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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rural Visit - Family and Culture

Today we got the privilege of going on one of the most looked forward events from the trip - the rural visit. We left straight after breakfast to drive about an hour and a half to go into the very rural part of Uganda. We arrived in the town center to the welcoming of probably about 30 children. Then we split into two groups so that we could visit two different farming family homes. One group walked to their destination; my group got to ride boda boda's (which are like the taxi's of Uganda, motorcycle style). Don't worry parents, the drivers made sure to go a slow and safe speed on those things.

We got to meet Henry Lwanga who taught us all about his cocoa farming and family life. Before we had arrived, I was expecting a town that was very lacking; a town full of sad people who would do anything for some food (like they show on the commercials all the time) but I am very happy to report that that is not the case at all. The town is thriving! There is more food then they need and they have access to health care (there is a pharmacy and health clinic in town as well as a hospital 10 kilometers away) and education without too much hassel.

Henry got his Bachelor's degree from Makere University and came back to farm, something that is actually rare. Most farming families don't have that much education, children usually stop after primary school so that the kids can help out on the farm. Henry's family, however, is exceptional and all of the kids attend school. He has 10 children by the way and the ones that aren't yet at university help around the 50 acre farm that the family owns.

So here is what Henry tells us the typical rural Ugandan day looks like:
He wakes up around 5 am and plans everything out so he has a "mission for the day." Then he actually begins the work around 7 am with the help of his children. The kids usually can only help out for a little bit since they need to get to school. He works out on the farm all day while his wife stays home and works on general upkeep, cooking, smaller plants, etc. The kids help out more on the weekends and on holidays but even afterschool there is always some sort of project to do around the home. On a cocoa farm, there is never lack of something to do - they have to harvest every 14 days. I asked about who inherits the farm, expecting to hear the usual "eldest son" answer, but Henry says that's actually something that is put in the will and is kept a secret until the father passes away, and this is not always (or even usually) the eldest son. But no one will know until the time comes; I found that very interesting.

After seeing some of the cocoa plants and learning about the agriculture aspect of their life, we had to retreat to the pourch of the house to get out of the pouring rain - bad timing huh? But we got to ask more questions and hang out for a bit so it wasn't terrible. When the rain stopped, we headed back into town to have some lunch. The wives of the farmers who had been showing the two groups around had cooked us a feast; there was so much food there! And most of it was very different food then we are used to eating. What I liked most about the feast was that, according to Dr. Senteza, all of the food came from within a 5 kilometer radius. It was all home grown. Well, this is excluding the soda that we had to drink of course. But the food was pretty good and there was more then enough there, which is a great testimony to how the town is thriving.

The people are so happy there; it was wonderful to see! Also, there was an overwhelming sense of community. One of the staff members from MUBS was telling me that while he was growing up in a farming community, he was able to disappear for the whole day and no one would worry because in those town, everyone knows each other and no one needs to worry about being robbed or kidnapped or anything. What a great place to be!

Some questions for the students to think about:
- If you could grow up in a place like this no knowing what you are missing out on from America, would you want to? Why?
- How is this way of life different then your own?
- What most suprised you about the way of life in rural Uganda?
- How has this experience changed your perspective on life, Uganda, America, etc?
- How are small farms key to the sustainable development of Uganda?


  1. I have to disagree with the statement made in your post about the rural visit and farmland being a safe and great place to live. Everyone may know each other but that does not make it any safer. I think that being in a small town changes your perspective about things but it does not make it safer or any better than a city. However, if the person said that was in there town that could be it but I don’t really believe that. I don’t think I would want to live in a place like that. It was extremely overwhelming when all the kids and people knew each other but I would not be able to live there. I think that a small community is a good thing but to a certain extent. I like being open and seeing things that go on in a big city. I have grown up in a small community and I did not like it. It was like high school everyone knows everything about everyone. I have spent a lot of my life in the city though and I like that so much more. You see more then some people want to see and it taught me a lot more then the small community. The thing that was most surprising to me was how the kids reacted to us and how they followed us everywhere. I think that the overall experience of today was very eye opening. I had no idea what to expect about rural Uganda and it was nothing that I expected. I did not think the kids would follow us the whole day. I also thought that the farms would be much bigger and there would be more land. As for small farms being key to sustainable development I think that they are a large part. They keep people in jobs and they use and reuse land that they have like the cemetery and farm in one. Also, with the farms being there the food the people eat is right there and there is no need for lots of transportation to other places to get food.

  2. Loren! I am so happy that you did not forget or leave out the hard working WIVES of the farmers. I feel that although the men have long grueling hours on the farmlands, many forget about the long grueling hours of the women. I love my mom because while back at home and choosing gifts for the farmers and their families, my mom automatically thought of the wives and thought OVEN MITTS. I am glad she did so because majority of the gifts were given to the men and I think the women should feel appreciated as well! Even though someone forgot to introduce the hard working women to us at first, I am happy you did not forget to mention them in your blog! Two thumbs for you :)

  3. I would like to agree with Jacki. Although the farmers seemed extremely happy, so does the rest of Uganda. This does not mean that their living conditions are good; it simply means they do not know of any better. In fact, I believe most Ugandans are happy with their way of life because their primary comparison is to that of when Amin ruled. The living structures on the farm seemed to be very lacking. Even seeing the typical pharmacy was a bit shocking. Also, the infrastructure was very poor, making it difficult for most farmers to ever leave town to sell their goods. Not to mention, most of the money reaped from the crops that the farmers grow go into someone else’s pocket when they export their goods because they cannot transform their raw goods into products ready to sell directly to the end consumer. They may have enough food, but they also do an amazing amount of manual labor that is unrivaled by America or other developed countries. Although they may be happy, I do not think I would choose to be happy at the expense of knowledge. This knowledge of how things could be is what should be driving them toward the future and toward better lives for themselves and others around them. I suppose this farm life would not be my utopia.

  4. The rural visit was probably one of my favorite experiences. It felt like I was truly learning about their culture and their way of life since this is how most Ugandans live. I have never seen a farm like that before, and it was very enlightening for me. I loved learning about the crops that they grow and being able to taste the cocoa and ground nuts. It was definitely a new experience!
    I think it is important, though, for Ugandans to advance the ways that they farm. They do have a lot of problems with land fragmentation, which means that each child only inherits a fraction of the land their parents have. After several generations, the pieces of land available for each family to use have grown too small to generate enough crops to sustain the family. In order for farming to be a sustainable way of life for Ugandans, they need to solve this problem of land fragmentation. It will be extremely difficult for future families to survive when they depend on such small pieces of land. Children need to have the education and encouragement to try other fields than agriculture. I think that many children grow up just expecting to stay in agriculture because that is what they know. It will help Uganda develop if more children are pushed in other directions and to fulfill potential in other fields. Farming is not the only option for them, and it is important for Ugandans to not be as dependent on agriculture to sustain a living.