Uganda diaries: Dalson Oyo
This is part of a special IRIN series
Dalson Oyo is a theology graduate who helps run a ministry which teachers preachers. A father of eight, Oyo is also a farmer.
Photo: Euan Denholm/IRIN
|Dalson Oyo, camp commander Aloto resettlement site 25km south of Kitgum, Northern Uganda, July 2007
“I recently graduated with a diploma in Christian theology after studying since January 2008. We have started a new ministry and are teaching parish Christian leaders to preach the gospel, and counsel people to lead moral lives. We shall launch our church in the Lagoro sub-county in January. Eight of us Christian leaders from Aloto camp graduated; we teach the gospel in all four parishes of Lagoro.
I moved back to my home village in May. I am happy I am finally living in my home in Telela. It’s a beautiful place with views of Lagoro hills. I decided to leave Aloto camp after two years because it’s common knowledge that the area is peaceful. I can’t believe that my family is finally home when I reflect on the past bad days of the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] abducting children, burning camps, killing civilians and enduring the hard life in an IDP camp.
I feel relieved from the burden of living in the congested camp. My children can now freely play and enjoy their home, the place of their ancestors. I can now teach my children good morals. We sit round the fire every evening with the family after work. I have eight children and one wife. I tell them stories of Mr Hyena and Mr Hare. The children laugh a lot when I tell them the stories. The story is good because it teaches them to be obedient, respectful and hard working. Sometimes we recall how we used to run for safety during the LRA wars.
I have time to work on my garden. I have built three huts for the family. I have a latrine and the home has good sanitation.
I bought a motorcycle for my oldest son for Sh1,800,000 [US$900]. I got the money last year when I sold my cassava. We formed a farming group last year and planted 25ha. The yield was good. Each member got at least Sh2,000,000 [$1,000].
This year I planted 4ha of rice, 1ha of cassava and 3ha of sim-sim [sesame]. The long dry spell in the first farming season destroyed my crops. The harvest was very poor. I am preparing 2ha of wetlands at the foot of Lagoro hills to plant vegetables during the dry season. I am going to plant carrots, green peppers, tomatoes and egg plant. I hope to get at least Sh2,000,000 for the vegetables because of the high demand during the dry season. Few people with wet land plant vegetables during the dry season.
I will use the money to buy iron sheets to build a four-room house for the family next year. Each iron sheet costs Sh30,000 [$15]. The house would require 30 iron sheets.
My children will help mould the bricks for the house.
The good thing in my village is that we don’t have land conflicts. Everyone has gone back to their original villages and is busy working their land.
All my younger children are in school. They are studying well.
The problem is we don’t have fully functional schools or a health centre. The nearest primary school and health centre is 15km away. The primary school in Aloto village has only four classrooms that accommodate only lower classes. The pupils in primary five to seven have to walk long distances and study in Dure primary school. Expectant mothers have to go all the way to Dure. The lucky ones are carried by bicycle by their husbands.
But we do have a good water source, a borehole and protected spring.
The biggest problem here is the unpredictable weather. These days if you want a good harvest a farmer has to plant quick-yielding seedlings but unfortunately we do not have them. We requested from the sub-county national agricultural advisory officer that the government provides us with improved seeds of rice, cassava, millet, beans, sweet potatoes and groundnuts but nothing has happened.
I hope they will do that because farming is IDPs’ only source of livelihood and food security as they return to their homes. Next year, people will suffer with hunger because of the bad harvest of the first season unless we have a good harvest in the second season. Unfortunately the rains have disappeared in the last two weeks.”
Life in Aloto return site is so good compared with life in Latanya camp. I stayed in Latanya camp for three years from 2003 to 2006. I was among the first five people to dare move back to our village when government and the rebels started the peace talks in Southern Sudan. Other people started joining us and life is returning to normal and everybody is working hard to build their homes.
In Aloto all my eight children are busy cultivating our field. My children are all doing well. My eldest son is studying in a secondary school at Kitgum Town College. I am happy because I want him to study hard and become a professional.
My shop is doing well and my son is busy selling goods like soda, biscuits, salt, soap and paraffin in the shop. The money is helping me and my children meet other basic needs.
We have an agricultural project in Aloto. We are 27 in the group and we are planting crops to sell. The money will help us to pay school fees and meet other basic needs such as hospital fees.
We have planted 43 hectares of cassava and we are preparing a field to plant 20ha of rice. We have cleared a field for the rice and also 5ha for vegetables. We are doing it as a group. The work is encouraging and other people want to join us so that we plant more crops. We want to do it as a farmer cooperative.
We have built a four-classroom block and a store for our children to study in the village. We are going to build seven houses for teachers and three more classrooms for children. The government has sent us seven teachers and this is very good for our children.
This is a government school and 180 children are now able to attend class. All children in Aloto are going to school but the problem is that children in the nearby resettlement site are not yet going to school but so many people are now joining us in Aloto.
We are going to build a health centre after we finish building the school. We have only one borehole water source in the main settlement camp, which is not enough.
The village saving scheme is going well. Earlier this year we distributed our savings. There are 30 of us in the group and each person got 203,000 shillings [US$105]. We started saving the money last year.
Now we want to raise more income in the village.
Life in Aloto resettlement site is not good for everyone, however. Some people are drinking too much alcohol, both men and women. This is so bad because it retards development.
Food prices are very high because people come from Southern Sudan to buy food in Kitgum. There is a problem of hunger because people in the village are selling their food because of the high prices. People will face hunger if they sell all their food without leaving reserves for feeding their family.
I will sell some food but not all; I will leave some for my family to feed on while I plant more in the coming season.
I am undergoing training at the Faith Mission in Kitgum town to become a pastor. It is a two-year course and after the training I will graduate with a diploma in theology. This is my sixth month of studying. We study for two weeks and then go back home for two weeks. I am preaching the gospel and this is my eighth year preaching in my village. We are going to build a church in the village when I complete the training.
Preaching the gospel of God will help clean people’s hearts in the village for reconciliation and forgiveness. I teach people through the word of the Lord so that they can work hard to fight poverty, obey the law, keep a healthy family and be responsible in their community.
Christmas was very different from the year before. Back then most people were in the camps eating beans and maize from the World Food Programme (WFP) but now most people are eating food from their own land for the first time.
I remember in 2006 there were just four of us here. I was still sleeping under the trees. My family were a long way away. It was lovely to have everyone together again.
In the coming year the priority is going to be our new school. We already have a temporary structure but we are helping AVSI [an NGO] to build a new permanent structure. Our cooperative of 130 villagers is making the bricks and preparing the foundations, removing the tree roots before work gets under way in March.
We have set up a cooperative garden. It works being in a cooperative because it means we can better market our produce, getting better prices. You can achieve more together than alone.
For now we are farming 10 acres of cassava but we plan a garden of 200 acres of rice. Growing vegetables just doesn’t make any sense with market prices the way they are at the moment. Cassava and rice are far more profitable.
The government will assist us with tractors to help plough it.
With the cooperative and tractors farming now, it is very different from what we had before, but things have to change and we are all busy learning.
There will be 130 of us who will be working on this. Each person will be working twice a week in the school and twice in the garden.
The micro-saving scheme we set up in August is running very well. We have now had three rounds of contributions and have collected 800,000 shillings [US$470].
The village is still getting bigger, more people continue to arrive from the camps - now there are 645 of us - but not many people are leaving to go home. I’m on my own land now but there are others who would like to go to their original places; it’s just that the time is not yet right for them.
I think there are two factors - firstly the peace talks - people are a little uncertain still how things are going to develop, especially with the [rumoured] killing of [Vincent] Otti [deputy lead of the LRA] - and then there is the grass.
We need grass to be able to make the huts for our roofs but hunters have been quicker at burning it than people have been at harvesting it. They want to chase the anyero - edible rats - out of the bush and so set it alight. We try to dissuade them but you always get some people who go into the bush and burn.
People have been hearing a lot about the peace talks on the radio and we are worried that they could fail.
We hear Otti has been killed. It seems to me that Otti was the one pushing them [the talks], so what will this mean?
Before him the others who led the talks for the LRA also had trouble. Otti Logela was killed and Sam Kollo had to be evacuated by the army. And so is this because [Joseph] Kony [LRA leader] is against the talks?
Things are changing here in Aloto. The rain has been good so people are digging a lot. I’d say the fields have increased about 75 percent.
I now have three gardens. The groundnuts are doing very well.
There is still a lot of volunteering in the village.
In the last month we have dug bigger latrines for the camp and made some shelters for bathing.
This morning five of us built a house for one of our teachers. We should make sure our teachers are happy and contented in the village. They are doing a good job for our children and so it’s also important that we are good to them.
Savings and loan
We’ve set up a village savings and loan association and just finished holding our second meeting here today.
IRC and CARE have trained us on how to organise the group and have given us a box.
We’ll be meeting under this tree every Saturday - everyone will come together and put in 500 shillings each (30 US cents).
That will help us to save and then there is money to borrow should anyone need to.
It’s good because firstly it gives people a reason to work together and togetherness is very important in the camp; it can become an opportunity for us to talk about other issues and ideas.
Secondly, it motivates people to work hard to earn their 500 shillings to come and bank it.
And thirdly it will help people pay school fees and medical bills. If they have a problem they can take a loan which they will pay back at 5 percent over three months.
I think I’m going to take out a loan to buy a little soap, sugar and salt in the town and sell it here in the camp and I’m sure others will be looking to do the same thing. Then I’ll use the spare money to pay my children’s school fees.
The idea is to start a little business in the camp.
There are 30 of us in the group and most are women. Why is that? I think most of the men just go to drink it but the women are more responsible.
The first meeting was held a couple of weeks ago to explain the idea to people and today’s meeting was to select members and the committee. I was chosen as the loan officer. I will help people make proposals and will make recommendations.
Next Saturday people will start to bring their contributions.
The money will be kept in this box we have been given with three padlocks on it. This means that it can only be opened when everyone is together in a meeting because you can’t always know people’s interests.
We will have to wait to see if everyone can bring their money, but I hope so. They will get a little time and help if they have any problems.
I’ve been talking to a lot of people about the scheme over the last couple of weeks and most people have been very positive.
So I was happy to see this number of people come along today
In fact, I think it’s been so popular that we may be looking to start a second group because if the group is too big it won’t work so well.
Events in 2003
We moved to the camp in March 2003. The LRA soldiers had come down during the day. They found us at home but we managed to run away.
We just had to run to save ourselves. The huts were burnt to the ground with all our belongings in them. We lost everything but at least we weren’t inside. We went immediately to Lantana camp.
Our family were spared, thank God, but my brother was taken. After eight months he came back.
I’m a God-fearing man so I asked for forgiveness. I’m what they call saved - a Pentecostal - and I believe it was a test from God. If you are really a child of God and pass the tests it makes you stronger. I lead 18 people for prayers here every Sunday and the Bible is very important to me.
Jesus clearly told us to turn the other cheek so these men should be forgiven. It’s time for them to come back.
If they are taken to this court [the International Criminal Court] it will be damaging to the process of reconciliation and that is what we need. We need to heal.
Cutting off lips, cutting off ears, is so terrible but we have to move on, we have to forget. They cannot know what they have done.
We are created through God and it is for Him to make examples [of people], not us.
Jesus gave us an example. He said, if any of you is free from sin then you pick up that stone [to punish a sinner] but nobody picked up a stone because they knew that anybody could sin.
This teaches us that all of us can sin. We can and do all make mistakes.
But what has happened in the past has to be spoken about. The rebels and the government have to be honest about what they have done. There has to be truth as well as reconciliation. And we can have that in the traditional Mato oput ceremony.
When this government of Museveni’s took over from Tito [Okello], the soldiers came here and they did a lot of killing. A lot of killing. People were forced into their huts and then burnt alive. There were some very ugly things. The government came and surrounded us, it was impossible to stay at home and live a peaceful life. People went to the bush because they felt they had no choice. [LRA leader Joseph] Kony grew out of that.
I went into the bush then to fight for Alice Lakwena, a woman who said she was possessed by the Holy Spirit. It was said that if you fought for her the spirit was so strong you could not die. I was not saved back then but I could see there was no real power in Lakwena. I didn’t even think she spoke particularly well but we needed someone to believe in. We needed someone to lead us.
Then Lakwena started to take people by force. They started to kill people – men, women and children and I said, what is the meaning of all this. So I left.
The reason why I didn’t join the LRA is I could see the same thing was going to happen with them.
Kony may say he is fighting for the Acholi but I don’t see it – not from having lived through it and seen the abductions and the killings and the suffering.
Would I eat with Kony here in the village? Yes I would. It has to be a real forgiveness.
Inside Kony is a man. He has a heart and he has to live with what he has done.
Dalson Oyo is an organiser at Aloto resettlement site for formerly displaced people, 25km south of Kitgum.
I came here in November last year and back then there was just bush, thick bush.
I never even thought about going straight back to my house. I was worried about landmines and about the LRA coming back from South Sudan but also about raids from the Karamojong, the neighbouring pastoralists, who come and seize cattle around here. It’s better that we have some protection and the security is good here because we have soldiers nearby.
Photo: Euan Denholm/IRIN
|Dalson Oyo digging a new school’s latrine, Northern Uganda, July 2007
The first thing we did when we came back was to clear the ground, to slash back the bush. When I arrived there were just three of us and I lived for five months under the trees before we built a hut.
People slowly moved back and now we have 558 people in Aloto. Many of them are still building their huts but I’ve now got three so I’m putting my energy into other things. A lot of my time at the moment is taken up with building for the village - this afternoon I’ve been digging the new school’s latrines with other villagers.
We have really encouraged volunteering in Aloto - I think it’s the only way we will develop. So far we’ve built a school - it’s only a temporary building from wood and mud but it’s a good start.
We have a lady who cooks for the children in the school. The parents don’t have money so instead they will dig her garden for her. Some of us are building furniture for the school.
The reason why I’m doing this is because I want this village to develop. I want it to be a nice village and I want to develop myself. I hope this will also encourage others to do things by themselves.
As I see it, we have a duty to improve ourselves. God told Adam and Eve to work after Eve ate the fruit in the Garden of Eden. We can’t wait for things to be done for us.
As northern Uganda starts to rebuild after years of war we must all come together and work hard and honestly.
All the commanders should be mobilised and should be educated to copy this kind of example. If volunteering were set up in all the camps we could start to grow fast.
But at the moment too many people, especially in the camps, aren’t working. They are drinking alcohol and living on food from the UN. The drinking causes problems between mothers and fathers, it leads to mental confusion and wastes people. There is no way to educate people who are drunk.
I am sorry for those who drink so much they can’t go and dig in their gardens; they are only waiting for the food being brought by the UN. We need to reform them.
They think the food is there, why waste time going to the gardens if I already have my dinner. That sort of ‘help’ is just encouraging dependency.
The money the UN uses for food should be spent on other things like building new health centres and schools - things we really need.
The temporary school we’ve built is better than nothing, but our children really need something bigger and more permanent. Many parents keep their children in the camp because the school here is just too small. At the moment you can see the children carrying everything, including the clock and blackboards, back to the village every evening.
Secondly, we have a lot of sickness but the nearest place for treatment is 15 miles away and that’s a long way to walk when you are feeling ill.
Water is also a big problem. The government built a borehole a little while ago but they didn’t do it properly and so it’s still dry and we are walking a mile there and back whenever we need water.
We also need tools - we hear on the radio that the local government has got funds for giving returnees tools but we aren’t seeing them.
So as the camp leader here I’d like to see help better targeted. It shouldn’t encourage dependency and should be focused on things we can’t do ourselves.
[This is part of a special IRIN series: Uganda Diaries, in which a selection of ordinary people in northern Uganda talk about their lives in their own words. The "diaries" were gathered over several interviews in Uganda starting from July 2007. Each individual's diary will be updated from time to time over the coming weeks.
Visit Living with the LRA - IRIN's rolling in-depth coverage of the stuation in northern Uganda and southern Sudan.]