Planting Hope in Another Soil
Every afternoon, just after the final school bell rings, 13-year-old Dak heads to the fields.
There, he marvels at the kales growing taller, the aubergines turning deeper shades of purple and peanuts growing plumper. He also notices the weeds that seem to sprout overnight and quickly pinches and pulls them out.
For Dak, this is his place of wonder, his sanctuary. This is the place where he can forget that he is not home – that he might never go back. In this spot he can forget that his father was killed while his family ran from the fighting that engulfed their village three years before.
“When I look at the garden, I feel peaceful,” Dak says. This 2-hectare garden, run by his uncle, serves as a model for the people living nearby.
“We came with nothing,” says Jacob, Dak’s uncle. The 49-year-old preacher and his family were still reeling from loss. Two of his children and his brother were killed in the 2014 conflict, leaving his grandchildren and nephews orphaned.
Jacob and his family escaped, walking with the orphaned children for 22 days.
“The biggest challenge we faced was a shortage of food when walking here. We survived on water, wild fruits and weeds that were growing on the side of the road. They tasted so bitter,” explains Martha, Jacob’s wife.
Finally, the family arrived in an area on the banks of the Nile River which was declared a safe zone for people escaping the conflict. Like thousands of other displaced families, Jacob and Martha set up a shelter made of plastic sheets that they had received from a non-governmental organisation.
“I felt hopeless,” Jacob admits. “I didn’t think we could find anyone who would help us.”
World Vision and other international humanitarian agencies began working in the settlement, providing families with food, setting up clean water points, constructing schools and starting a gardening project.
Jacob, who was a large-scale farmer in the past, quickly signed up to join the gardening project, receiving seeds and training. Within a few months, he gathered his first harvest.
“We expanded. We started renting land from a local farmer. We are always busy, we dig, we water, we sell directly from the field to people coming to us in the garden,” Jacob says.
In three years, his garden has become such a success that he now employs five to seven people every day. It is now the site for people who used to rely solely on cattle herding to learn how to grow vegetables. As a leading farmer, he shows people how to make a profit from gardening.
And while it’s not yet safe to return home, Jacob has changed his opinion about life in the settlement. “From the time when we first arrived to now, there’s a huge change. Every year there’s some progress, life is improving,” he says.
“I have to keep doing it this [coming to help],” Dak says. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop coming here.”