Cecilia Akwero is eating every day, and you could say the cost of vanquishing her family’s hunger was peanuts. Literally.
Cecilia, a widow, is one of millions of South Sudanese refugees who escaped to Uganda. In happier times, she lived with her husband, her two children, and one grandchild in South Sudan. She and her husband bought food crops in over the border in Uganda and took them home to sell. But that life ended tragically one fateful night.
“My dear husband, who made life so easy for us, breathed his last one night when we got into an ambush on our way back from a short errand,” Cecilia says. The attack blinded her daughter, Martha, and left her unable to speak. And as for Cecilia, she fell into a deep hole and dislocated her hip while running from her attackers. The injury left her permanently disabled.
Cecilia with (left to right) her son, her grandson, and her daughter Martha.
More Than Peanuts
Cecilia settled in northern Uganda, where Food for the Hungry is helping refugees and host community members. For the first year, FH provided Cecilia and other farmer with peanut seeds. The family can cultivate peanuts both to eat, and to sell as a cash crop.
But FH provided more than peanuts to Cecilia. “I was surrounded by people who had lost hope and belief. People once lived happily, were turned into beggars in the wilderness by the civil war,” Cecilia said. She suffered from fear and low self-esteem, because her future looked so fragile.
What changed for Cecilia? Because of her disability, and because she was caring for her disabled daughter, FH prioritized helping Cecilia. FH invited her to join a 25-member farmer’s group made up of both refugees and longtime community residents. The farmer’s group elected Cecilia as their treasurer.
The farmer’s group cleared five acres of empty, unproductive land that the government of Uganda provided. Together, the group planted the peanuts with tools that FH provided them. FH staff also provided training in environmentally-friendly farming practices. This means they should be able to farm this land for years to come.
“These activities have not only built our skills, and created hope of a good livelihood. They also created harmony between us refugees and host community members,” Cecilia said.
Living in Community, Together
Cecilia also commented that FH’s program provided a way for women to participate in community leadership. “When I was growing up, I saw no woman within my community representing such positions,” she said. She said she felt she spent many years “living in parallel” in her community, unable to take part in changing her world.
Now, however, Cecilia is able to mobilize her own community, and give hope to the hopeless as someone in the very center of the decision-making process.
“I realized that it is my role to be proactive and participate in community development, and demonstrate hope and belief among the refugee community,” Cecilia said.