Muyembe is a very small village sitting pretty-well on the equator in rural Uganda.
This is my impression after staying there for just one week. Life is tough for most
people. An existence where you eat what you grow, and try to sell or barter excess
food for luxury items like paraffin for your lamps, and perhaps a carton of washing
powder or a little soap.
This is a place of mud huts with bare earth, or cow dung, floors. There is no running
water – you collect that from the borehole, or the river, every day. The toilet is
a hole in the ground. Cooking is done outdoors on an open fire, so gathering wood
is a regular chore. Each family has a compound with several dwellings and adjoining
land for cultivation. Some of the land is worked cooperatively by members of women’s
empowerment groups. These are set up by African Village Support, the charity which
was hosting our visit, to enable the women to have at least some income to provide
for their children. Matoke prepared by steaming and mashing peeled green bananas,
is a staple ingredient of most meals Maize and rice are also grown, along with green
beans and tomatoes. Eggs and goats meat also feature in the diet Ploughing by oxen
is as common a sight as the ancient, battered tractor.
And here people walk great distances – we met one of several school teachers who
walk 3 miles to work each day. Public transport is predominantly the Matatu, the
ubiquitous African taxi –we would call it a minibus. On one journey I was one of
24 people inside the 14-seater vehicle, with at least one other clinging to the outside!
Motorbike taxis are everywhere. I saw many carrying three people, and one carrying
an 8-foot table, Then four on a bike, two or three with five on a bike, and one with
an unbelievable six people on one machine! The other taxi is the boda-boda, a bicycle
with a parcel rack on the back, on which the passenger sits side-saddle.
“I was one of 24 people inside the 14-seater ….” There is no petrol station for
30 miles or more, so the few who own a vehicle (typically a very old and battered
affair) have to buy fuel from local dealers who sell it from Jerry cans at inflated
prices. Much of it is diluted with paraffin, causing engines to knock and break down,
adding misery to an already difficult journey over pot-holed, dusty, earth roads.
Bandits from the region bordering Sudan and Kenya have a history of cattle stealing
around Muyembe. The last incursion was only 6 or 7 years ago. The bandits came armed
with AK 47s. The villagers hid their cattle inside the school and other buildings,
but most were taken. Since then, Asian traders, have bought up much of the land.
The peasants could not resist the offer of so much cash that they readily agreed.
Now their cash is long spent and they have neither money nor land. The Asians have
since established profitable sunflower production there.
The situation is not unlike 19th century Europe, where the poor were in rags and
families were large and death came early. Families typically contain 7 or more children.
This is understandable where one in five does not reach the age of 5. In the absence
of any welfare, children are a guarantee that parents will be looked after in old
age, and before that, they contribute to the economy of the household by performing
carrying, cleaning and childminding chores to free the adults for work.
And yet, this is a society which is trying to embrace the 21st century. I have an
iconic photograph of a young woman, obviously educated and in a good job (probably
in provincial administration) carrying a jar of water on her head, with a laptop
bag slung over her shoulder!
We attended the Anglican church. It is falling down due to termites eating the mud
walls and wooden framework. At the offertory, some villagers were placing tomatoes
and eggs on the plate – the only currency they have. I was taken to see the replacement
church. The construction of this brick-built
structure has been on-going for years. As the money is found, more bricks are added.
It is doubtful that, without outside financial help, the church could be completed
before the existing one collapses. At present it is up to window -sill height. It
will be a community and health centre as much as a church, just like St. Peter’s
which we built in Greenfields Township in South Africa. It can be completed –with
a concrete floor as well - for only six thousand pounds………………..(Contact me if you
care to donate) *
This was a step into the unknown for us. There is a lot more to tell. What made
the greatest impression? The stoicism and practicality of these inherently religious,
resourceful, kindly and friendly people.
* Greenfields Africa grew from the outreach of St. Peter's Church and is now a registered
charity in its own right. As you can probably gather, we have built a church in Greenfields
Township in S. Africa, which houses an eye clinic, Aids clinic ,soup kitchen and
women's sewing workshop as well as being a school classroom every weekday and a place
for meetings, celebrations, youth club etc..
We like to offer as many people as possible the chance to experience the joy of having
a stake in our projects: this includes the township or village people themselves,
however small their contribution, since they can then claim ownership. We don't want
to be regarded as the white man riding to the rescue, but as a a group of Christian
people working in partnership with people living in challenging circumstances.
If the church in Muyembe was to be completed with some donations raised from Parish
Window, it would be a wonderful thing. I think there would be singing in heaven!
Brian’s email address is: email@example.com