“Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, then know that something is after its life.” This is a quote from Chinua Achebe in his book – Things Fall Apart. While this idiom that I first came across when I was a teenager may not be appropriate, what can better explain the curiosity of a young lady racing after our orange vehicle until we decided to stop and find out what she wanted?
Breathing heavily, as you would expect, she took a moment to recollect herself before asking, “sweetpotato? What about them?” She continued, “We grow and eat them at our school.”
“Good.” I replied, but I was quick to ask, “Are they orange fleshed?”
Curious to know, she asked, “What is so special about the orange-fleshed varieties?”
I began, “Orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes are good because they are a powerhouse of nutrients and they give us energy. The orange-fleshed sweetpotato root is packed with vitamins A, C, E and others. Without vitamin A, children experience poor growth and development, increased risk of infection and severity of infection, eye problems and face the risk of death. and minerals. Children and pregnant women who do not have enough vitamin A in their diet may suffer from night blindness Such conditions can be prevented by consuming orange-fleshed sweetpotato. When they are pregnant, women eat it to help in the development of their unborn babies!”
Convinced by my response, she asked, “Can you bring the vines to our school?” The word school captured my attention. “Is it a secondary school or a primary school?” I asked, bearing in mind that young children would take vines to their parents. I know this very well because it has worked in Tigray, Ethiopia. “Neither of the two!” she responded. “It is a ‘child mothers schools!’” she replied.
“Child mothers school?”
“Yes, child mothers. At as young as 13, girls abruptly end their future when they get unwanted pregnancies or get married at a tender age, only to fall into the cycle of domestic violence. In this part of Northern Uganda, when all hope was feared gone, a positive thought to get the child mothers to school came to one person and a school was started. Most of the girls in this school are at elementary secondary school level, while some of them are in vocational training. Now they have a future ahead.”
“So, this is what happens,” she explained, “We get the child mothers and pay their school fees. Some stay at our school, some stay in their homes. We feed them. We have a big garden at our school where we grow sweetpotatoes, one of the main foods we feed the students and babies with.”
At this point, I wanted to see their school farm. It was 6:00pm and we had to drive over 100 km back to Gulu. I wanted to go to the School. I was getting restless and our driver was uncomfortable. Then I asked, “Is the farm very far?” I was told it was 500 meters away from the school. It was getting dark and it became clear that I could only visit the school and not the farm.
At the school, some girls follow the mainstream Ugandan secondary school curriculum while others follow the vocational curriculum. I saw that some of the weaving and mandazi making was done in the vocational school. The mandazi were of particular interest to me because I ate the orange-fleshed sweetpotato mandazi in Rwanda.
My mind wondered as I thought, would it not be such a huge gold mine if these girls made the Mandazi out of orange-fleshed Who knows, it could become their main source of livelihood once they finish school!
I was told that the school farm was close to a river. Is this really important? Yes! They can multiply vines and give the girls some to take home, give to their neighbors and sell. In an area where drought and animals clear all the conserved vines, the school could turn out to be a potential vine source. After all, the nearest market for vines is Gulu township which is over 100 kilometers from Pader.
As we drove back to Gulu, I was convinced that our orange fleshed sweetpotato has at least one additional target group in Pader. What does that mean? In the words of one of the World Food Prize laureates of 2016 – Dr. Robert Mwanga, “600 children die every year in Uganda because of lack of vitamin A.” How much could we reduce this statistic if we brought these vines to this child mothers’ school? According to Peter Odongkara, the District Agricultural Officer in Pader, “Every household is required to have an acre of either sweetpotato or cassava, to solve food insecurity.”