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No money, no goats (Wakonye Kenwa Part 2)

After one of the first meetings of our farmers co-op, several members asked me accusingly: where was the bottled water?

Our group, Wakonye Kenwa, asked the local football club, what community problems do you care about, what needs change? They drafted a list for us: new uniforms, boots, and a new football.

Another village savings group asked us, are you bringing us a loan? Some chickens? No? Well then don’t waste our time with questions about ‘community issues.’

This kind of thinking is the source of Wakonye Kenwa’s deepest struggles. For years and years during the war, communities packed into squalid, cramped ‘camps’ relied on aid. In the final years and aftermath of war, in flooded the international aid groups and up sprouted a hoard of community groups feeding on foreign funds. If you attend one of their workshops or trainings on ‘peace building’ or ‘trauma healing,’ you’ll get bottled water. In fact, you will get paid a ‘sitting fee’ to attend, because they need to prove a good turn out to please their donors. If there is big NGO coming nearby, you should go because they will distribute blankets, clothes or seeds. If you join a community group, chances are you will get some goats to rear. Or pigs. If you impress the right people maybe you will get a lucrative foreign-funded NGO worker salary.

No doubt, many lives were changed. But it has also left a disease.

This morning I discussed with two core members in our group, why is it so hard to get a good turn out? Why is it such a struggle to engage people? Their answer of course is that people have been taught to expect immediate, personal gain:
“When USAID comes to distribute mosquito nets, there will be hundreds of people. They will get their net, and go home happy. If we are successful, our community water meetings will result in safe drinking water for everyone. Kids won’t get sick, and we won’t have to wait for hours and hours to collect water. But people won’t leave our meeting with something new in their hands. That’s why we didn’t get the numbers we hoped for.”
They could see I was frustrated. They could see I was disappointed. He continued:
“This is new here. Let’s work with the people who come. We’ll get this water. Then slowly slowly others will see. God is there.”

For more from Nick and Tessa in Uganda visit