LIFESTYLE: I’ve never lived in a palace and I’ve never spent Christmas on a hospital bed but it’s been three decades of contrasting seasons of festivities since my childhood.
Hailing from what the community considered a well-off family didn’t deter Emma Oroma from pursuing her long term goal of fending for herself.
Oroma’s shadowy dreams started when she would sell a few assorted items to get her scholastic materials although many would wonder why as a child who had the rare privilege of sitting back and getting all she needed at this time, she chose to go ‘dirty’.
Her journey through Angal girl’s primary school, Tororo girls for secondary and later Makerere University for her diploma in purchase supply and management, and another diploma in stores management would only strengthen her earlier resolve to be independent.
“I Started being self-reliant at an early age despite the fact that my parents were wealthy but I found it necessary to do business coupled with the fact that the family had a business background”, Oroma narrates.
Getting involved in body draining activities like digging and brewing the local liquor ‘Enguli’ was not to be without hitches, most people complained that her early involvement in such activities amounted to child labour.
After her diploma, Oroma wasn’t to be in the list of those searching for jobs after school, she swiftly opened a book shop which was among the first in Nebbi taking advantage to supply schools with stationery.
This career change came in although in her childhood, she had dreamt of joining the armed forces but would be discouraged after being tipped on the rigorous training one has to go through before becoming a soldier.
The single mother of two would later abandon the stationery shop to invest in a super market after loads of other people took to the bookshop venture.
She would as well ultimately join a vocational school to get a new challenge in poultry and piggery keeping putting an end to the super market.
Although profitable, she is quick to assert that the piggery project is rather tedious and demands a lot of commitment, a reason why many people see it as a very difficult venture to invest in.
Oroma says she has equally tried to employ other people to work for her piggery project but most have ended up leaving the job even before finishing a month.
She has now additionally ventured into wine and honey production doing all her works at the comfort of her home this in a bid to avoid the usually expensive rent but also to utilise the space at home.
To embrace diversity and feed into different social classes of people, Oroma has put a price range from UGX 15,000 to 350,000 while the honey is from 5000-125,000 and a pair of piglets at 300,000.
Oroma says the markets are readily available for all her products.
She admits that presiding over a successful business is difficult regarding the numerous challenges which can only be overcome through hard work and determination.
The ‘born a winner’ mentality, and the persistence even in the face of utmost difficulty makes Oroma continuously pursue her dream of wanting to become a big producer of different commodities and a commercial farmer.
Her next plan is to register her business with Uganda national bureau of standards (UNBS) and also build a big underground water harvest tank on the compound which will not only help her but the community around.
Oroma additionally wants to train and later collectively venture into Jelly making with the women of her community because it’s something she can’t do all alone.
Her hard work over the years has seen her acquire an expansive 200 hectares of land on which she has planted trees while other parts are used for other farming activities. She strongly appeals to the women folk to follow her lead and invest in land.
Oroma’s childhood love for drivers and motorists would eventually make her one of the first female riders in her town before further buying a car to ease her work.
She idolises the former resident district commissioner of Maracha Ms Mary Akwiya who she praises for her passion for education and humility despite her high social class.
She says with determination and hard work, every woman can achieve their dreams but stresses that the important thing is to set a goal in life and work towards achieving it.
From a young girl helping her brothers in the shop during holidays, Oroma has no regrets over her career decisions and a choice to get involved at an early stage.
To the girl child, Oroma says marriage should never come first before education, employment or acquisition of land that appreciates with time.
She says one can never be poor if they have land because it can be used for different purposes just like what she has done.
A scorching afternoon in a rocky area of village nine of Zone two in Imvepi refugee settlement in Arua district, perhaps against all odds, there emerges 63-year-old Ms Jane Agaba with broad beaming style.
From a personal observation, our small trek in the scorching heat had saddened our faces a bit as we approached these random arrays of mainly grass thatched homes.
But that discomfort of the heat was at least ignored as grey-haired Agaba ushers us to what became her home ever since she fled to Uganda because of war in her country.
The rocky soils here would have ideally made any chances of agricultural activity near-impossible, but that in itself turns to be a blessing to Agaba and a host of other women as they take advantage of the ‘Mandela’ vegetable gardens to grow a variety of greens for their households and for sale.
“After I was trained, I started putting up nursery beds for onions and later growing on my small plot, I obtained a basin and half,” Agaba explains as she moves through her garden fenced with local materials.
A stone-throw away from Agaba’s residence, we find Ms Mary Poni, in her late 20’s, she is particularly humorous explaining how the children and herself are now fat and healthy with the balanced diet made possible through the variety of green vegetables in her garden.
She interposes her ordeal to a hearty laughter before revealing that she did not only obtain shs60,000 but was able to buy school shoes for her two children currently enrolled in a secondary school.
Poni is quick to point that it had previously been difficult to obtain money in the settlements and worse with the dry and small plots allocated for settlement.
The Ayiki kitchen group
Beyond their individual home settings, a group of about 40 women in the same location have now teamed up to form a group, ‘the Ayiki kitchen garden group.’
Through a translator, we are told Ayiki means to “remind ourselves” whether this is about their plight or the war that brought them to Uganda. We are left guessing but the group less than two years is already making strides.
“The things we do may look small, but these things are helping us so much. We have now started a savings group with the ultimate aim of renting a bigger piece of land from the host population to expand our enterprise,” says Ms Lillias Onzia, the chairperson for the group.
Ms Jackline Amana, the group secretary appeals to well-wishers and organizations to support their cause through a financial boost to enable them achieve this target.
About the Mandela garden
“I developed the technology during my Diploma from Bukalasa agricultural college, we were told to use very little land and see how the crops will survive and that was during dry season,” Mr George Lukayi, a senior agronomist under Joint Aid Management (JAM), the organization that runs the gardens says.
“When I realised that my crops survived under very stressful conditions, I related it to Nelson Mandela who through years of imprisonment persevered,” Lupai added.
His explanation perhaps unsurprisingly was followed by a deafening laughter with the camp commandant later joking that Mr Lupai had strayed from science to politics.
Explaining the nitty-gritties of the garden set up and the variety of vegetables grown here, Lupai further said the site serves a very important purpose.
“Here we are serving two purposes; the training part and the supplementary feeding part. When we are done with training and demos, the produce we get is used to supply the kitchen for the new arrivals who are placed in at the reception centre for a period of time before their own land is allocated,” Lupai explained.
Through training at the demo site, over 3, 000 people have benefitted and are now practicing at their own homesteads.
To ensure fairly constant supply of vegetables through the hardest months of drought, Lupai says they did post-harvest handling to keep some of the excess produce to be used during the dry spell.
The JAM approach
Ms Ann Pretorius, the co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) JAM international during a visit to the settlement acknowledged that more needs to be done despite the tangible progress in the lives of the kitchen garden beneficiaries.
“I want our programs to keep expanding, I see that even as we keep touching communities, there is more that we could do in our core areas of nutrition, water and agriculture,” she said after a tour of JAM projects.
“Personally, the appreciation we have received makes us want to do more always, they welcome us and everybody says God bless you. I realise happiness doesn’t come from living in the palace but from changing tomorrow and we are grateful if we can be a vehicle carrying this message of hope,” Pretorius remarked.
Ms Amanda Koech Otieno, the JAM international Uganda program manager says the programs primarily target pregnant and lactating mothers and the vulnerable members of the society like widows, the disabled, child headed families and elders although men have also directly benefited from the trainings.
She says in line with the organizations’ expansion plan, the women groups will soon be trained to produce seeds that will in turn be sold to the organization.
The Imvepi settlement alone hosts over 64, 000 refugees, majority of them South Sudanese many of whom continue to live in dire conditions.
But for the 3, 000 that have benefited from the Mandela garden ‘magic’, the produce from the dry rocky land has put smiles on their faces.