20 September 1996

Seeds of hope for women of Uganda

Rosaline and Gerald Addicott like to plant seeds. Not an unusual occupation for farmers, one might think, but from these seeds ideas grow and it is rural women in Uganda who will bring the harvest home. Tessa Gates reports

JUST how does a farmers wife from Bath find herself travelling in Uganda, to a place she had never heard of to meet strangers?

It is a question Rosaline Addicott might well have asked herself two years ago when she made what she describes as "an incredible journey".

It was not her first visit to the country but it was to be the most memorable. Rosalines original involvement with Uganda happened by chance – or, some might say, providence – in the mid 1980s when a bishop from that country was staying at Corston Fields Farm, where Rosaline lets four double rooms and a cottage. He remarked on the fact that here in Britain we were slaughtering cattle, when in Uganda cows were desperately needed to provide milk.

"We started Send a Cow here, round this kitchen table," says Rosaline. "My husband Gerald went out to Uganda first and then I got drawn into it."

Such was the success of that project, which helped improve health and income in rural communities through the provision of dairy cows to women, that it is now operating in other African countries. "It has superseded us," says Gerald, who grows barley, wheat, linseed and rape at the 126ha (312acre) farm, which he works on his own, with harvest help from son James.

But the contact with Uganda remained and Rosaline, who had recently completed a Global Future course at Newton Park College, received a telephone call from a woman in London, prior to this particular visit to Uganda.

"I didnt know this lady but she asked to see my work from Newton Park – I had been comparing the economy of the Pacific Rim area studying the womens role," explains Rosaline. "She gave me a number to telephone when I reached Uganda. This sounds easy but in practice there are very few telephones. I had to find a friend to locate the place and it turned out to be an office where the people there had been waiting for me to get in touch. They had already arranged an appointment for me. I was to meet the first lady of Uganda, Mrs Museveni, the next day."

The meeting was a three-hour-drive away and Rosaline had no transport. "I was told that if I was Ugandan I would walk, but I said no-way!" says Rosaline. "Somehow transport was arranged and I made this incredible journey although I would never have gone to a place I had never heard of to meet strangers in England.

"I arrived at a military outpost and had to leave all my belongings, including my passport, there," remembers Rosaline.

"I prayed so much on that journey. Here I was meeting Mrs Museveni and I didnt want to blow it. I just said what was in my heart. I said Six years ago I came here with my husband to bring some cows. She dismissed her manservant and took a cloth and washed my hands. I said You shouldnt be doing this to which she replied You have served our women, now we will serve you."

When the first lady learned that Rosaline and Gerald had no experience of providing aid or charity work prior to SAC but had felt called to do it, Mrs Museveni said "When God puts you in the right place, God blows you on".

"I knew then I was with a Christian lady and the fact that she was the first lady was insignificant," says Rosaline, who was asked to help establish a trust for rural women.

"I accepted and came back very high on what had happened, but didnt really know what to do."

The trust is known as NSARWU – The National Strategy for the Advancement of Rural Women in Uganda. Eighty per cent of farmers in Uganda are women. Women work very hard but have no right of ownership. If they are widowed the shamba goes back to the family and even children can be taken from them. It is only under the current government that women have been given the vote.

Uganda is the fastest growing African country but the excesses of Idi Amin and years of unrest during the civil war have left what President Yoweri Museveni describes as a pre-industrial peasant society.

The land is fertile and individually-owned but farming is mainly at subsistence level and it is hard to alter this without help and ideas. Empowering rural women is a step forward and it is educated and monied Ugandan women who are taking the lead in this under Mrs Museveni.

"During the Amin atrocities these women went into exile. They realised what it was like to be refugees and when they returned to Uganda they brought their money back and wanted to help rural women. These are the women who are running NSARWU," explains Gerald.

NSARWU aims to provide training for women in organic farming, credit management, legal rights and income generating projects. Projects already underway include growing beans for the UN to take to Zaire for refugees from Ruanda. "Women were supplied with seed and each one grew a small amount – say 2-3lbs – and you would think it would be a logistic nightmare to collect but it seemed to work," says Gerald, adding that the soil is very fertile and the climate good.

Co-operatives are a good idea for small scale farmers and 700 women have combined to work together on bee keeping, weaving and a poultry unit which started with 50 hens and was soon up to 150. "The biggest problem is that even to get 50 hens you have to raise the money for them and how do you do that when you live in poverty?" asks Rosaline.

In the co-operative lack of money does not stop progress – it fires ingenuity. Children whose parents cannot afford to educate them are taught weaving and dressmaking but there was no building to house them. "Here we would sit and worry where we could find the right building. There the women made all the mud bricks and built it themselves," says Rosaline.

Her role with NSARWU is undefined and she has been perplexed as to the best way to help. Raising awareness of the womens struggle is one way. "We give talks and it would be wonderful is some of the womens organisations, like Farm Womens Club for instance, would link with us. It would be rural women responding to rural women," says Rosaline who with Gerald has organised a study trip to Uganda in November. This comprises medical, agricultural, business and media people to try to identify needs and provide practical ideas for generating income. Like Rosaline and Gerald who fund their trips to Uganda from the B&B enterprise – everyone on the trip is paying their own way.

"In future we would like to bring back some of their wonderful crafts and fair-trade them, with all the funds going back to Uganda," says Rosaline. She has a beautiful carved chair, worked by a crippled lady who sells them for about £40. In a London store it would fetch hundreds of pounds. "We could give them access to our markets. At present they all sit along the roadside selling the same thing," says Rosaline.

To provide inspiration and resources to aid the development of a country seems an impossible task for individuals and the Addicotts admit to feeling a little daunted themselves as to how they could possibly help when Rosaline first became a trustee of NSARWU.

"People look at the whole thing and feel it is too huge a problem to tackle but that is where the near-edge theory comes in," explains Gerald. "You take the bit that appeals to you and chip away at it and if everyone does that there will be a huge difference. We are chipping away."

NSARWU inquiries (01225 873305)

Rosaline has made many friends among rural women when visiting Uganda and is shown here receiving one of the colourful mats that they make.

Gerald and Rosaline Addicott: Send a Cow began around their kitchen table. Now, as Gerald puts it, they are chipping away on a Uganda-based project.