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From the ground up

Josephine Kizza Aliddeki holds a mango sapling in a tree nursery at St. Jude Family Projects. Photo: Edward Echwalu

March 11, 2019

By Janice Biehn

It all started with a pair of piglets.

Josephine Kizza Aliddeki and her husband John were teachers in Kampala, Uganda in the early ‘80s. But teaching didn’t pay much, so they decided to improve their lot by becoming produce marketers. It was 1984 and they began by buying cereals, maize and beans and selling them at the local markets. One year later, to make more money, they decided to add value to their products by buying a mill and selling ground maize.

Then in August 1985, war broke out. Concerned for their parents in their hometown of Masaka, about three hours west of Kampala, they decided they should travel along the highway to check in on them. While they were there, the highway bridge (Katonga bridge) back to Kampala was bombed and they were completely cut off from their home.

“We had no money,” recalls Josephine. “We had used it all on our parents.” Kiganda culture does not allow daughters-in-law to freely share a homestead with fathers-in-law, forcing daughters in-law to live in complete hideouts, she explains. “Despite having been welcomed at my husband’s family, I thought it better to start an independent home of our own; John had a piece of farmland that was handed down to him from his grandfather.” This land came with a squatter, an elderly man who was in need of a shelter.

Josephine finally convinced John to utilize the inherited land from his grandfather, which she says showed her power as a woman. “This was the beginning of our lives together,” says Josephine. “We prayed a lot to St. Jude then, the patron saint of lost causes.”

Think about their meagre list of provisions:

  • a child’s mattress donated from a family member that still smelled of urine
  • a small blanket that did not even cover them all the way up
  • a sauce pan
  • one plate
  • one cup
  • a small lantern

For six months they lived, or camped, like this on her husband’s land. When the war ended, they went back to Kampala only to find that everything of they owned had been looted. So they returned to Masaka, determined to make a new life.

Here’s where the piglets come in.

“We decided to start growing some food to feed ourselves,” says Josephine. “But our crops were not doing well. I got up the courage to ask my father-in-law for two piglets from a recent litter. I wanted them for their manure.” To her astonishment, he gave her the piglets. They scrounged around for sticks to build a pen for the piglets and kept them for four years, using their manure to improve the soil and increase crop yields.

Then in 1992, Josephine heard an ad on the radio for an organic farming course in Kampala being taught by a woman from the UK. There she learned about making compost from animal dung, urine and green farm matter. She applied the compost to her banana trees and in just six weeks, the difference was clear. The yields improved tremendously and Josephine began sharing what she had learned with others. Eager for more manure, they sold the pigs and bought a Friesian cow.

One year later, the woman who taught the course in Kampala returned and visited the people she had trained. She was delighted to discover Josephine was not only using the techniques she had learned, but teaching others. “She found me disseminating knowledge,” says Josephine, so she sponsored her to study at the University of Reading in England to earn her degree in organic farming. “My husband was very supportive,” she says. “We had three kids by then, but he stayed back for two years so that I could go.”

Three years later, in 1997, Josephine’s organization had grown into an agricultural school where people could learn hands-on techniques. “We registered as an NGO and called ourselves St. Jude Family Projects in memory of our early days when we were a hopeless cause. We added Family Projects because when families work together, they can change minds.”

Today St. Jude targets three main populations: women, children and youth. “Uganda is an agricultural country, and the people who do most of the farming are women,” she says. “And they suffer, especially around here where the neighbouring district was very affected by HIV and AIDS. Many women were widowed or sick with HIV and AIDS but without food. We are training them to grow food in their gardens using simple methods that they can teach their children.”

Josephine notes that poorer children go to the government schools and often come without any lunch. “We have set up demonstration gardens in the school and now they are able to eat at school and learn the farming techniques that will set them up later in life. The children are proud to teach their parents.”

And youth, she notes, are so hopeless that there is a music group in Uganda called Jobless Youth. “But we teach the youth in the community here that there’s something they can do. They are powerful and energetic and they can use this energy for good, to work and protect the environment. They are ambassadors to train fellow youth. I’m very proud of them.”

In 2000, Josephine’s husband suffered a stroke. After spending two and a half years in the hospital, he came home but required round-the-clock care. He died in 2004. He didn’t live to see the incredible growth of this organization over the past 15 years into a centre of excellence. In 2014, the offices were built, alongside a school that focuses on practical training over theoretical knowledge.

People come from Africa and other parts of the world to learn about organic farming, food security, income generation, environmental management, tree planting, water harvesting and soil fertilization. The holistic approach emphasizes that all of these things are connected to healthy living in an integrated manner.

Since 1997, St. Jude Family Projects has trained, closely monitored and transformed 186,000 farmers, and is this year touching the lives of 6,000 farmers alone. All six of their children work in some capacity at St. Jude. PWRDF has been able to support 210 families in the community by improving food security (three meals a day instead of one and a half), increasing income through farm entrepreneurship and teaching agricultural conservation techniques to cope with climate change.

“I tell my story because I know many women who have similar problems, who started with nothing,” says Josephine. “I am an example that women working together with their families can transform themselves to greatness.”