Jill Vine follows MAF partner, Fred Mutenyo, the Country Director for Joint Aid Management (JAM) who kindly allowed her to accompany him to the Omugo refugee settlement in Uganda
JAM (soon to be changing their name to For Afrika) was founded in 1984 by the late Peter Pretorious, a man of great faith who found himself in Mozambique where he was moved to sell his tobacco business to help the most vulnerable. JAM has now spread to seven African countries and hopes to expand to 16 countries by 2024.
Fred started working for JAM in 2021 with 20 years of experience with other NGOs. He started flying with MAF in 2017, 'It's quicker and smarter. I find the hospitality of MAF much better than other agencies and I find MAF is very smooth. I mainly fly from Kajjansi to Karamoja, Arua and Gulu where we work in refugee settlements in the West Nile and Southwest regions. We address health nutrition, livelihoods, education, social protection and water sanitation.’
Fred expounded on the ethos that first attracted him to work for JAM, ‘I love that we are genuinely helping. I just put myself in the shoes of these other people because I also had a humble beginning and know what it's like being poor and vulnerable. I like to see tangible results changing people's lives. When you help people, you're blessed and those we help are always blessing us.'
JAM partner with churches who, through their ministry and outreach, help connect them to refugee farmers. The many ways JAM support refugees seem to be evolving wherever needed, ‘We provide hot meals at welcoming centres when refugees first arrive. We’ve established village saving and loan associations for farmers. We’re helping with the emergency response in Kisoro with refugees from EDRC, because there’s been an influx of refugees due to fighting inside EDRC.’
Fred and his staff have a busy schedule delivering harvest tools and seeds to refugee farmers from South Sudan. They inspect 70 acres of land they’re hoping to lease for a community group of 30 refugees. Fred discussed with the head farmer about planting sim sim (sesame) instead of g-nuts because they’ve learnt which seeds don’t do well in the rocky terrain local farmers haven’t ever attempted to farm. The land surrounding refugee settlements is usually uninhabitable swamp or rocky land that host communities aren’t already farming, so JAM help advise on crop selection depending on the terrain and season. These refugees have plans to plant for big yields and a strong future against the odds.
JAM doesn’t oversee the agreement between the refugee and the landlord but instead the host community, refugees and landlords are in community groups that discuss how to promote peaceful coexistence between host communities and refugees. 30% of aid is given back to the host community, for example a local host will lease their land but receive 30% of the harvest.
MAF is quicker and smarter.
David Juma stood proudly on his newly leased land with a definite sense of hope and jubilation. He began sharing how he had to flee Yei in South Sudan on 25 January 2018. ‘I worked for United Nations Mission in South Sudan as their Political Community Liaison Officer but have always been a farmer. Farming is our backbone. My job was to intervene and be a mediator when conflicts arose.’ David was arrested suddenly at Juba airport and detained without any reason and put in prison for seven months. ‘A minister pressured the authorities for my release. I stayed with friends for three months and then tried to reach the border of Uganda but was arrested by one of the opposition groups and spent another year in prison. In 2017, the other opposition faction attacked the prison, helped to save my life and told me to again try reaching Uganda.’
Since arriving, David has come to learn and focus on the positives of being in Uganda over longing for his more volatile South Sudan. ‘Before, we had livelihood partners, but they gave us smaller amounts of seeds. When JAM intervened, we had a small 40x40 plot of leased land which refugees are given on arrival and food distribution by the WFP had been reduced. JAM helped us with 6kg of maize seed, some of which we kept for our family from our 120kg harvest leaving 150k (£30) of profit. They also gave us 10kg of seed for sesame which reaped 150kg, worth 450k (£100) from just 1/8th of an acre. JAM also gave us seeds for onions and tomatoes.
'From the profit made I bought 300 watermelon seeds and rented a 1/4 acre of land. My profit increased to 6.220,000 UGX (£1,390)! This has enabled me to pay for my eldest’s university fees. Three of my children are at good schools in Jinja because of JAM supporting our agricultural business. They give quality seeds that produce yields for three years.’ David’s extended family are all scattered but he knows where his mother is, and his wife and two children are with him, along with three of his brother’s children, due to him serving in the army.
Now we are not stressed worrying about how we will feed our families.
‘Now we are not stressed worrying about how we will feed our families.’ JAM also gave an irrigation tread pump and solar powered irrigation pump for the dry season when prices are better. The group has a saving corporation and they lend to anyone in the group that needs money which also earns interest. They uphold a mutual understanding where nobody defaults. JAM supports 50 groups of 30 farmers in each (1,500) and can assess and wean off 30 independent farmers but then take on more new groups. Now that David’s family are independent and leasing 12 acres of land, next season JAM will move their support to other groups already on a waiting list who have been assessed. David concluded, ‘We are stronger together. Our groups agree on their own rules & constitutions. We are self-driven but helped by JAM who have supported us so much. My life has improved since I came to Uganda. I want my kids to finish their education and I don't want to return to South Sudan. Every eight years they're fighting. I believe the reason there isn’t peace in South Sudan is because everyone wants to be a leader.’
A lady in the background hoes the rocky earth. Betty Sabina came over to share some of her story when she also had to flee Yei in 2018. ‘My husband died in the war in 2019 when he was shot on the frontline. Since I came into contact with JAM, I can now provide for all of my kids. Before, I didn’t have seeds to plant but JAM provided my family with cow peas, sesame, g-nuts, beans, onions, cabbage and egg plants. The profit I made helped me buy household items and a female goat. Now it is ok; I've been able to stop grieving my dead husband.’
What would Betty say to other displaced people who are struggling? ‘We should love each other. When we left it was an emergency, but this made us more resilient. Also, development is key. The little money we get we should use for farming and paying for our kids schooling.’ When asked if she wants to return to Yei, Betty's reply was similar to David’s, ‘I feel at home here now. I want my kids to stay here and receive a good education. South Sudan cannot stabilise.' David interrupted with a phrase westerners would probably misunderstand, but one that in Uganda confirms a sense of prosperity...’Thanks to JAM, she is now fat!’
Andrew came from the outskirts of Yei from a village called Marabu. In 2017, he was chased out of his country by an opposition group and the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army). All of his family of 10 reached Uganda safely. A field officer from JAM approached him when he was digging in his garden. ‘They helped me plant maize and beans. We made 200k (£50) and enough food for home. I would like to plant more maize, beans, sesame and watermelon. When I was chased, I was thinking about what I had left behind. But then I found that there were partners to help us with seeds. Let's sit down and forget those things that happened in South Sudan and cultivate the land.' When asked what advice he would want to share to Ukrainians that are living through running from their homeland, Andrew said, ‘Cry out to God for Him to intervene. Come and live in peaceful coexistence. Refugees do have a hard life at first and you sometimes have to beg to receive things in the urgency, but eventually you will settle to a safer and more sustainable life.' Again, when asked if he wanted to return to Yei, Andrew said, 'I am settled here. Why would I go back when there are so many rebels there that can kill you?'
The South Sudanese are traditionally farmers, and it seems they’re determinedly figuring out the challenges of farming the most difficult terrain imaginable. With the help of organisations like JAM, refugees are becoming a blessing to Uganda as they increase food production within the country and are valued for the giftings and strengths they’re able to bring to their host communities.
Story by Jill Vine