MOROTO – A native of Sierra Leone, Bai was no stranger to poverty and hunger before coming to Uganda in 2005. But after driving 300 km from the capital to his duty station in the north, where the LRA militia group was terrorizing the local population, he realized that his life would never be the same.
Bai had a military escort of 12 soldiers – six in front, six in back – and wore a 20 kg bullet-proof vest. He passed villages that had been ambushed and burned down. When he arrived at a camp for people forced from their homes, he saw that there was no food to eat, no proper shelter and no clean water.
“Seeing these people line up for hours just to get a drink of water changed my life. It opened my eyes and gave me a whole new way of looking at the work that we do,” Bai says.
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WFP staff in the poorest region of Uganda are working in difficult conditions to save as many lives as possible.
The deep field
Bai runs a WFP office in Karamoja, one of the poorest and most dangerous regions in the country. In April, WFP launched a new emergency operation in an effort to end the crushing cycle of extreme poverty and hunger.
“It’s a tough environment. There are no markets here, certain roads are impassable and many of the bridges are breaking down,” says Bai. Moreover, he says people in the area are in constant fear of violence, particularly women, at the hands of roving cattle raiders.
Bai said the danger compounds the difficulties of survival in Karamoja, where a hard drought has pushed many families to the brink of ruin. “WFP is the main source of food in this area and it’s probably going to stay that way for the next one to two years.”
“What’s unique about WFP in Karamoja is that we have a lot of local staff. You can see that they’re determined to change things,” Bai says.
“One of my staff once told me, ‘I’m lucky to have gone to school and have a job, but I see hundreds and hundreds of my brothers and sisters who aren’t so lucky. I sometimes go home and cry and ask myself how we will help these kids.’”
“That’s what gives them the motivation every morning to come to the office – WFP is the only lifeline for many in Karamoja.” In addition to providing emergency food assistance to the most vulnerable, particularly nursing mothers and children, WFP is also helping small farmers learn to weather the drought.
Projects will focus on raising yields for crops like cassava, gum Arabic and onions, and building small dams for easy water harvesting. WFP will also help supply families with fuel-efficient stoves that reduce the amount of time women spend collecting firewood and help curb deforestation.