SALEM, Ohio – A brutal civil war. Farmers forced from their land. Crowded displaced persons camps. Murder. Torture.
The Acholi people of northern Uganda have been living in this tangled nightmare of rebel armies, disease and kidnapping for 20 years.
The area’s infrastructure is ruined and resources are scarce.
When Huntsburg farmer Vicki Solomon heard about the devastation of the country’s small farming villages, she wanted to help.
And as it turned out, Solomon is one of the few people who has exactly what the Acholi need.
Help has arrived. Solomon and her husband, Mark, have been raising oxen on their Geauga County farm since 2000. They train the animals to plow potatoes, level fields and haul everything from logs to pumpkins. They do educational demonstrations and take the oxen to local fairs, festivals and parks.
In June 2007, Solomon was at the Midwest Ox Drovers Gathering when she met Bob Okello. Okello was an Acholi man interning at Tillers International, an organization devoted to low-capital technology and sustainable agriculture.
The war is over and his people are returning to their land in the Gulu district, he said, but they are still lost. For two decades, they lived in displaced persons camps and depended on international food aid. The cattle are gone and most have forgotten how to work them anyway. Their land is overgrown and many have nothing more than a hand hoe to work the ground.
Okello said the Acholi need people to teach them ox-driving skills. And there is a special need for women mentors, he added, because most of agricultural work is done by women, as so many men have died from war and sickness.
Two weeks. After hearing Okello speak, Solomon said it seemed like the program had been tailor-made for her.
“My heart could really sense the desperation, yet the hope,” she said.
On Feb. 28, Solomon will join a small group from Tillers for a two-week trip to the Ugandan bush.
“I’m really excited to meet these people at this wonderful time of transition,” she said.
Solomon is the only woman going on the trip.
The program is called Cross Border Animal Power Project for Peace. The Tillers team will buy native cattle from eastern Uganda and help the Acholi people learn to train and work the animals.
The team will focus on the village of Lokung, just a few miles from the Sudan border. Their goal is to supply the village with five pairs of oxen, two pairs of donkeys, 10 sets of plows and harrows and four carts, plus the skills to use these farming implements.
Oxen. The Tillers group plans to buy 3- to 4-year-old cattle, as well as calves. Oxen are often trained from birth, so using calves will give the team a chance to show the Acholi how they can train the animals themselves. The older cattle will be trained quickly and begin working while the team is still there, kicking off the 2008 growing season.
The oxen will allow the Acholi to double their production, according to Solomon.
The drover has been from Maine to Arizona with her oxen, but this is the first time her hobby has taken her off the continent.
“I never imagined when I first started training a pair of calves as oxen eight years ago that those skills would be sought after by farmers in the war-torn Ugandan bush,” Solomon said.
Tillers did a successful pilot program in Uganda in 2006 for the Cross Border Animal Power Project for Peace. The organization hopes the program will branch out to other underdeveloped countries.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)