A Small Taste of Peace in Northern Uganda

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Lukodi, Uganda, June 28 — “It’s easy to develop when the women get together,” sing the 30 Ugandan villagers gathered in their peanut fields. Their songs are punctuated by the sharp trill of women ululating to express their joy. These resilient Ugandan farmers have come to their fields late one afternoon to show me their work and how CRS seed fairs are helping them to grow food for their families once again.

“One person can’t do a lot,” explains Okech Alem, the 74-year-old village elder who helps coordinate the farmers. “We can do more in a group. We encourage each other.”

I drink in the bright-green plants, the rays of light shining through a mat of clouds and the calm atmosphere of the rural fields. And I drink in the excitement shining in these villagers’ eyes. Seed fairs in the area — funded by the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and implemented by CRS and our partner the Church of Uganda (Anglican), Diocese of Northern Uganda — are helping families displaced by the war to grow crops that will fill bellies and hopefully provide extra seeds for planting in the next season.

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The peace talks in Juba, begun in the spring of 2006 and continuing today, have allowed these people to return to land closer to their original homes. The women tell me that being back in the fields bring them a lot of happiness, especially because they’re always telling a lot of jokes together and singing while they work. Even on this short visit, they can’t help but lean down and pull some weeds as we talk and walk through the fields.

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After celebrating their upcoming harvest, the group asks me to join them at a peace memorial. We arrive in front of a stark yet beautiful monument topped by a white stone cross. Okech tells me that on May 19, 2004, three former camps in the area were attacked. Without any understandable reason, the already displaced villagers were forced into huts the attackers then burned. Many children, including small babies, were brutally killed in the massacre. Okech explains that most of the surviving women have lost children as well as their husbands.

I look at the faces around me and try to express through a few words my deep sorrow for their loss. I feel overwhelmed by the tragedy of their experience and am honored to have them share their story. As the moon rises and the sun starts to set, I’m comforted to hear that their work in the fields helps them to forget their individual sorrows and find solace together. In a world of troubles and tragedy, it feels like a small blessing but one that also offers a small taste of future peace.

Debbie DeVoe, CRS’ regional information officer for East Africa, is currently visiting projects in Uganda to share stories about the people CRS is assisting.

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