Unification News for August - September 1999

IRFF and RYS sponsor 2nd AFRICA RISING Project in Uganda

by John GehringóNYC

Peace and stability are critical components for the successful future of a nation. In recent decades Africa has been torn by political instability and war and the result has been a relative decline in the standard of living for many of her people. Uganda, which was ripped both by civil war and misrule in past decades has managed to find a new political stability which has helped the nation make great strides economically and socially.

In Uganda, one major threat to the stability of the nation and the social and economic boom is the terrorist activity of the northern region that borders Sudan. This year, the IRFF has initiated successful agricultural programs in the state of Lira which has been the scene of bloody terrorist violence.

The IRFF program focused on 'Returnees', former rebels that have returned home and renounced violence. Over seventy Returnees have been given the opportunity to dramatically increase their economic well- being through taking part in the IRFF program for each person was taught ways to enhance their agriculture output through sustainable planting methods and the introduction of higher grade seedlings.

In large part as a result of the success of the program two hundred additional rebels came out of hiding and became returnees. Currently, the former rebel leader is now a leader in the IRFF agricultural training program in the Lira district. This is significant for it shows that part of the problem of the rebels can be resolved if economic opportunities are made available to the population and people are willing to offer others a second chance.

Based on the success of this program and the 1998 RYS project in Uganda the RYS and the IRFF teamed up with Uganda's National Environment Management Association (NEMA) to hold an interfaith peace service project in Lira on June 8-18 training sixty youth leaders from Lira and an additional twenty five representatives from twelve nations. This project became the 2nd Africa Rising Project and managed to catch the imagination of both local and international participants.

Under the guidance of Dr. Betty Okwir the current Minister to the Vice President in Uganda, the Africa Rising program had substantial support from schools, religious institutions and local government. The NEMA provided a team of professional agricultural trainers who spent time teaching how the youth leaders could bring to their communities coffee and higher yield banana seedlings. The methods were technologically suited for the local community and could help to more then double their family income.

The host Cannon Lawrence College (an Anglican College) where participants slept, ate and had lectures had only a year before been the scene of a tragic shootout with the rebels in which a local policeman was killed. The school provided a deeply personal hospitality and let the participants use the school's gardens practically demonstrate the teachings after being instructed in the classroom.

On June 9th at the opening meeting of the Africa Rising Project at Canon Lawrence College all the key leadership of the state government attended and the event was covered on national radio and local newspapers. Throughout the project we were visited regularly by Minister Okwir and she also hosted a special lunch at her home for all the international participants so that each could understand more deeply the warmth of Ugandan hospitality.

The RYS was very fortunate to have such a fine assembly of young adults on this project. The Lira youth leaders, half men and half women were highly recommended by local colleges and service organizations for their excellent character and skills. The international participants showed a unique seriousness for they had to cover their travel to Uganda, for some it was a two day journey by bus. Each had a strong desire to bring the lessons they learned back to their local community.

During our time together participants from Ethiopia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Brundi, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Guyana, and Europe shared and learned from each other through their talks, friendships, work and through cultural sharings. The excitement of being together and doing something that would be beneficial to both one's family and the community helped every person feel as though they had accomplished much.

Another highlight of the project came when the Vice President of Uganda, Dr. Specioza Wandira Kazebwe, Vice President of Uganda addressed the RYS and other local youth at a special youth meeting . The Vice Presidentís made a lively challenge to all the youth

calling them to create stability in their region while offering themselves in service. For many of the participants this meeting was a major highlight of the RYS.

As the reader knows, music and dance and messages of thanks are a rich part of the African culture. On June 17, the final evening of the program a special community gathering occurred which was filled with the unique flavor of African hospitality. In front of an entourage of VIP's seven local schools and colleges performed lively and heart warming songs and dances. While a host of dignitaries offered their congratulatory remarks both local and RYS teams provided a wide variety of entertainment. The music, dance, talks and comical performances drew over four hundred observers as the room filled and the overflow crowd had to peak through the windows to catch the celebration. It was a truly joyous and memorable occasion. A graduation ceremony concluded the evening as it marked the successful completion of the agricultural training. All the participants received certificates from both the RYS and NEMA.

The RYS and IRFF are now planning an Africa rising project for the Summer of 2001 in Kenya. We are hoping to receive your and many other applications. In Uganda, the Minister of Health, the Hon. Beatrice Wabudeya is cooperating by preparing a project that will include building a medical clinic. In Lira, the site of the recent project, the IRFF/RYS are in the process of setting a small office and is planning to provide war widows the agricultural training and high grade seedlings to help them and their families make a new start.

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