Financial Freedom: The Story of Sylvia Emar

Before the Field of Hope’s Women’s Program, Sylvia remembers life being very difficult. She had little knowledge of how to improve her farm and limited ability to borrow money, as most lenders need securities and have significantly long processing times. Sylvia would hear about saving money, but never imagined she could save 500,000 UGX (roughly $140). In addition to these challenges, she did not have proper housing.

That was before she became a founding member of the Arwotceck Women’s Cooperative.

According to Sylvia, the trainings have helped her improve her farming practices; she no longer casts seeds but plants them in rows, weeds her garden in time, and harvests on time. The trainings on finances have also helped her improve the saving culture within her family; her savings has been growing every crop cycle.

Her living conditions have drastically improved, and now there is always food for the family. She is able to pay school fees for the children and pay for health services when needed. Sylvia loves being part of the group because it has allowed her to create friendships and learn.

Sylvia has been able to borrow from the group’s Village Savings and Loans Association, which has helped her purchase farm inputs, pay school fees, build a house, buy a cow, and start a piggery project, which will further increase her household income. Over the past four years, she has been able to borrow and pay back eight loans from the cooperative.

“The VSLA has saved me from the shame and scorn of borrowing from friends and neighbors,” shared Sylvia. Sylvia also improves her community by sharing her knowledge with her friends and neighbors.

Education Empowers Entrepreneurship: The Story of Okuja Jeremiah

At just 19 years old, Okuja Jeremiah has transformed his life. Once a student having to postpone his education due to lack of tuition funds, Jeremiah now funds himself and his siblings’ schooling because of his agricultural business innovations through education.

Jeremiah grew up with five siblings on the seven-acre farm his parents owned in Kwera Sub-county, Dokolo District, Uganda. His parents are subsistence farmers who work hard for their family but with a lack of income able to support all siblings’ tuition consistently. The inadequate resources affected Jeremiah’s ability to continue school for a semester, as there were not enough funds for his tuition.

At the time, Jeremiah saw agriculture as a punishment. He felt his parents chose to hold him back from school to have him work in their farm, resenting his missed semester in school. 

This drive to complete his education one day met opportunity in the form of his agriculture teacher’s lesson. This one was about tomatoes, in particular.

Onenchan Raphael is Jeremiah’s agriculture teacher. His passion for agriculture education and empowering the youth of Uganda through agriculture is evident as he has completed a Field of Hope training, and now implements Field of Hope’s curriculum in his classroom. 

Raphael uses his lessons to inspire his students. He created a learning garden for his students to engage in hands-on learning. He purchased tomato seeds for his students to plant, watch grow, and eventually sell and witness the profits. Jeremiah said he was inspired by the opportunity for entrepreneurship stemming from the tomato crop.

Jeremiah said, “Mr. Onenchan Raphael set up a small vegetable garden of tomatoes for practical purposes and I realized that we harvested much from it, also given that the market price was very competitive. I learnt how to plant and manage the vegetable gardens since we were doing it practically in the field.”

Motivated by his teacher’s lesson, Jeremiah developed a plan to begin his own entrepreneurial venture through agriculture production.

 “When I went back for [winter break], I asked my Dad for a capital of 20,000 Ugx that I used to buy seeds for tomatoes and ornamentals. I planted them at home and later sold them raising 800,000 Ugx from the proceeds. This money helped me pay my fees for the first term of 2020,” Jeremiah said. Jeremiah was able to build upon this triumph by learning more about piggeries from a Field of Hope grant at his high school. Dokolo Progressive Secondary School benefited from the FOH grants and set up a piggery project, offering students an opportunity to learn about pig management. Jeremiah decided to use his agriculture knowledge about pig rearing in his next agriculture venture by using the remaining 400,000 Ugx raised from the sale of vegetables and ornamentals to buy 7 piglets of 45,000 Ugx each. He has spread the wave of entrepreneurship and experience through his family, as now his brothers are keeping the pigs while Jeremiah completes his schooling.

 Jeremiah developed a strong passion for agriculture and wants to study agriculture at bachelor’s degree level. He is currently advising his parents on identification of viable enterprises for their 7 acres of land, proper crop management, and production economics–something he learned from school due to the teaching approaches used by teachers like Raphael. The existence of a school agriculture project that helped shape his mind and appreciate that agriculture is a decent source of income.

Jeremiah said, “I want to thank Field of Hope for making agriculture enjoyable and practical-had it not been because of the very resourceful guide that makes students more engaged and so participative, I would not be in position to raise money for my school fees for this term and also start up other enterprises.”

A Tribute to Carol Higgins

“We currently don’t teach agriculture to our secondary students at Otino Waa, but we would like to launch an agriculture class for those students, and we think you should teach that class since you are a John Deere retiree.”  I will never forget those words spoken to me that morning outside my bunkhouse apartment in Lira, Uganda.  With that short sentence and “invitation”, my life and passion would never be the same, and Field of Hope would be forever changed.

Those words were spoken by Carol Higgins, who, with her husband Bob, founded Otino Waa Children’s Village in 2003 and served as the in-country directors for ten years.  Carol and Bob did indeed invite me into the classroom to teach agriculture to their secondary school students.  From that gift they gave me, I had the pure joy of working with bright, cheerful students who were an incredible blessing to me.  I will never forget the singing and dancing we all did to start every class.  Nor will I ever forget the joy and laughter of those kids and the excitement they had for learning.  I won’t soon forget their work ethic when we had to dig an area for a new drip irrigation project.  Girls and Boys, digging at an incredible pace in the hot sun, singing praise songs to God, thanking Him for the bounty in their lives.

Mike with Otino Waa secondary agriculture students.

Mike with Secondary Agriculture Students at Otino WaaMy biggest challenge as a “teacher” was finding good resource material to teach from.  I spent most evenings and weekends trying to study and learn agriculture topics on the internet to stay one or two steps ahead of the students.  This frustration led to our request of Vivayic, a learning development organization, to help us provide agriculture curriculum to agriculture teachers in Uganda.  This in turn has led to Vivayic providing world-class curriculum and teacher guides for S1-S4 students that is now reaching over 150 agriculture teachers throughout Uganda.

Carol Higgins, the woman who provided this spark of opportunity and led me down this path, passed away last weekend after a battle with breast cancer.  In ways that I am not sure she ever realized, Carol played a huge part in my life and in the work of Field of Hope.  I am forever in her debt.

It is impossible to guess how many lives have been changed as a result of the work and ministry of Bob and Carol Higgins, nor the hours they spent teaching and influencing young lives.  I am guessing they personally led and influenced thousands of kids who otherwise would have been roaming the streets.  The kids I taught told me stories of the atrocities committed against them prior to their time at Otino Waa – things no child should experience.  And yet, Otino Waa provided them not only room and board and an education, but also security and peace, happiness and joy, and, above all, a strong Christian upbringing.  And I had the opportunity to share their joy and experience their love.

To Carol and Bob, from the bottom of my heart, I say thank you.

To see the kind of influence that Bob and Carol had, here is the Otino Waa Creed that kids learned as a part of their education. Carol penned the words in 2003, introduced it to the children, and went out to do some shopping. By the time she and Bob returned, several children had committed it to memory, and some had even made it into a song.

Otino Waa Creed

I am a special child of God chosen and set apart for a unique purpose.

My life has been difficult, but God has been and will be with me.

I have my own guardian angel who watches over me.

It is not my fault my parents are dead. I will miss them until the day I die.

I choose to forgive the people and circumstances surrounding their death

Because I know my own healing and well-being begin with forgiveness.

In the future, whenever I feel sad or angry, I will find someone who loves me and tell them how I feel.

I know I can always talk to God in my heart. No one can take his love for me away.

I am learning to be grateful for my life,

Knowing that God will use me to help others who also have a difficult life.

Life is hard, but God is good!

Carol Higgins in the Otino Waa Garden.

~Mike Hafner

Indeed, there is Hope: COVID19 Teacher Salary Relief

As the COVID-19 pandemic struck the whole world, Africa as a continent was not left out. Facing the peril of the deadly disease with many sectors of the economy feeling its bite, education, not spared.

The Ugandan government decrees to curb the spread of the disease included closures of schools. This has brought forth untold sufferings mostly to the teachers who have been laid off for close to four months now, as their employers could not sustain paying their salaries in this lockdown.

In the field team’s follow-up calls with our Field of Hope teachers, we learned of the financial hardships facing these teachers, unable to meet some of their basic needs such as food and health care, among others.

Most private school teachers have not been receiving salaries owing to the fact that their schools are not operating. These are teachers with families with children back at home (unplanned due to the lockdown), hence increased numbers of mouths to feed. While some of these teachers have side businesses to supplement their income, these businesses fall under the categories prohibited from operating by the government due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 is not only testing the physical resilience of human beings, but also the various systems that handle it. Mental health, though our Ugandan people like to term it “mental stress”, was never considered critical or better said… lethal. However, we are witnessing an increase in heart-breaking occurrences first-hand as teachers struggle to cope up with the existing situation due to lack of resources. Instances of domestic violence have also risen during this lockdown.

At the end of the tunnel, advents “the Field of Hope” granting every teacher a sigh of relief. As reported by most, these teachers provided for their families food, medical care, and more. Mr. Isooba Jimmy could attest to this where he voiced out, “Thanks FOH for that heart am very grateful to u all blessed…am off to buy some rice.”

This good gesture by the Field of Hope will help deepen the bond between teachers and the organization through the economic support offered, along with the social support by way of motivation and inspiration found during our TeacherTalks on Zoom and within our WhatsApp groups.

As stated by Mr. Kabali Edward, “(This) morning I received relief from Field of Hope through Mr. Okullu Walter. I am really grateful and continue to pray that God richly blesses you. For sure the situation is so bad, but you have provided for me in this time of need.”

Mr. Jonah N. Musiimenta couldn’t hide his delight: “We really appreciate the relief from Field of Hope in this hard economic times, this is a sign of real love and care, we pray that the almighty God blesses the Board of Directors of Field of Hope, Staff and the whole family and make them yield more fruits in the whole of Africa and the world at large.”

Spiritually, it has imparted the lives of teachers as one Mrs. Suzanne Mwesigwa said, “Receive my sincere gratitude to the aid. I have received mine, gave tithe to the almighty God and the rest is for me and my family. Thanks Field of Hope team, may God bless you.” This resonates well with Field of Hope’s foundation which is hinged on Christ’s philosophies of prayers, love, care and service.

Field of Hope understands that all things come from the Lord, as He said, “Your needs and my riches are a perfect fit. I never meant for you to be self-sufficient. Instead I designed you to need me not only for daily bread but also for fulfillment of deep yearnings. I carefully crafted your longings and feelings of incompleteness, to point you to me. Therefore, do not try to bury or deny feelings with lesser gods: people, possessions, power.” We see the current trend of events as crisis but the to the Lord, this is a manifestation of His words that we should draw hope from because He said that, “Come in your neediness and desire to be blessed. As you spend time in My presence, your deepest longings are fulfilled.”

Field of Hope, the Lord’s tool of blessing!

Okullu Walter

Ugandan Country Coordinator

ISA Grants Creating Enthusiasm for Agriculture Education in Uganda

iganga ISAG

Agriculture is very important in Uganda, often referred to as the “back-bone” of the county’s economy, contributing on average 22% of the national GDP and employing 72% of the active population. Despite that fact, agriculture education has not been a compulsory (required) subject and is an unpopular subject and career path by secondary students and their parents in Uganda. This has been as result of occupational bias (most parents in Uganda would prefer their kids to be medical doctors, lawyers, journalists etc., but rarely agriculture professionals), lack of knowledge on potential career paths in agriculture (until I went to the University, the only agriculture course I knew was veterinary medicine) and lack of sufficient practical time.

Agriculture education has suffered numerous challenges: low recruitment and retention rates of students, lack of interest from the learners, lack of practical time/opportunities, limited funding for practicals in schools, and low passion by teachers. Addressing these challenges requires empowering and re-skilling of teachers to teach the subject more efficiently and practically while creating understanding, fun and excitement among learners in addition to providing as many practical/learning opportunities as possible. This fact gave birth to the Field of Hope ‘Youth Agricultural Education Program’ in Uganda with a mission of “inspiring excitement about the agricultural industry in Ugandan students, as well as to developing a wider and deeper knowledge of the proper and modern technologies within the industry”.

In partnership with Vivayic Inc, Field of Hope developed excellent teacher guides with numerous info on career paths in agriculture that have improved lesson plans and delivery while promoting experiential learning in secondary schools across the country. To maximize the impact of the teacher guides, FOH embarked on re-tooling and empowering of agriculture teachers through professional development workshops conducted in the country since 2018. To further support and supplement the teachers’ efforts in equipping and producing agriculturally inspired students, Field of Hope established the ‘Inspiring Students in Agriculture Grant’ (ISA grant) with the sole purpose of enhancing learning experiences of students through various agricultural related projects, demonstrations, and field trips.

Since its inception in 2017, the ‘Inspiring Students in Agriculture Grant’ has enabled the establishment of four agricultural projects (poultry projects, goat projects, and a piggery) and a field trip in eight secondary schools! The program highly emphasizes and encourages high student involvement in every aspect of the project from planning, execution to marketing there by providing direct hands-on skilling and demonstration of agribusiness principles to the students. The projects established as a result have enabled practical skilling of students in vegetable growing, poultry, piggery and goat production among the beneficiary schools in Uganda. Notable of the skills gained include good agronomic practices, disease identification, treatment and control in poultry, piggery and goats, marketing and record keeping. The projects have also facilitated improved feeding of students at their schools as they are able to produce their own food and sell to the school to make money. The projects have a student-based management structure which provide a platform for students to offer leadership to others in addition to promoting teamwork and a sense of responsibility among learners. The impact of the ISA projects has been clear through our interactions with the student leaders during our visit to these schools. I am a witness to several inspired and impressive students serving as project managers (such as Ruth from Iganga Girls S.S), project coordinators, treasurers and passionate members in their clubs.

The excitement created as a result of these learning opportunities has attracted and interested other learners into joining learning the subjects in these respective skills. Not to mention the teachers are finding it much easier to teach agriculture more practically in their school and the result has been increased recruitment and retention of students in agriculture subject in those schools.

In conclusion, the ‘Inspiring Students in Agriculture Grant’ has made very positive tangible and intangible contributions in the lives of students and teachers in Uganda creating enthusiasm and new hope for agriculture education in Uganda.

~Nicholas Ssebalamu, Program Associate