Some Peanuts, a Sewing Machine and Unstoppable Drive in Gulu, N. Uganda

Debbie DeVoe, CRS’ regional information officer for East Africa, shares the latest from Gulu in northern Uganda.

Some days in the field wear you down. Others make your spirits soar.

Recently, I spent an incredible day talking to people from two camps in the Gulu area of northern Uganda. I heard many inspiring tales, but one particular gentleman simply floored me with his drive.

Entrepreneur Mark Ojok used profits from a good peanut harvest to buy a sewing machine for rental and open a bike repair shop. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

Mark Ojok lives in Opit camp. His home is about 6 miles away, but insecurity in the area has forced him to live in the camp since 2003. When Mark was born, his feet were folded inward and backward. He has a rolling walk, but rubber shoes with a simple strap slipped over the top of each foot let him get by just fine.

Last April, Mark received some peanuts to plant at a European Commission-funded CRS seed fair. Due to his disability and other criteria, he also received a “labor voucher,” which let him hire some laborers to help him clear one acre of his land for planting.

Four months later, going back and forth between the camp and his field to care for his crop, Mark harvested three big bags of peanuts. He ate some of the nuts from one bag, saving the rest of the bag to sow this past season (which is going poorly due to a long dry spell in the area). He sold the other two bags, using the profits to buy a sewing machine to rent out. At this point, I was already impressed, and since Mark had stopped talking, I thought his story was finished. But, as always, I asked my closing question: “Is there anything else you’d like to share with me?”

Mark launched into a stream of Acholi, the local dialect. When he finally came up for air, I learned that his sewing machine rentals had gone so well that he used some of those profits to buy a bicycle repair kit. He then started fixing bikes, and business was so good that within a few months, he enlarged his shop and hired a couple of helpers. But he wasn’t ready to stop there. He rounded up a group of other entrepreneurs—6 men and 14 women—and started a savings and loans group. As my smile grew, an even larger grin burst across Mark’s face.

Now Mark is looking forward to this fall. While many others still in camps are planning to move back to their homes this December or January after the grass grows tall enough for roof thatching, Mark’s pretty certain he’ll have grass for his roof in October.

Score one for self initiative, zero for entitlement. Mark, I tip my hat to you.

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