PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — An Uganda Journey, Part 5

In addition to our work with trauma healing and peace-building training, one of the other reasons we as board members of South Sudan Leadership and Community Development come to visit is to provide support to our on-the-ground organizers and help assess the needs and strengths of the cooperatives.

We believe the work being done in refugee settlement camps through SSLCD is truly unique. Through our organizers, cooperatives provide a shared income source for the refugees and give them an opportunity to engage in opportunities for income generation. All of the work is done by refugees and for refugees. Every penny given to SSLCD goes directly to work on the ground, since board members fund all of our expenses and overhead, including travel,  postage and website.

On Thursday, we had an opportunity to meet with Daniel, Jacob and Simon, the three men SSLCD employ as organizers, to support them in their challenges and hear their dreams.

Each settlement has 10 cooperatives. The largest is a gardening project, where we help provide rent for 50 acres of land — 25 for each settlement. Beyond the usual challenges of agriculture, like drought and army worms, made worse by climate change in this area of the world most impacted by it, they also experience injustice because as refugees, they can easily be victimized. They pay the money for the rent of the land, which often is unprepared and looks of poor quality, labor to prepare and improve the land. And then the landlords tell them they are going to take the 25 acres that they prepared, now that it looks of better quality, and give them another 25 acres, which they must prepare with less time before planting. But they have no recourse because of their refugee status.

The food that they raise is used to help offset the hunger that is prevalent throughout the camps. The men estimated that at least 70 percent of the people living in each of the settlement communities are undernourished and would qualify as hungry. So this helps augment the limited rations they receive — the equivalent of $3.25 a month for food. What they don’t eat they sell to provide for things like soap, school fees and shoes.

The other cooperatives include a small, micro-lending bank, bar and liquid soap-making, a sewing project, goats, chickens, a hair salon, a solar business, crafts, a granary and a men’s action group. (There are more women than men due to deaths in war.) The men’s group bought and raised a bull for slaughter.

All funds are shared between the cooperative members, and everyone works together to make decisions about how to reinvest when they are able to expand the projects.

Our organizers shared that the greatest challenges include the cost of vaccines for animals, supply chain issues, weather and the breakdown of machines and the cost and availability of replacement parts.

However, the joys include the ability to provide income for people who have no other option, the ability to develop community values and working together to build one another up. They recognize and understand that when they work together as a group, they can succeed.

The day ended with a chance to talk about a vision for a future. The organizers hope to rent some additional land to continually offset the hunger problem. The plan is to provide everyone with the opportunity to work, including a small garden for pregnant women.

In addition, there is a dream of helping with tree planting to give back to the Ugandan community as a means of both being a positive presence and focusing on peace building. Beyond that, there is also hope for a solar project that could eventually provide light for a large part of the settlement. In addition to the obvious benefits of having light, it also could  provide clean cooking, which would create an easier life for the women and the children.

As the meeting ended, we as board members committed ourselves to doing what we can to raise the funds that are necessary to provide ongoing support for the cooperatives and expanding them as we are financially able. John’s death impacted our fundraising because he was so connected to so many people, but we will do what we can to get the word out that there is no better bang for the buck if you are committed to addressing world hunger, in a creative, meaningful way. Every single cent goes directly to the poorest people in the world to not only address their caloric needs, but their spiritual and mental health as they engage in cooperative work to do what they can to move from from a feeling of hopelessness to empowerment.


One thought on “PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — An Uganda Journey, Part 5”

  • Lillian Bachmeier February 24, 2023 at 10:41 pm

    I’ve enjoyed reading all about Uganda. I am a huge believer in co-ops. But, yours sound a little too close to communism. Do you allow each one to keep a portion of their efforts? Otherwise, some will sit back and let the others do the work.


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