. After Betty gave birth to her first son, life was blissful. She was a good girl, and had everything and more than she’d been taught to hope for in life.
Betty started a small beauty supply shop with a small loan through Life in Africa in 2008
When the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels came to her village, they first killed many people, then they captured Betty’s husband, tied Betty to a tree, and locked her parents-in-law in their hut. Betty was then given an impossibly cruel choice: she could watch the rebels kill her baby and then die herself, or set her beloved parents-in-law’s hut on fire and watch it burn with them inside. Betty chose her son's survival.
Her husband eventually escaped and they both made it to safety in Kampala. They've gone on to build a large family together, but Betty nonetheless sometimes regrets that she didn’t just choose to die that day - the good girl she believed herself to be died anyway, when the rebels turned her into a murderer. Behind Betty’s big warm smile and hardworking nature, rage and self-hatred run deep in her veins. She has never been able to forgive herself.
Now the place where they resettled has been sold and it’s time to go back to the North. For Betty, the complex logistical challenge of moving 400km north with 10 children are not the main issues that keep her paralyzed with inaction. Her brothers in law have already started rebuilding, and have begged her to come back and live there as part of their larger family unit. Although she knows they forgive her for everything and still want her with them, the thought of living as if nothing happened - in the place where she found out she can kill someone she loves - brings on nightmares. By day the guilt and pain well up inside of her until they explode - sometimes violently. Betty sees this in herself and is so ashamed. She is deathly afraid that living again where it all happened she’ll never find peace.
Betty plays percussion and leads the singing when the Life in Africa members dance together
She’s never once fought with any member of Life in Africa. She never could, she says, because this supportive and tight knit group of women have treated her with the same kind of love and gently correcting kindness that she remembers from her mother in law. She feels safe with them, as part of a community where she’s been able to rediscover her own value and let some of her talents shine once again. The option of resettling with some of them at the Family Transition Center they hope to build has given her the courage to imagine that life in the north would be possible for her again.
Betty is not alone in her long struggle to overcome the atrocities that Kony’s LRA rebels inflicted on the Acholi people. In the absence of psychological resources, community plays a vital role in healing. Now that they all have to leave the Kampala home they've been living in for 20+ years, the Family Transition Center will help others like Betty and her family to find their way back to their Acholi roots in a way that feels safe, constructive and peaceful.
Please share Betty’s story, and pledge toward making the Life in Africa Family Transition Center happen if you can.
Time is of the essence!This campaign will end on 23 June - ANY pledge you can make toward the campaign tipping point TODAY is both urgent and greatly needed by this well deserving community. See http://startsomegood.com/lia for more details on the plan.
However much the clock is ticking, you can't imagine how excited the ladies of Acholi quarter are preparing to move to the transitional center. They are more so grateful to those people who have so far expressed their sympathies to sacrifice their time and pennies towards this initiative. we still need whatever kind of help you can make to enable us achieve this, $ 15,000 is needed but its not about how much you give but how much you want to help. Many thanks and stay blessed as you share this story http://startsomegood.com/lia
Esther Akello is the vice chairman of New Life in Africa in Kireka, who appears in the video on the community's current crowdfunding campaign for a Family Transition Center that will help them to move back home to Northern Uganda - see http://startsomegood.com/lia.
She speaks Luo instead of English in the video, which makes it hard for most viewers to hear the deep passion behind Esther's words. As someone who has known Esther and witnessed her impact in her community over the past 8 years, it's passionately important to me to share what an incredible role model Esther has been for me. She is one of the wisest, most energetic and genuinely caring women I've ever known, and is one of the people on this planet who's taught me the most about co-creative leadership and the value of co-creative approaches to community development.
Leading from courage and bravery
In one of several interviews with Esther during research I've been doing for a book, she told me she married late by her culture's standards, to a man she is still crazy about. When she was 30 and had just had her first child, she was working on a dream to become a tailor. She was living at her new husband's family compound, the vegetables she grew on her fields were fetching a good price, and she'd enrolled in a tailoring course with some of her savings. The obvious glitch was that Kitgum was becoming a dangerous place to live. The news of Lord's Resistance Army attacks on villages all over the district was alarming, and the number of children kidnapped to be soldiers was increasing. Rumor had it they were on a ruthless killing spree because Joseph Kony was angry with his own people (for some still unknown reason), so was punishing them. Esther's husband left to the capital - following one of his brothers who was already there - to arrange a safer place for the family to stay.
While he was away, Esther went for a short visit to her own family, which was when the worst happened. She watched one of her sisters, three brothers and most of her nieces and nephews get slaughtered before she managed to gather herself and her baby and run. The soldiers stabbed her badly in the leg when they caught up with her, but decided not to kill her right away. Instead, they forced her to eat some poisonous caterpillars, scorpions and spiders to swear her oath of loyalty to the Lord's Resistance Army. When she found an opening to run again, they didn't chase her. Miraculously, with her injured leg and a stomach full of poisonous insects, Esther made it on foot with her baby all the way to safety in Kitgum town, 20+ km away.
Joining her husband in the capital was the obvious plan, but how would she get the bus money? Even with her leg not yet healed, she identified an opportunity and began fetching water for people to earn money. This meant walking very far every day, with the baby on her back and 20 liters of water in a container on her head. After hundreds of journeys delivering water at 50 shillings per trip (about 2 US cents in those days), she finally earned the $12 bus fare to join her husband in Kampala, 400 kilometers away.
She says settling in at the Acholi Quarter was really hard at first. Unlike at home where they were surrounded by fresh air and rich farmland, here on Kireka hill were hundreds of uprooted, traumatized families living almost on top of each other. Money was suddenly required for everything. Esther continued carrying water to begin with, this time up and down the hill, which made the work even harder. Her husband also found work as a porter at the nearby stone quarry, which enabled them to rent the small house where they’ve lived for the past 20 years (except when it collapsed those two times and they had to stay somewhere else for a while). It's in this humble home and complex community context that she's become a loved and respected mentor and role model to many.
Esther never makes a big deal of the courage and bravery she was forced to find within herself to survive what she went through 20 years ago, but she leads from an inner place of knowing what it is. She loves the people around her very actively and genuinely by helping them to find and remember the courage they all know they have inside them to face up to life's struggles, and the hard work they all know they are capable of.
Building community around enterprising energy
Esther moved on from carrying water to several years of hot and back-breaking work in the stone quarry. Always enterprising, she and her children also sold pancakes, she made local brew, and sometimes she even made bricks. Her husband Odong already had three children when she married him. Now they have five more, plus three beautiful grandchildren. Then there's the orphan they adopted, and the others they opened their home to when some of their relatives fell on hard times. All together there are 12 people living at Esther’s house these days. They are generally happy, and Esther tells me she always does what she can to make their family life as fun as possible. Her home is a place where friends and neighbors often drop in for Esther's warm, no-nonsense advice on their marriage problems, small business ideas or family decisions.
In addition to the community of friends she's developed, one of the things Esther has loved the most about living in Kampala is the opportunity for her children to be educated, as she thinks it will make their lives much easier than hers has been. The thing she is most proud of in her life so far is that she’s been able to see her oldest child finish university. Her second born started last year, she told me with a big smile last time I visited. There is nothing that brings her more joy than their happiness and success.
She also remembers, however, that when her children had all reached school age, paying the school fees for all of them became an agonizing and ongoing challenge for many difficult years. There was a devastating period when she became very ill for a while. The school fees burden became completely impossible alongside medical bills, and some of the kids had to sit out a few terms at home. A turning point came eight years ago when she joined Life in Africa.
The money Esther earned at LiA for the first 2 years, selling beads and working on a group contract to make bracelets, enabled her to start a range of small income generating projects at home that she says still make it possible to keep all the kids in school. In those days there were about 150 member families at Life in Africa, and Esther's natural leadership skills soon began to emerge. She became the quality control team leader for the community's paper bead production. When I left Uganda and Life in Africa Foundation transformed into a Community Based Organization run by and for it's members, Esther was elected Vice-Chairperson of the new LiA, responsible for engaging the community in planning and implementing their joint development ideas.
Esther's enterprising energy is magnetic, and she doesn't limit sharing it with only the LiA group. Over the years she's liaised with and mobilized local engagement with several international NGOs working in the Acholi Quarter, and looks forward to a life in service to her community when she moves back home to the north. In fact, she's already started talking to recently resettled women back home in her husband's village about how to save, and small projects they might imagine starting together. They call her regularly to know when she's planning to return.
Lessons in co-creative community leadership
Esther shares the leadership responsibilities at New LiA, but when I returned for the first time to visit after 3 years away, it was she who got up to share the story with me of everything they'd done together since I left. What this funny and sassy, yet humble and caring grandmother shared on behalf of the 30+ women with her that day has forever altered my perception of what community leadership should mean, and what the right kind of leadership can mean for impoverished communities in planning for change. As I've gone on to study and practice co-creative leadership (at Ci2i Global and in other contexts), I am regularly reminded of the important lessons that amazing Esther and the New LiA ladies have taught me.
Lesson 1: A group's glue lies in shared purpose
When the New LiA first formed there were over 100 members - many had joined under the previous structure solely because of the income earning opportunities available. As a community based organization, the New LiA would have to build new opportunities, which required more commitment from its members. Uncertainty led to some attrition, there were disappointments and disagreements over changed expectations, the group threatened to completely fall apart. The elected officers discussed the challenges at length and realized that what they and their closest friends in the group really wanted was not just to earn money, but something bigger - to start preparing themselves for moving back home to the north. They envisioned a group working together with that intention, and in doing so found a powerful glue for reforming the LiA community. To keep things manageable, Esther told me, they invited only the hardest working women members to be a part of forming this new bond, and have remained a strong and remarkably stable community ever since. They still earn extra income together on various smaller group projects, but once a week they all gather to save for the future and to discuss their evolving plans for preparing themselves to go home.
Lesson 2: Nurture a caring community culture
The hardest part of living in Kampala for Esther and many others in the group has been that their children are not being raised in their real Acholi culture. It's not just the urban location, but the daily need for money in the city which adds tension to community life and often causes division. The old Acholi way is to love and support one another; to work together and help each other so that everyone gets ahead. The New LiA ladies have looked to their roots to re-establish that special way of being together as they plan for their future back home. With the women all nodding in unison around her, Esther shared that at the New LiA each and every member's progress and success is supported, they respect and love each other's strengths, and they all pitch in to help "with an undivided heart" where they are needed or when one of them has a problem. Living these community values together has resulted in the kind of unity that they remember from home, and led to some wonderful results for the whole group.
Lesson 3: Dare to let thrivability trump sustainability
One of the most moving stories Esther shared that day was how the mushrooms they'd started growing turned into a tailoring course for young mothers. I had known about the mushroom growing project, which they'd raised funds for online and got started, according to subsequent photos I'd seen. Esther apologized for how they'd stopped communicating about that, for fear that people who'd contributed might view what later happened as a failure on their part, in terms of all the typical expectations around "sustainability." What I saw instead, as she explained what happened, was that their caring community culture had enabled them to see and pursue a path toward greater thrivability in their community.
A core group of 10-15 members indeed did grow mushrooms successfully together for more than a year, and really loved what they learned from the project. There came a point, however, when it had served their shared purpose - they now knew how to grow mushrooms, and could very easily imagine themselves growing them back at home. They would have continued to make money had they continued the project, but they didn't feel they had much more to learn from it. Meanwhile LiA had received a donation from Think Humanity of 12 sewing machines that nobody knew how to use. Together the mushroom growers decided that after the next harvest they would pull out the capital and use it to hire a sewing teacher, so that some of the youngest mothers in the LiA group could learn that work-at-home trade. They then raised funds for a small daycare facility so that the mamas could focus on their learning, and six months later they had 12 trained tailors.
Moreover, each of those women had already earned enough with their new skill to buy their own sewing machine - which of course, they will be taking home with them to the north. In spite of an apologetic start, Esther (who had wanted to become a tailor when she herself was young) was beaming with love and pride by the end of sharing that story.
As a group they now produce bags that are sold all over the world, and last year had an order for 600 sets of pajamas. Turning their mushrooms into sewing machines proved to be an excellent decision, which was only possible because they dared to look beyond financial sustainability to stay aligned with their greater shared community purpose.
Lesson 4: Inspire people to believe in themselves
When I asked the ladies that day what part of their Life in Africa experience from the old days stood out for them most - when I was still there and trying out all sorts of development ideas - I was surprised when Esther replied that it was mostly that I just believed in them. She remembered and laughed about the time I sat her down in front of a computer for the first time and told her to type the numbers from her quality control count into something called a spreadsheet that was open on the screen. The most impressive part of that story for Esther is that she actually did it! She recalled feeling so sophisticated and proud of herself, for who could have ever imagined that she would ever work on a computer! The moral she imparted is that when you believe that someone believes in you, you can do anything. One of the many valuable qualities Esther brings to her leadership style is that she believes in people, and in doing so inspires those around her to believe that they, too, can do anything.
Building a new Life in Africa - again!
At the end of that first time back in Uganda - 2 years ago now - I left the New LiA ladies with a request to think about what they would do if the organization ever received some money specifically for helping them to move back home. That's when they started talking about the Family Transition Center. As they are now forced to leave the Acholi Quarter, it's time to make it happen.
One of the things I love most about their plan is that they've co-created it together, not based on what any foreigner thinks they should do but based on what they know they can and want to do - not only to help themselves and each other, but to contribute positively to the new post-war communities they'll become part of in the North.
Even more than when I was still there to believe in them, the New LiA community embodies everything good about co-creative community impact and innovation in action. My dear sister/friend Esther is one of several wise leaders in the group who has nurtured that.
Christina Jordan founded Life in Africa Foundation in 1999. In 2001 she was awarded the first Ashoka Fellowship in East Africa for her work using the internet to impact local community development. In 2009 she left Uganda and has gone on to found Evolutionize It, a non-profit that nurtures community collaboration for change. She is also a partner at Ci2i Global, a co-creative impact and innovation institute.
With growing unrest in the Acholi Quarter since it was announced last July that the land has been sold for commercial development, the women of LiA Kireka have developed their most important self empowerment plan ever.
It's time to go home
The plan they've developed represents these inspiring women’s collective vision and wisdom for how they can best support each other through their individual transitions (with as little interruption of their children’s education as possible), and contribute as a group to rebuilding their post-war community and culture in the North.
Most own land already, but they'll need to plant food and build homes for their families to arrive to when they move. Those who don't have their own land (especially the single mothers among them) will need a place to re-settle more permanently. The Family Transition Center they'd like to establish will cater to all of their own needs and more.
Their co-created plan includes 3 main phased objectives:
- Construct a centrally located center that offers a temporary home-base in the North, from which the 35 women can work in rotating teams to help each other plant, build and prepare their family homes;
- Support the physical resettlement of their 35 families;
- Serve the local community in the North with skills and talents that the Life in Africa group’s members and global allies have to offer.
A number of the LiA group’s friends and allies from around the world are onboard with a longer term intent to support the Family Transition Center’s development within the next 2 years. With thousands of families currently at various stages of resettling in the North, the LiA group's objective in bringing their global allies onboard is to evolve the center into a local community education and transition support hub.
Years ago, Life in Africa members were actively online in collaboration with supporters around the world at the Omidyar.net community. Since that community closed, we've been searching for another space in which to connect and plan together with our global allies. To that end, we've recently started a new Life in Africa group space at the Edgeryders community.
Our main objective in the Edgeryders group is to work with our global allies (and meet new ones as well) around developing a Family Transition Center, which will enable our members to finally return back home.
Please join us there to learn more about the plan, and stay tuned for a fundraising campaign later this spring. We hope to see you there!
Last year and January this year there has been serious unrest in Acholi quarter with the police battling with the locals. The fact that people from Northern Uganda settled in this place that came to be called "Acholi quarter" was due to rebel Leader Joseph Kony insurgency that claimed and displaced thousands of people! The people of Northern Uganda have lived on this peace of land for over 20+ years.
But that does not make it their home to live permanently, much as everybody would wish to go back home since the war is now history, there are so many challenges, people need to organize themselves in terms of transport, knowledge about how to start life when they get there, For twenty years in internally displaced persons camp means that some people were born here and may not even trace their ancestral land. To make matters worse, the government is already pushing the people to leave so that the place can be developed into modern commercial building without giving the people time or even finding ways to settle them!
As life in Africa who are working and have worked with some of these women, we feel that we should put in place a transitional center up northern Uganda where they come from, This is will help as a learning place for all homestead related issues and also a connector to different villages where these women originated from. I strongly believe that with this kind of collaboration, we shall forge ways to settle not all the people from Acholi quarter but at least some.