Before transplanting myself from Nangoro Village to Mbale, the older Keki children took me on a hike to Bugwemagumbo, a cave formed of large rock slabs jutting out of the top of a hill near Nangoro village. During Idi Amin’s regime, when the Abayudayah (literally, “the Jews” in the Luganda language) community of Mbale region were prohibited from practicing their faith, and all of their synagogues were forcefully closed, people would go to the Bugwemagumbo cave in secret to recite prayers on the Sabbath. The walls of the cave are burnt black by smoke and looking closely, one can make out faded drawings of the Star of David and a menorah. Praying in the cave was an immense risk that the community took, since they would have been killed by Amin’s soldiers had they been caught, but it can be said today that the cave was instrumental in the survival of the Abayudayah and their traditions through the Amin regime.
Peace Kawomera cooperative is an interfaith cooperative of Jews, Muslims, and Christians that currently is experiencing an incredible amount of change. They are in the midst of constructing a new office and storage facility, whereas up to now they were renting an office space. They are strengthening their members’ production base through a coffee seedling project, improving coffee quality and quality consistency with the installation of a new centralized coffee depulping and washing station. Most inspiring to me is their approach to member capacity-building through the formation of small producer groups. These groups are beginning to go through Farmer Field School-style trainings facilitated by six newly-appointed facilitators, who are themselves farmers. The cooperative is also launching a Savings and Credit Program, in which members will be able to save and have access to small credit lines. This is just a small sample of the current and future projects that the young and visionary management and staff of Peace Kawomera have in the works, and I will blog more about them as I learn more. I have to say that I feel like I have come at the perfect moment to work with Peace Kawomera, and that I am lucky to be able to participate in the realization of these dreams that will result in a self-sustaining cooperative that truly serves, and belongs to, its members.
Peace Kawomera is not only interfaith, it is intertribal. Its members and staff are mostly Bugisu and Banyole, but also Basoga and Luganda, although Lugandans are a minority in this region. And I am sure that there are more tribes in this region than I know of right now. This means, as you can imagine, that there are as many languages being spoken as there are tribes. It is, as John Bosco, the agronomist at the cooperative, told me, “like a linguistic village – a farmer can use six languages in two sentences, and everyone will understand him”. Of course, I will not understand him. The little Kiswahili that I have studied has been of limited use here, only helping me to catch some words now and then when people are speaking around me. But, I have resolved to find a teacher to give me lessons in Luganda once a week, so that I can at least communicate the basics to people who do not speak English, as Luganda is essentially the lingua franca in this region.