Joining their efforts and growing together

Uganda, September 21, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Riak Paul Awuol/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Concy Ato (foreground, carrying plant seedlings) has learned to better provide for her six children through Mercy Corps' Healthy Practices Strong Communities program. Photo: Riak Paul Awuol/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Jean-Pierre Dushime/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Members of the DOKMIT women's group — and one of their young children — in a garden plot. Photo: Jean-Pierre Dushime/Mercy Corps

When rebels attacked her village, 34-year-old Concy Ato suddenly found herself as a single mother taking care of four sons and two daughters. Her husband was killed by troops of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that ravaged northern Uganda over almost a generation of civil war.

Today, her late husband’s small farm helps sustain her six children, thanks to the laws of inheritance within her particular clan. Concy kept on planting sorghum, maize and millet for a while, until she decided to change the crops and to plant cassava because of straggle weed, a poisonous plant that destroys all cereal crops. The work has always been challenging, but this land was her only source of income before the arrival of Mercy Corps, before the start of the Healthy Practices Strong Communities program here.

When the program began, she joined the DOKMIT Women’s Group, one of the groups that receive agricultural technique training from Mercy Corps.

“It is easier to work in a group than to work alone, and we can get assistance from organizations like Mercy Corps,” Concy explained.

In February 2010, the group received a vegetable farming training in the village of Obiam, on her father-in-law’s farm. They learned how to plant carrots, vegetables and tomatoes. It was then that the women’s group was truly ready to begin. But first, they had to get the group organized and put some rules into place.

The condition of becoming a member of the women’s group is to contribute 500 Ugandan Shillings (about US$0.20), which has discouraged some villagers who aren’t as serious about the work. A number of women joined the group when they saw the successful first harvest. Now the group has 30 members, divided into seven small groups. All members come from the same village and they knew each other before they joined their efforts in the group.

Members have their own vegetable gardens in their own farms, where they duplicate what they learned in the training garden. The crops from the training garden allow them to buy new seeds, to extend their gardens and to diversify plants from season to season. They also cultivate main crops such as soya bean, cassava and groundnuts, hand in hand with their husbands. But men are mostly busy with the main cereal crops than the vegetable training garden.

DOKMIT Women’s Group has also a Village Savings and loans system that allows members to meet different needs of their families such as school fees of their children. They contribute 2,000 Ugandan Shillings (about US$0.90) every week, and the money is given to one of the members according to a pre-established list.

In the future, Concy would like to buy an ox that would help her to open the land faster. That is a big challenge to her, given that an ox costs 500,000 Ugandan Shillings (about US$218). But, even with the hard work and patience that's always required in farming, she's already seeing some rewards: she now has enough money to send her children to school, among them the first-born who is now 15 years old and in secondary school.

Concy appreciates the knowledge she got from Mercy Corps trainings. She now knows many ways of planting different crops and she feels confident in herself.