Helen was living in Patongo in northern Uganda when the war erupted. Suddenly her small farming village of 10,000 more than quadrupled in size as people fled the conflict, looking for refuge.
When she was 14 years old, Helen was kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army and held captive in the bush. She witnessed other girls being raped; she saw children murdered, and she too was raped by the soldiers.
She escaped and eventually found her way home to Patongo. Not surprisingly, her experiences had left her deeply traumatised, with no hope for the future.
However, Helen is now a shining light in our women’s group in Patongo. Made up of mostly widows and single mothers, many of whom are HIV positive, they call themselves Ribbe Aye Teko (meaning together we are strong). Working as a team, they have oxen and ploughs that they use to plough their own land and rent out to others. With the help and advice of the Slow Food movement’s initiative, ‘A Thousand Gardens in Africa’, the group is planting a vegetable garden so that the women and their families have enough nutritional food to eat. They also plan to raise goats and poultry.
They meet each week to discuss their shared projects and divide up the work. They also have a communal savings pool, to which they all contribute a small sum every week. The women are able to take it in turns to borrow the accumulated savings to invest in a small income generating project, paying it back with interest. By working together, they build their confidence and create opportunities for their own children that they never had.