“They pray a lot in this country but nothing ever gets done.” Overheard (and purposely unatttributed) in Entebbe
Someone once asked me what I’d like written on my gravestone. “Easy. She got a lot done,” I shot back. I like forward progress. Wasted time is time wasted. I think the village of Kitteredde would agree.
Uganda has challenges. Poverty. Hunger. Population growth. Crime. Disease. Political unrest and human rights concerns. On the surface, Uganda appears a great festering sore on the African continent, and at first blush, it is. But unlike the person I overheard complaining about the efficacy of prayer, I don’t believe these challenges are the whole story. Not by a long shot. Important things are getting done.
In pockets here and there are stirrings of better things ahead for some Ugandans who are willing and determined to reach for them. I am in Uganda to meet men and women who see agriculture as their way out, a way up. Some of these, working with a nonprofit called Roots-Africa, Inc., are working to transform Uganda. Men and women who see a transformational vision for Uganda (and themselves) have labored here and are working hard to bring it to pass. While some villagers credit God with answering their prayers, others claim it’s luck, hard work, and charismatic leadership. The village of Kitteredde credits the former. I believe it’s a partnership between God and opportunity, hard work, and charisma.
Kitteredde isn’t a place you just chance upon, especially in the rainy season. Located 99 extremely poor road kilometers from Kampala, deep within the Luweero district, it’s a small village (a combination of four villages actually, Rwankuba, Lobobo, Buzzi, and Kavule), and home to the Akwata Empola Kiteredde Savings and Development Group.
Our visit to Kitteredde was the closest I’ve felt to being an elected county supervisor in a dozen years – not in the sense of governing, but in the sense of caring for a people and wanting the best for them. I miss that. It’s a swelling of the heart to embrace people in whom I’ve invested. They sensed that, I think. Mine is a sixty-year familial investment in the betterment of Ugandans. That may seem funny considering I’ve not thought much about this place since I lived here with my parents in 1962, but this visit has filled an Africa-sized void in my heart. Like my father’s interest in increasing livestock production here, I want to see people latch on to a vision of hope that can bear fruit.
The villagers in Kitteredde began their presentation to us with prayer. We sat on the cement porch of a home facing a group of 25 or more villagers seated under an open-air tent. Blessings were given and asked. They were there to testify to us about their successes and challenges. Looking out at the proud villagers, my heart swelled and then the rain came. Lots of it. The villagers (most of them) scattered and we were taken inside the small house, into a small, bare living room where the presentation continued.
Long before Roots-Africa came on the scene, eleven years ago the Akwata Empola Kiteredde Savings and Development Group dreamed of establishing a fund to support homes and gardens and educate their children by loaning parents money to pay school fees. This, they believed, was key to erradicating poverty. Their vision was clear: to be a self-reliant developing community. Sustainable agriculture, they felt, was key to expanding the variety of crops produced, their value, and improving their practices. They wanted to create and invest the resources necessary to accomplish that. To move from domestic to commercial production. Roots-Africa more recently has come alongside them, providing Changemakers to coach and provide leadership for a new Kitteridde soybean project. It’s a relationship that looks to continue.
With strong leadership, the Akwata Empola Kiteredde Savings and Development Group grew from 30 members in 2012 to 109 today. Today, members grow maize, beans, coffee, banana, sweet potatoes, cassava, and recently, soya beans. It’s not all been a success – they tried establishing a piggery but prohibitively expensive feed costs due to changing climate conditions caused them to discontinue that. Despite high land prices, they purchased a quarter of an acre upon which to produce crops. The results, they believe, have been impressive.
Kitteredde leaders say that members have learned the value of saving a part of the proceeds of their harvest to invest in their future. The number of students who drop out of school because of prohibitively high school fees has slightly decreased, they say, and domestic violence exacerbated by financial pressures has decreased. Their youth have gotten involved in the savings project too, some obtaining loans to buy land, build homes, and buy motorcycles – here called Boda-boda – to start transportation businesses. Some have also gone on to further studies. But perhaps the greatest benefit has been in increasing their hope that things can get done to improve their individual and collective futures.
It occurs to our group that an important part of Kitteredde’s success is their strong sense of community and their dedication to the wellbeing of whoever will join them. While some members have left over the years, overall the group has hung together. There’s something here that keeps them pushing forward. Hope and belief. And they would say, answered prayer.
But Kitteredde still has unrealized dreams and big challenges. The unavailability of land and lack of funds to transition into large scale farming is an issue. They say they are praying to be able to loan each member a million or more Ugandan shillings a year ($268 x 109 = $29,212 USD). Their geographical isolation and fluctuating prices for their produce, some of which could be higher quality, are challenges. Climate change has also impacted them, especially during the dry season. They would like to develop an irrigation system with water pumps to carry them through. I’m sure it’s already added to their prayer list. I imagine that Roots-Africa may also be on that list.
And whether you, I, or the next person agrees that prayer has led to their progress toward achieving their vision, I doubt if they care. They’re too busy getting things done.