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Faith in Practice

Growing in hope

Stephen Tomkins

In the wake of years of civil war, Margaret Laloyo works with her neighbours in the villages of northern Uganda to overcome poverty. But instead of looking to help from outside, she aims to create development  from local resources, abilities and faith.

FIP.jpgFrom the age of six I was so sickly, every year I was admitted to hospital for something that the doctors didn't find any solution for. Then a teacher mentioned Jesus being a healer, and I thought 'This Jesus I need to know about'. Also, he talked about the love of God. I grew up as a child who was not accepted by my father because I'm a girl. In that culture they believe that if you give birth to girls you do not have children. So when I heard about the love of God and that he's a father, without a second thought I accepted. And that day I got better. They didn't pray for me to get healed or anything, but everything changed.

I come from northern Uganda where there had been a lot of war. When I was about to finish at college, war broke out and I had to stay on for two years. I couldn't get a job immediately but I went and preached in the schools and prisons.

I got a job with the child sponsorship programme,  then worked for a printer, but resigned because I had survived seven ambushes where many people were killed. I started my own printing business, which allowed me to go off to preach.

I still do printing work but I got very involved in the mission work of Intercessors for Africa - praying in Sudan, praying in the warfront, praying in the villages, into different nations in Africa, and different villages in Northern Uganda.

So when I saw the level of poverty there, it was so pathetic I felt if there was some way of allowing these people to do something on their own, it would be good.  So I began to do research.

I was invited by several NGOs to train their people in food processing, quality control, post harvest handling. I saw their vision, but there was no impact was left on the community from what they did, so I came to the conclusion that the NGO approach does not work. It makes people  think 'Someone has to come and give to me, and start  something for me to do' - to the extent that even when people have resources within their community they don't seem to think 'What can I do with this?'

That motivated me to go to the villages, starting with my own, and ask them 'What is there here that you could live on?' They began to identify what was available - not what they had to import, but what they knew and had been using locally.

Different villages had different resources. The village where I come from, during the war they lost everything, but there were still shea nut trees standing, as in every village. They produce fruit at the time of year when there is not enough food. It is sweet and rich. They would eat the fruits, and process oil out of the nuts for cooking, and for lotion for the babies, and for treating wounds, and the roots were used for medicine.

They always processed just what they could consume at home. We said, 'Why don't you process more so that we can sell it?' So they began to sell it. They came up with a standard measure of raw nuts, so they knew when you have this quantity of shea nuts you get this quantity of shea butter, to help determine the market price for themselves.

From one step to the other, I would ask them, 'What do you think we should start with now?' so they had to come up with their own way forward, according to what is available. The emphasis is 'Let's start with what we have because we are not going to ask anybody to give us anything.'

We established standards, such as when you dry the nuts don't put them straight on the ground, which can easily contaminate them. We encouraged people working in the oil processing to promote the product, and it wasn't a burden because they were proud of the quality.

It began to melt away the division that was built up over the last 20 years. They had lost the heart of love. They saw their family wiped away; probably one person was left in that family, she lives for nothing but for now, she's not concerned for anything but herself. In that condition people lost the heart of love and the heart of service. They don't care whether you are starving or have something to eat.

They themselves began to say to people in other villages, 'We have started a project which is going to stay, because it is ours and it depends on our work, and the money is ours. Now even my mother has a bank account.' People did not know what it meant to have money in the bank.

Other villages looked for us and said can we join? The question is: Are you willing to obey this standard? They said 'Yes, just come and teach us'.
People said 'We also have sesame seeds, for when there are no shea nuts'. We said, 'OK, lets pray. Let's ask the Lord to give us another way to use the sesame'. Then whatever idea they had they believed the Lord had given. They were no longer looking for somebody to tell them what to do.

We began to process sesame seeds into cookies, and paste, roasting them, making bread with them. We distributed them in other towns, and  it was highly appreciated, because, we had trained them in the importance of keeping the quality good. Often sand or stone can get in in the harvesting, and a destoning machine would cost $14,000. But now we say lets use what we have: we prayed and found a way of using the local motor. And it works.

We sell 100 packets of sesame cookies to the supermarket per week. We've produced 2.5 tonnes of shea butter and a tonne of sesame. More than 600 people have opened bank accounts.

We have proved that it works but to expand we'll need modern technology and marketing. We need investment, and help with overseas distribution. I hope God will assign someone to pick up challenge.

Margaret Laloyo was talking to Stephen Tomkins. She is looking for partners in the UK and can be contacted at