Ugandan evacuees return home after decades of conflict

Mar 13, 2012

There are dozens of huts side by side. Between them there are dusty, narrow paths crossing. There is not much privacy in the Acholibur evacuee camp in Pader, Uganda. Yet now there's hope. The evacuees get to move back home. Alice Lado has waited for a long time.

Nearly 340,000 of the 500,000 residents of the Pader area have had to flee from the terror of the guerrilla movement LRA (Lord Resistance Army) after 1989 to evacuee camps. The situation only settled in 2007, as the Ugandan army broke up the guerrilla group and the remainders of the group fled to the neighbouring countries.

Although the situation had settled, the return to home villages is not simple. During the years in exile, the fields and yards have grown into forests, and the guerrillas have burnt down the houses and destroyed the property. One can tell the location of one's old home only by the old mango trees growing higher than the bushes.

The residents have been moved to so called satellite camps nearby the villages. They can live at the camp while building their homes and clearing the fields. Alice and her family now live in such a camp.

"Life in the camp was difficult"

Alice was 20 years old when she had to flee her home.

"There were lots of killing at the time. I grew vegetables in the garden, but the guerrillas took the crop. We had nothing to eat, and the guerrillas burnt our house. We had to leave." Alice says. The guerrillas killed one of the two children.

It was not possible to farm or keep animals at the evacuee camp.

"We couldn't do anything at the camp, and life was difficult. When it was peaceful, we went back home to search for food and collect tree trunks to sell. Sometimes the guerrillas caught us in the act, and we had to flee quickly."

Alice and her family lived in the evacuee camp for six years. She came to this satellite camp in 2007. The camp is two kilometres away from the family's old home. Alice's husband has cleared the field and they have already started growing maize and peanuts.

"We're waiting for the grass to grow to build a roof for the house. I'm looking forward to moving back home. There's freedom. Living at home is what I want. I can start gardening." Alice plans.

Learning to save

ACT Alliance members Finn Church Aid and The Lutheran World Federation support the Pader area residents returning home. Many skills and knowledge necessary for making a living independently have been forgotten during the years in the camps. The people returning home have received education in agriculture and hygiene and health issues, as well as assistance in building new wells.

One part of the support system are the savings and loans groups. The members of the groups are given introduction in general economical skills and they also receive vocational training and training in entrepreneurship. The members of the group also study democratic decision making and resolve community issues together.

Alice joined her group in 2008. The name of the group is Ayee pit (I take care).

Saving was a new thing for Alice.

"I was excited the minute I heard about the saving group. I hadn't saved before. With my first loan I bought fish, which I then sold with small profit to villagers by the road. It got me excited."

Since then, Alice has taken several loans of 40,000 - 60,000 Ugandan shillings (13-20 Euros). With the loans, Alice has developed her farming by for example purchasing a plough and a pig, and she has also practiced small retail. Alice is also now the treasurer of her saving group.

Money on a tarpaulin

Alice's saving group assembles every Tuesday morning. After the coolest morning hours when the people work, they gather on a tarpaulin under a mango tree to hold a meeting. Attendance is mandatory, and one has to pay a fine for tardiness and unauthorised absence. Alice is the group's bookkeeper and sits on a chair in front of the group.

The meeting begins with a roll call. Then every member of the group gives 200 shillings (5 cents) in their turn to the group's social fund, which is used for loans for medicines and hospital visits and such. The social fund loans are interest free.

After the social fund fees, the personal savings are collected. Women unfold their coins or folded bills from the corner of their skirt and bring the money to the pile on the tarpaulin. The sum each one has saved is then written in their own ledgers. Alice's weekly savings vary from 2,000 to 10,000 shillings.

Then it's time to pay back the loans that were received earlier. The loan period is one month and the interest rate is ten percent. The money collected as savings and paid back loans is the sum that can be handed out as new loans.

The group members wishing to take a loan then say how much they wish to take and for what purpose. The amount of the loan mustn't be bigger that three times the person's savings. The group then decides together who the loan will be given to. The preference is for loans for economical purposes.

Education and proper food for children

Alice took her previous 40,000 shilling loan less than a month ago. During the rain season she farms, but in the dry season she sells dried fish for income. She rode her bike two hours to Kitgum where she used her loan to buy a wash basin full of dried small fish, called "silver fish".

She sold the fish by the road near the camp to people living nearby. She waits by the road for the customers with other women from morning to four o'clock in the afternoon, when she goes home to cook for her children coming home from school. Usually it takes 4 to 5 days to sell the fish. She needs 10 to 20 customers.

Alice has five daughters. The eldest one, who is 15 years old, lives away with her relatives to be able to attend school. Alice meets her once during a school year. Alice says she misses her daughter, but education is important for her.

"I want the children to go to school and get proper food", she says. She dreams of being able to take bigger loans to properly develop her livelihood.

"We are now at the beginning of a new life. The past is past and I want to look ahead. It's hard work, but we get to go home. That's the beauty of life."

FCA supports the countryside development project carried out by the Lutheran World Federation, both members of ACT Alliance, in the Pader area in Northern Uganda. The savings group activity is supported by educating the groups and by hiring village workers who play an important role in developing the group functions.

Alice's loan

  • Alice took 40,000 shilling loan from the group.
  • She bought a wash basin full of small fish in a nearby town with the money.
  • Alice sells the fish for 60,000 shilling.
  • After one month she pays back the loan and the interest (= 44,000 shilling) to the group and deposits 6,000 shillings on her savings account.
  • She has 10,000 shillings left for the children's school fees.
  • 10,000 shillings = 3. 23 Euros

    Text: Maija Sankari Photos: Maija Sankari, Ville Asikainen

    This article originally appeared at The Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

    To view the original article, click here.