Much to say about refugees.

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Team Nyumanzi, host community, refugees, trainers, we are all one!

Andrew Kalema, PDC graduate from our 2016 Permaculture course, bamboo expert and ex journalist put it best in a recent Facebook post,

Someday we might all be refugees, how we treat them is how we wish to be treated.

Resource wars, climate change, collapse of the old economic order.. we would be foolish to think we are immune to catastrophic change. If displacement were to come to you then you could do a lot worse than arrive in Uganda. The Central African nation has accepted over a million displaced people in recent times, putting many other nations to shame.

International agencies have stepped in, UNHCR, Norwegian and Danish Refugee councils are visibly engaged, but it is the Ugandan government and people that has extended a welcoming hand by releasing land enabling the refugees to become settlers. I first became aware of the enormity of this situation in a BBC Radio broadcast ‘Crossing Continents’ maybe a year ago, highlighting the crisis. Congolese and South Sudanese people have been pouring across the border in search of refuge in huge numbers.

Experience shows these awful situations take time to resolve and by that I mean some years. Boredom, depression, loss of hope and human violation follows in the tracks of hopelessness, there is a great vulnerability and need for constructive action; so turning camps and places of containment into settlements and places of potential is a significant step forward.

Uganda is showing great compassion to its troubled neighbours, not only have the new settlers been given ID cards and land they are also being offered vocational training and that is where we come in.

AID agencies tend to work in departmental bunkers. Roads. Water and sanitation. Farming and enterprise. Education. Housing. Energy. There is little cross departmental strategy, so to even think about Permaculture in this context is an almost heretical departure from the norm.

Houses catch water, waste becomes compost, roads channel surface water in a way that can either accelerate or slow soil erosion. Tackling food and resource issues through community engagement is education, so to my mind Permaculture should be at the heart of resettlement and enterprise development, especially in these fragile spontaneous communities.

I heard that radio 4 program and realised the huge potential that was being overlooked but how was I to capture the attention of these huge NGO’S? I fired off a few emails to no response. After all Sector39 is a tiny training enterprise in a little Welsh village, hardly well placed to win the attention of international agencies or equipped to work at such scale.

Chance is a strange thing and it turns out the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s African operations did a Permaculture course in Wales 12 years ago. S39 began teaching PDC courses in Uganda after a 2014 study tour here visiting innovative farming projects with a local Welsh farmers support Charity, Dolen Ffermio. A course graduate and friend from our 2017 PDC attended a conference in Nairobi this January and whilst at lunch permaculture quickly came up in the conversation around the dinner table between my friend and the woman seated beside him. Turns out the lady concerned was operations director for the Norwegian Refugee Council Africa and they both knew me as their permaculture tutor. She announced that there was growing interest in permaculture as a strategy to develop community resilience in the settlements where they are working. She remembered me well and through my friend invited me to get in touch with the Uganda program director who was also keen on Permaculture.

I was coming to Kampala in February already to speak at the university and to prepare for our next PDC here in May, so I agreed to meet the Uganda project head and on arrival they immediately whisked me off to Bidi Bidi, currently the world s largest refugee settlement.

They couldn’t offer me the work directly as it had to go out for competitive tender but I drafted a training program and budget and in April was invited to submit a bid. I gather there were 100 applications from all over the world but we did win a 6 month opportunity to pilot a permaculture for refugees program that hopefully might become a template for future work. An amazing opportunity for Sector39 and permaculture in general.

We started training 40 participants from both refugee and host communities plus staff, whereby each participate would in turn be expected to train and support 5 family groups.

I write this as we speed home along bumpy roads, crossing the mighty Nile en route having completed 2 weeks of the phase 1 of the training. It has gone well. I am humbled and honoured to have worked with these people.

Everything I ever thought about refugees has changed. The dizzyingly huge numbers turn people into statistics. I couldn’t really imagine how to find common ground with cattle herders and subsistence farmers from Central Africa, Maadi, Dinka, Kakwa people speaking languages I hadn’t even heard of let alone had a grasp of. Through simultaneous translation, demonstration and the magic of permaculture we have found a common language. We have become friends. True connection has been made. I look forward to returning in September, we will give active support in the interim but as we part I can say my new friends and colleagues are inspired, empowered and ready to lead their communities. I will genuinely miss many of them and I know the same is true in return.

Through our own needs, food, soil, energy, enterprise and design we all have much more in common with each other than we realise and the differences are trivial and are what keeps life interesting. Permaculture unites us. Peace.

I have much more to say.. And will do so over coming days.

Refugee Project: Norway, Wales, South Sudan, Uganda.

The beginning of our journey to the North!

The UK S39 team began with a quick stop in Kampala to pack up the our land cruiser and a few key items for our practical sessions. Here we met our colleagues Paul Ogola (PDC graduate, 2016), Gerald Jagwe and Ali Tebendeke (PDC graduates, 2017)

We had to stop off in Nateete, a satellite town of Kampala. Of course we couldn’t pass by the city without a  visit Ali’s budding urban permaculture project which is working with local youth groups to regreen Nateete town with flowers and trees. Although we couldn’t stay for long, Kampala was hot, busy and we had a long journey still to go. We travelled around 5 hours into the night to our next location, losing a sack of t-shirts off the roof along the way!

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In a pumping Saturday night in Gulu, we picked up Vicky Akello, a permaculture graduate from our 2017 PDC in Kamuli. Her work since finishing the PDC with farmers in her area of Gulu has been impressive so she was top of the list of people to add to the team. We grabbed some ‘Chips Chicken’ and chapats, heading further North on progressively bumpy roads!

By midnight we were rally driving over bumps and potholes nearly at our final destination after 11 hours of travelling. We arrived in the town of Pakele, at 1am with the place still full of young people getting late midnight snacks. The next morning we found Pakele is bustling town full of street food stalls, clothing shops with fashionable wears from Kampala and small shops containing sweets, mandazi and lots of beans!

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The town had a lively feel and felt very different to the region on Kyotera in the south West. There are many aid and NGO agencies here, UNHRC, Danish Refugee Council and World Food Programme to name but a few. There are lots of hotels and guesthouses that reflect the comings and goings of aid workers in the area. In the area of Sanje people were speaking only English and Lugandan and some Swahili, but in Pakele there are around 6 different spoken languages. The team is already learning some few word in Ma’di which is widely spoken in the North West of Uganda and also in South Sudan. On Sunday we rested, recovered, acclimatised to the extra 8 degrees of heat and then got to work planning for the following weeks’ trainings.

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Permaculture, refugees and Uganda

Its a hot arid area and water is trucked in daily from miles away on hastily built roads.

Since visiting Adjumani, Jube and Zone 5 refugee settlement areas in Northern Uganda recently, I don’t think I will be quite the same person again.

A huge influx of refugees has swamped the area with displaced people who in turn are having a devastating impact on the landscape.

Whole forests are disappearing as wood is the only easily available source of energy and land is being rapidly prepared for crop production. There is an air of determination rather than desperation as people there come to grips with what is a hugely challenging situation.

Who knew that Uganda accepted more refugees than any other country in the last 12 months? Over a million from Sudan alone!

From refugees to settlers
New arrivals are being invited to stay, offered ID cards, 30m square plots of land and basic tools and training to establish themselves along side host Ugandan communities.

There are people flooding in from the Congo as well where resource fuelled wars (for minerals to make mobile phones) is also greatly impacting the region. It puts the UK’s 12,000 Syrian in-comers over 5 years into perspective somewhat.

permaculture design course 2018Sector39 have been invited to work with the Norwegian Refugee Council along side our local partners to put long-term train plan together to help the region transition from a food aid reliance to self reliance, a transition that will take 4 or 5 years. Naturally many Sudanese will choose to return home when the chance arrives but the likelihood is after 3 or 5 years of settlement Uganda will start to feel like home for a great many of the settlers.

Sector39 have been supported by the Wales for Africa programme administered by Hub Cymru Africa

Next Steps Our next objective is to establish a training of teachers strategy which we are calling the Permaculture Academy. We have recognised the need to create literally millions of permaculture pioneers in Africa as well as across the world as this is possibly the most effective way to create climate resilience on a scale required of us by the Paris Agreement.

Sector39 have won support over the last year from the Welsh government to pioneer in this field and are grateful for the opportunities created by their help.

Their investment of £10,000 into our enterprise has set  a series of outcomes in motion. We have directly trained 25 students, via the full 2 week PDC course enabled by the grant. Since the course completed in June ’17 several of the graduates have progressed to start projects or initiatives of their own that are already having an impact.

  • PermoAfrica centre, Paul Odiwor Ogola, Homa Bay Kenya.
  • K5 village permacuture, Omito Abraham Owuor, Kenya
  • Nateete urban project, Ali Tebandeke Kampala Uganda
  • Busoga school project, Connie Kauma. Kamuli, Uganda
  • Nyero Rocks School project, Opolot Godfrey and Joseph, Uganda
  • Prince Sebe and Rama Mutebi permaculture outreach. Busia, Kenya

the list grows.. most are linked to this Facebook page

The next Sector39  course will also in clude several returning graduates on their way to become teachers and project leaders in their own right.

Charcoal is a cash income generator but it comes at great cost to the wildlife and environment. This picture was taken within a national park, a supposedly protected area

More importantly perhaps though, is with the momentum created so far we have found ourselves in government offices, talking to budget heads and opinion forers, to head teachers, planners and politicians all of whom can see the immense value and potential of permaculture.

This incredible opportunity to work with refugees and Norwegian programme has stemmed directly from the work supported by the Welsh Government as well as through networking and promotional activities in line with the grant makers requirements.

We have now completed two full PDC’s in Uganda, the first in 2016 was part funded by a a business development grant from our local Credit Union (Robert Owen Community Bank) and involvement from Dolen Ffermio, Wales Uganda link

The second PDC  2017 was in part funded by the Wales for Africa programme. and delivered through existing Wales/ Uganda support links. However through the process of the work and the huge number of people we have met in the process, we have come into contact with a great many of the permaculture practitioners and pioneers of the wider East African region.

It is hugely exciting to think where this might all lead and we intend to use this momentum to reach a great many more people.

S39 on  Go Fund Me
Donations subsidise course places for Africa permaculture pioneers

We are currently running a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money to support student costs on PDC courses for African participants