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Story and photos by Dan Bazira

While many families in northern Uganda are still traumatized after 20 years of brutality by the Lord's Resistance Army, Fred and Florence Otem have overcome this harrowing situation.

The couple lives in Coopee village, Bungatira Sub County in Gulu District in Uganda. They have three children: Atimango Winnie (10), Omony Phillip (8) and Ogik Simple (6). All of the children attend St. Martin Primary School in Lukome.

On life in the camp for internally displaced people (IDP)

Life was difficult during the war. I lost my relatives while young and dropped out of school since I had to be a caretaker for my five siblings. One day, I witnessed my relatives being scythed to death by the rebels. After being frustrated with my life, I decided to get a wife at the age of 17 years; this was to be a source for comfort," Otema said. 

But to his surprise, this added more burden to him in terms of sustaining the two independent families: his and the one of his late father.

Being jobless and living in an IDP camp, his children were not going to school since he had no money to pay for their school materials.

We would eat one meal a day. Paying for hospital bills and clothing for the family was not easy. I had no hope of getting any monthly paying job. I tried to work on a per-day wage job as a potter at house construction sites, but the payment could not meet my family needs.

On the journey to self-reliance

Upon our return from the IDP camp in 2009, I developed an interest in a local women's group that had established links with Heifer International in Uganda. I started going for training and preparing to receive an animal along with my wife. We had hope in this project in terms of changing our livelihood. 

Indeed God answered our prayer. We received a cow in March 2010, which had a calf and started milking. The cow gives us 22 liters (5.8 gallons) of milk per day. Today we are proud that we are no longer beggars of food and basic requirements, but we are donors within our community.

Thanks to Heifer, we earn $240 per month from milk sales. Imagine a poorly educated man like me earning that much per month! Today, our children go to better schools. We eat a very good and balanced diet. This job is easy to do, and we do it as a family.

My wife is an inspiration. 
Describing her husband, Florence said:

He is an understanding, loving and caring husband. He will never make decisions without involving us as a family, and with trainings received from Heifer Project International on family planning, we resolved to only have three children and provide for them up to university level. We currently opened up a joint savings account as a family, an indication of unity.

Living beyond the borders
To date, the family has more than 1,500 pine trees, 100 budded oranges and other varieties of fruit trees like avocado, jackfruit, tangerines and lemons. They also have harvested a lot of onions, which they expect to sell and earn more than $800 this year. The kitchen gardens around the home are a source of vegetables throughout the year, including selling in the local market and donating to those in need.

Florence said:

The use of energy saving stoves now saves my time because I no longer waste a lot of time looking for firewood. My husband now even helps in cooking food. Before it was difficult to convince him to cook food because he would complain of a lot of smoke from the traditional three stone cook stove. 

We suffered in the camp, entirely depending on relief aid, but today we move around the village mobilizing and training youths at no cost on sustainable agriculture practices because we do not want them suffer, too.

Looking forward

The future for this family is bright; they have already secured iron sheets to construct a permanent house and graduate from a semi-permanent house. They also intend to construct a domestic biogas plant for lighting and cooking after the permanent house construction. The family further intends to open up more land to grow vegetables and also increase their dairy herd. Many times when donations are given, it may appear to be meager, but the impact they bring to the families in terms of rebuilding their lives will never be regretted.

The family is grateful to Heifer International for the support. The Otema family is a living testimony of how Heifer ends hunger and poverty and cares for the Earth through sustainable approaches. “We thank Heifer International for having provided unto us this animal and the psycho-social support that has helped us forget the past and focus upon the future,” concluded Otema. 


Heifer International

Heifer International is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization working with communities to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth.