I’d like to introduce you to someone. Her name is Oromo Jenet. She is a mother of seven, and she makes her modest living as a farmer and traditional healer, growing crops for subsistence and providing health care and healing to her community. She is at once both gentle and fierce: gentle, with a smile that immediately washes away any preoccupations running through your mind, and fierce, with a will and determination as strong as the ground beneath her feet.
She lives in a small village called Koc, about a thirty-minute drive down a dusty dirt road outside of Gulu, in Northern Uganda. Although most days when she comes to Gulu, she walks, leaving just after dawn to begin her three hour walk to town. But, if you ask her, she prefers staying in Koc: she feels at home amidst her fields of sesame, maize, and cassava, and enjoys the simple conversations with her neighbors as they prepare for their harvests. In her own words, in town, “people move too fast, and there are so many cars.”
I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Oromo over the past two years, seeing her at trainings and at the group’s weekly Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA). I don’t know how to best put into words her personality, but I can say this: she has an air about her that invites a certain carefree contentment with life, while still being cognizant and connected to the challenges and realities that she, or anybody else, faces. She is grateful for what she has, despite the hardships she encounters. And she has the best laugh.
Oromo is thirty-five. Which means she was six years old when war came to her village – and twenty-eight when peace arrived for good. In between, there were periods of happiness and short-lived calm dispersed intermittently among twenty-two years of armed conflict, uncertainty and displacement. But as she’ll explain, “Life continued. Life always continues.” The same year the war came she attended her first year of school. A few years later she stopped. She was a girl, and her parents only had enough money to send some of the children to school. So, she worked the fields with her mom and sisters. Soon, she began to learn traditional healing. At sixteen, she was married. At 17, she had her first child: another girl, like her.
Today, a mother of seven, she asks many of the same questions her parents had to ask: “Can I afford sending all of my kids to school? Even if I wanted too, how can it be? I am just a farmer,” she explains to me. There are other questions she asks too, ones that her parents, or her parents’ parents, never had to ask. Questions about irregular weather patterns, and more frequent droughts, and the rains coming late, and subsequently not knowing when to plant her crops anymore to ensure their success.
In this Oromo is not alone. These are questions that many farmers throughout the tropics are beginning to ask. Oromo, like countless others, is on the frontline of what climate change feels like when it touches us. The wave of uncertainty that comes with it.
Recently she invited me to her home, so she could show me how her children are benefiting from the Native Seeds Project. I arrived to her compound with the golden late afternoon light sending incandescent sparks gleaming through her stalks of sesame as they rustled in the breeze. Two of her sons ran to greet us; she walked behind catching up with them. We sat down in her compound on a reed mat and discussed everything from climate change to the price of tomatoes at the market to her hopes for the future and what her boys’ favorite new Drake song was. We sat and shelled groundnuts, and picked leaves from the bo’o harvest with her sons.
Oromo is a part of four different initiatives with the Native Seeds Project. Last year, she attended a three-day beekeeping training and came home with two of her own beehives, now hung-up on a tree a five-minute walk from her compound. She talks about her beehives with a smile, explaining her process of colonizing her hives with bees, how at first she was a little nervous about accidentally getting stung by the bees. She harvested honey for the first time this past October – which she was able to bring to market for a good price, adding to the fund for her children’s school fees. Soon it will be honey harvest time again. Through her hives, Oromo is able to increase her income in a way that takes care of nature, with relatively little energy and time on her part, energy and time she can focus on taking care of her kids, tending her fields, and treating patients.
It is women like Oromo who make our work possible, and there are many other stories just like hers that paint the tapestry of the Native Seeds Project. From beekeeping to tree planting to the production of herbal medicines, we are working with women like Oromo to build a better and more prosperous future for families, to combat climate change and bring back Uganda’s forests.
We all know that women the world over make a difference in our lives, our families’ lives, and in our communities. And, when we get to the heart of things, our similarities always seem to outweigh our differences. Who in your life is like Oromo? Who in your life is a woman of courage, a woman providing for her family, enjoying the natural world and looking towards the future?
Let’s connect with each other. Share Oromo’s story with a woman you care about and admire. Let’s inspire one another with stories of action, stories of solutions, stories of ways we can all be involved in creating a better future for our world.