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Nineteen reasons to come home

Uganda, October 8, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Moses Mapour/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Lalam Sande and her 11-month-old baby, Samuel, stand in her group's garden in the village of Odoko Mit, northern Uganda. Photo: Moses Mapour/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Tara Noronha/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Lalam Sande and baby Samuel. Photo: Tara Noronha/Mercy Corps

Even while she still lived in a displacement camp, Lalam Sande had 19 reminders of where she’d come from.

She had 19 women from her village of Odoko Mit who not only supported each other during the hardest time in their lives, but kept their farming traditions alive for two years by maintaining gardens on whatever small plots they could find. She had 19 neighbors who were sure that — one day, together — they’d have enough land to grow what they needed to feed all their families.

They felt and held onto that possibility so strongly that they gave their group a name: Dwog-Paco, which means “come home” in the local language.

And so they did. After two years in the Lugung displacement camp — a place to which hundreds of families fled for fear of brutal attacks by rebel soldiers — 25-year-old Lalam and her friends returned to Odoko Mit a year ago. Since then, she’s already seen a difference.

“In the camp, life was difficult — we couldn’t produce much food for ourselves, so we had to rely on handouts from organizations, every day. We couldn’t give our children school lessons, because there was too much chaos in the camp,” explained Lalam, the mother of two young children. “But now we can keep our children at home and teach them. And now, thanks to Mercy Corps, we can grow and provide food for ourselves.”

Upon their return to the village, Mercy Corps provided vegetable seeds and technical advice to help Lalam’s group establish a large community garden. Today, the field is vibrant with green hues of unripe tomatoes, cabbage and other healthy crops.

“These vegetables all taste good and are also good for our health,” Lalam commented. “All we grow here is good.”

The group keeps a tight schedule of who’s responsible for tending the garden. When it’s time to harvest, they will take what they need for their households and sell the rest in local markets for much-needed extra income that will help them keep rebuilding their homes and lives. But, in the meantime, she considers what she will do with all this fresh produce.

“My favorite food is cabbage,” she smiles. “You can do anything with it — cook it with beans, or groundnuts, or other things.”

Growing and preparing their own food isn’t just a simple pleasure in Odoko Mit — it’s a tradition and a way of life. It was kept alive when their village was taken from them. And now, with a little help from Mercy Corps, Lalam and her 19 friends have been growing more than ever since they finally came home.