Thank you Donor #10: You can also donate to “Fruits for School Children this festive season

We had our 10th donor last night. With just 8 days left for  our campaign ‘Fruit Trees for School Children’, I am confident we can make it to 100%. Please donate to us and plese share the campaign link with your close friends and family and request them to donate to us this festive season. Here is the donation link http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/fruit-trees-for-school-children-promoting-food-security-and-environment/

Thank you

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My sister runs eight Miles every day

Some of you reading this article have asked me several times why of all places on earth I chose to live and work here.  In my school days, most of my classmates never knew I came from Lyantonde because I didn’t want to be associated with a town popular for prostitutes and the fact that Uganda’s first HIV case was discovered few miles from here in 1982.  As I grew up, I learnt to love and appreciate the good and bad things about the only place I call home; HIV/AIDS and prostitutes inclusive. 

One night, a great friend, Ryan drove me back home on N25 Milwaukee, Wisconsin from a barbecue night out. “I want to ask you this son; I hope it won’t offend you… We have talked about so many things and set our goals for the future, I have realized you speak with a lot of energy and love for people living with HIV and your love for them, are you HIV positive? Hey Mjomba Ryan, I want to answer this question again here, I am not HIV positive and might not be soon (Insha Allah). I have work with people living with HIV/AIDS, shared food with them, meet them every day, and hug them; they are part of me. In March 2008, I founded ICOD Action Network help my community overcome the most pressing problems and with HIV/AIDS among youth and women top on the agenda.
Five years down the road, everyone at ICOD Action Network, donors, beneficiaries and community are happy for what we have achieved. Congratulations folks, but I think we won’t celebrate for long if we don’t design projects targeting prostitutes and directly work with them.  
I have lived in Lyantonde for a very long time but I have never come so close to a prostitute as I did few days ago.  It never came to my mind that I would hold hands or share a drink with my community’s most despised girls just because they are prostitutes. Any ways, I had good time with the girls I met. I actually met over 10 sisters (you call the prostitutes) but will share with you stories from only two.  
Are you wondering why I chose to have time with prostitutes? I must clarify this: the first is that I have been raised, lived and worked in town popular for harboring the region’s most experienced prostitutes, so they are my sisters, I hold no prejudice against them and I believe none of these girls was born a prostitute.  All the girls I met were forced into prostitution by socio-economic hardships and would stop if they had other means of earning a living.  Finding a title for this article gave me a headache until I talked this particular girl Jam (not real name) who told me she entertains eight different men every day” Can this be true?
Jam hails from Isingiro district and the is the only girl in the family of 6.
Grabs a cold beer, stares at me and …. “What do you want to know? I am a prostitute, don’t you know that? I conceived the first time I slept with a man when I was in senior three. I dropped out of school and I went to Mbarara to work as a waitress. I hate all men…, but I don’t hate you since you have bought me beer” Jam says she is 19 and is the youngest of the girls at the bar where she is works. I think at 19, she would be in high school or in University. She goes on, “I stay here, this is my home and this is my house. When you come around and need me, just knock on my door”.  Need you? My heart jerks… “I can serve eight different men in day. That’s why these girls hate me because I am better than them. They accuse me for using witchcraft to attract men. Can’t you see I am beautiful?” She looks good I must admit, and I think she shouldn’t be into prostitution.  She tells me on a bad day, she gets five or three customers. Jam thinks she has no family anymore and belongs nowhere, her home and family is the room she rents and her customers. 
Kayu (not real name) says she is 29, has five children, is HIV positive and tells me she is two months pregnant. She says she has been a prostitute since 17 because her family was poor and couldn’t afford school fees. I talked to Kay because I have seen her around for so long and she is regarded one of the most experienced girls in town. How do you entertain customers Kay? Stares at me too and says what I least expected. “When men come and they don’t want to use condoms, I let them do what they want…” But you are HIV positive? “True, but if a customer doesn’t want to use condoms and I don’t care. Do you think I bought HIV from a supermarket? I got it from a man like you, so I don’t care”.  Like all the girls here, Kay’s only source of livelihood is prostitution and she says she can stop only if she gets a better job.  Kay and other people living with HIV don’t have guaranteed supply of antiretroviral drugs from the local hospital.  
Jam and Kayu are some of the many girls here and across the country forced by socio-economic challenges to join prostitution. During the joint annual review of the national HIV/AIDS strategic plan by the Uganda AIDS Commission, HIV/AIDS campaigners in Uganda called for an improvement in the coordination of anti-HIV/AIDS messages in order to avoid confusing the public on the efficacy of the different prevention strategies. Uncoordinated and sometimes confusing HIV/AIDS presentation / care massages have been blamed for the increase in HIV/AIDS prevalence in Uganda. It’s very sad that few of HIV/AIDS programming organization have come out with specific projects and messages targeting prostitutes yet they are blamed for increasing the rate of new infections in Uganda estimated at 530,000 every year.  Jam , Kayu  several others sisters need specific information and projects that will help them overcome stigma and discrimination in society. They also need special social, cultural and economic attention to overcome challenges, support their families and leave prostitution.

10 days left, please donate to our campaign ‘Fruit Trees for School Children’

I hope you are enjoying your Christmas holidays. I am writing to share with you this.

We have just 10 days to go to reach the  goal of  our campaign ‘Fruit Trees for School Children’. Thank you for supporting us to get to 23%!  We are so grateful for you who believe in our  work and supported us in 2013.

Please help us get to 100% and beyond by sharing the campaign link with your close friends and family and request them to donate to us this Christmas holiday. Here is the donation link http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/fruit-trees-for-school-children-promoting-food-security-and-environment/

Thank you,

South Sudan coup: Is it revenge on the Nuer tribe?

What did you do last night to celebrate the full moon? In Dinka communities of South Sudan, the full moon is celebrated with dancing and drumming till late. For the last few days, the sound of women and children singing and dancing to the drums filed the air at our location  in Adol, Rumbek, Lake State. Last night was the most silent nights all nights we have been here. I only had a couple of children dancing and singing in the nearby school. At least their songs and beautiful voices helped carry  away the worry  of  a full scale war following today’s events after a failed coup attempt in Juba. As these children sang, I kept wondering what would happen if guns shots suddenly started and every body had to run for their lives?

More bad news today morning; more fighting started again at around mid night in Juba, the UN mission in South Sudan has about 10000 civilians seeking refugee (I will confirm through a friend later today); and two army generals from different tribes who command two  different army stations located north and south of our location might join any time from now.  Its getting very hot here.

You all know the south Sudan you read about or watch  on international TV channels; newest state in the world after decades of war and making progress to move forward, malnourished is children it is always reported from any African country by international media, corrupt government systems and above all the picture of John Garang comes along because he  was and is still the face of this new state. However, there is some thing that is hidden from us by our  reporters; beautiful people, I mean very lovely people who have struggled to preserve the cultures and identity  after decades of endless wars.

My partner and I and another lovely Ugandan women who heads an education department at the organization where we arrived as external consultants for a donor agency have been thinking about was how we get back home safely. News of airport being closed and international and local flights suspended for another day because of continued clashes are bad news because cant fly to Juba and then connect to Uganda.

Why does a new state that fought for decades to be independent from what they called an oppressive government in Sudan go back to war? Just because politicians failed to agree in a meeting and innocent lives are lost? Is that how governments work or this is unique to South Sudan? Every news channel’s website  that I have visited (thank God we still have internet)  has  a different story about the real cause but I think there are those  that no media has reported about  that  I also could not  understand if I was here; its all about revenge and more revenge here all in the name of fighting for ones clan and tribe.

#1: On December 8, two days after our arrival, we experienced  what everyone  has lived with for almost the past thirty years; prolonged gun shots at an inter clan fight. We were told 3 days later that some of the bullets fell in our compound. Staff here didn’t want to tell us because they knew we would be  scared. Inter clan fights are  very common here to an extent that one must  always be very careful when talking to a stranger because any bad words can incite the whole clan into a fight which we are told starts with fist fights, to sticks, stones, spears and then guns leaving hundreds on innocent people dead of severely injured because almost every one owns a gun including school children.  The fight went on till late evening leaving several people severely injured including soldiers.  We have been extremely careful with people we meet and talk to. Even when research assistants don’t perform to my expectations, I have to hide my disappointment.  I know this is one way of keeping the work moving on smoothly and keep every one in the team motivated and performing but I must admit it’s the only way to stay safe , I a real coward here.

#2. News of the deaths and arrests in Juba spread widely here to an extend that even staff who are supposed to ensure our safety seemed more worried and scared than us . News about the death of a former governor of the state where were spread very quickly so we started preparing our selves for the worst.   At around 17:30, about 6 men who we are told are brothers of the former governor reported shot in Juba mobilized there brothers to attack a military barrack commanded by a Nuer because they believe a Nuer – Riek Machar was the cause of the chaos in Juba and so they had to revenge and kill another prominent Nuer who is a commander at  a barracks located about 3 kilometers from where I am now. Fortunately  or unfortunately (whatever suits), the 6 were arrested at around 18:00 before they could accomplish their mission and tortured  and later taken another military barracks.  If this attack had happened, this would have been the start of another intertribal war which would definitely mean every body here must be involved to defend their tribe.

I have talked to several people here young and old and they believe spirit of revenge which every body here believes is one of the reasons behind the Juba coup attempt. We also received reports of night patrols into people’s homes to check for anyone who is a Nuer because they are now being blamed for the chaos.

#3. Mid last week as we prepared our research assistants to travel to the field, we received reports of gunshots from payams (Sub Counties) where we were supposed to work  that day. This time is an inter clan gunfight and all roads were closed. Reason; a young man from a different clan had impregnated a girl from another clan so the girl’s clan had come to revenge and exterminate the rival clan.  I don’t know what you think about this but I don’t think two mature people who agreed to have sex and want to get married should be a case for a gun fight.

I wrote this article late at night because we stayed up till late listening to any signs of war so we can try and walk back to Uganda. Maybe we will just the Nile  and hopefully get to Uganda.

Sending my love

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Please remember to donate to ICOD Action Network’s campaign ‘Fruits for School Children’ even though I am still stuck here. Here is the link http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/fruit-trees-for-school-children-promoting-food-security-and-environment

Coup in South Sudan capital Juba

We started receiving reports of heavy fighting in the South Sudan capital Juba early today morning that started after a coup attempt Every body here is very scared, I am scared too because I am a foreigner here. We also received reports that Juba airport is closed which means we can’t fly to Juba and then connect to Uganda. Army trucks  are heading to Juba from  Rumbek town where my colleague and I are right now and we also receiving reports of truck moving from other states towards Juba. We are not sure if we  will be evacuated  because we are receiving reports that Rumbek airport is also closed for now. Lets see what happens later in the day. The country marked red in this map of Africa is South Sudan which is Africa’s newest state after breaking away from Sudan.

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Sending my love and greetings from South Sudan

Fruit Trees for school children – Promoting food Security and Environment

ICOD Action Network believes that working with communities to grow and share healthy food helps cultivate healthy communities able to sustain themselves in future. Since 2008, we have been using community organizing and agriculture as a catalyst for social change by bringing people together across social, economic, and cultural barriers.

Background

When ICOD Action Network turned five years old in February 2013, we decided we wanted to do something big for our community; PLANT 5000 FOOD TREES [ 1000 trees for each year we have been in existence since 2008] so as to contribute to our community’s food security and environmental conservation efforts. We reached to multiple donors to support this project and we got $0.00.Instead of giving up after failing to get donor funding, we found another way, grow thousands of food trees ourselves and train thousands of school children and youth on how to plant them in their schools and communities.

ICOD ACTION NETWORK staff have been able to produce 6325 jackfruit trees in 2013 all of which were distributed free of charge to school children. We are committed to the idea that food  and fruits should be available to everyone, regardless of social and economic status. We worked hard in 2013 to ensure that food trees are freely distributed to school children in schools in rural and youth.Image

With our team of children ambassadors  who have shown distinguished leadership in different participating schools, we have been able to train school children to lead other children in planting food trees in their schools and communities.

ICOD Action Network believes that children “own the future” and has set up mechanisms to mobilize and encourage children to directly take charge of planting food trees. School children have been trained in planting food trees of mangoes, papaya and jackfruit in their respective communities.

We have 20 days to go, please donate our campaign through this link http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/fruit-trees-for-school-children-promoting-food-security-and-environment

Please share the link with your close and friends and family and request them to donate to our project.

Thank you

Greetings from South Sudan

It’s eight days since my colleague and I arrived here in  Lake State in South Sudan as external consultants for a Non Governmental Organization to help it design a sustainable and quality education program accessible for girls. It’s been a wonderful week in a new environment of very friendly people here though we sometimes  use sign language to  for food when we are around people who cant speak English.

Two days after our arrival, we experienced  what everyone  has lived with for almost the past thirty years; prolonged gun shots at an inter clan fight. We were told 3 days later that some of the bullets fell in our compound. Staff here didn’t want to tell us because they knew we would be scared. We are told inter clan fights are  very common here to an extent that one must  always be very careful when talking to people because wrong words  can incite the whole clan into a fight which we are told starts with fist fights, to sticks, stones, spears and then guns leaving hundreds on innocent people dead or severely injured. We are told here almost every one owns a gun including young boys and  school children. Even when research assistants don’t perform to my expectations, I have to hide my disappointment. I know this is one way to keep the work moving on smoothly and keep every one in the team motivated and performing but I must admit it’s the only way to stay safe here.

Child Soldiers

You all know what I am talking about here; children aged between 10 -17 years, in full military fatigue, heavily armed and manning road blocks. I didn’t expect this and I have never seen  a child soldier except in movies. Aren’t these children supposed to be in school? Who is responsible for recruiting or  keeping these children in the army? I think one of the most urgent things the South Sudan government needs to work on is reintegrating these children into their communities and making sure they are back to school.  Every time we get to the road block, I hide my camera for fear of being arrested on suspicious of taking pictures. I actually haven’t tried taking any pictures of these kids because it can easily land me in real trouble.

Thank you for reading my first article, I will try and share more soon if I have access to internet.

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Please remember to support and Donate to our Food Trees for School Children Campaign on Indiegogo. Here if the link http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/fruit-trees-for-school-children-promoting-food-security-and-environment

Please share the campaign with friends too.

My next article: IN BED WITH SCORPIONS

Lots of love from Rumbek East County South Sudan