Mercy Corps trip to Karamoja, Northern Uganda
I completed the Quad last year with my wife Annie. Don’t worry about it being a relationship breaker, we are still married, even after those hours on the hills and kayak together!
As top fundraisers in 2015 we were able to visit the Mercy Corps projects that benefitted from the Quad. The trip was centered on Karamoja in the North East corner of Uganda, near the border of Kenya and South Sudan, and hosted by Sean Granville-Ross: you may have seen his blog from Kampala in the newsletters!
We arrived into Sean’s home city and had 24 hours to see the sights, including a craft market and the only Bahai Temple in Africa. It is a vibrant, colourful city with all the noise and chaos of a capital in the developing world. However while Kampala is developing, there is an expression, “Kampala can’t wait for Karamoja” which is stuck in a time warp of underdevelopment. The communications are poor, electricity is intermittent and many children don’t make it to school. There is a feeling of insecurity due to decades of cattle raids, cross border conflicts and land disputes (all with modern weapons). Communities are fragile in this part of the world and the Mercy Corps projects while varied are about self help and “non aid dependency”.
The next day we thankfully arrived safely in Kotido. Our pilot, having found a puncture before take off, asked us to say a prayer in the plane, “Lord we ask you for a safe passage this morning, bless these people and the good work they are going to do and we thank you for letting me find the puncture before we took off”!
Once here we saw many community projects. Most of these are well advanced and the dialogue between Mercy Corps and the communities is good. One thing they all understood was that eventually Mercy Corps would leave Uganda and that they must learn to not be dependent on aid. We ended our first day in Kotido under the stars, with a visit from a youth group over a goat roast (I thoroughly recommend the offal) and at first watched, then joined in with the traditional Karamoja bounce – bringing a new dimension to Dad dancing.
Lastly we headed further north by road to Kaabong, situated in the foothills of the mountains bordering South Sudan. We visited a cattle corral where the village gather their livestock to protect them from raiders. In 2006 the Ugandan tribes were forced to disarm by local government but the Kenyans and South Sudanese were not. Just ten days before our visit a neighbouring village had been raided. Ninety cattle and two 10 year old boys were taken. Mercifully the boys were turned away at the border and made it back to the village safely.
Probably the most inspiring for me was in the nearby village Keranga where we met a group of 30 ladies who are part of the Kaabong Peace and Development Agency (KAPDA). Several years ago, these ladies, so upset by the killings during the cattle raids, arranged to meet the women of the raiding tribe. They sat across a fire and explained their desire for peace. The willingness to reconcile was great…. “You have killed our family and friends, we want peace and forgive you, please let us all move on and live together as neighbours”…. It was difficult for us to comprehend what soul searching they had all gone through to get there and achieve peace.
The Mercy Corps work is inspiring. For anyone doing the Quad this year I really do commend their work to you. If you haven’t started fundraising yet then it isn’t too late, do pick up the phone and send those emails. Last year Annie and I were top fundraisers so if you do raise some money you might be invited to go next year! See you on the Friday night at the Quad hub in July.