“Our village was an easy life. We had a lot of wild food to consume. Our bodies were healthy,” said Constance Okollet, who lives in Osukuru village, Kayolo Sub-county in Eastern Uganda.
In 2007, her village Osukuru experienced torrential rains causing floods that washed away the village. The community had never seen anything like it.
“That was the first time we experienced floods. We didn’t know what floods were. The water was swallowing people,” Okollet said. The floods they experienced then destroyed crops, roads, schools, and health facilities. It also caused an outbreak of diseases like cholera and malaria.
Like adding salt to the wound, the same year, a drought followed. Then came another strong storm. Food became scarce. The community’s previous social cohesion began to fray as children dropped out of school, domestic violence became a new reality, and waves of illness further devastated the surviving families. The response from the government to the disaster was slow and ineffective.
This inspired Okollet through women-led Osukuru United Women Network (OWN), a local community group which started in 2004, to bring women together to find solutions to the ongoing climate challenges. It is driven by the belief and conviction that climate security lies within the local and indigenous knowledge of women who farm, raise families and build communities.
Alongside that, OWN also created a voice and platform for the flood affected community members. Through advocacy, community mobilising, and training on climate change, the group learnt more about their current climate realities to promote sustainable climate solutions. Such training helps in a trickle-down effect, where after attending the training, they pass the knowledge on to their village mates.
Slowly, the group started to garner support. One such aid came from Women Climate Centres International to build upon the women’s experience and expertise to begin a woman climate centre in their village. That’s how OWN began a community climate centre led and facilitated by women.
Toilets and Trees: The Centre’s Fight Against the Climate Crisis
Okollet, the chairperson of OWN is quoted to have told the Global Landscapes Forum that the beginning was not easy. “When we started, we didn’t know what climate change was,” she says. “Many people were saying it was God. But we said no. Let us stand up and begin preventing what is happening. I begin, you begin, everybody comes in, and then we can change the world to be a better place to live in.” Development organisations like OXFAM came into the picture to begin supporting them with technical advice, knowledge building and financial support .
The women-led Centre now works with the Osukuru community, to emphasise low- cost environmentally appropriate technologies including the construction of rainwater harvesting tanks, biosand water filters, energy-saving stoves, fireless cookers, and solar cookers.
Hosted on four-acre land, the centre boasts of a climate smart building, an eco-san toilet, biointensive gardens and a booming tree-nursery. The centre hosts trainees all week with participants learning about different climate topics and sharing knowledge and information.
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“We are looking at four interlinked themes which include low cost Lorena stoves, ecosan toilets, water harvesting, and bio-intensive food production. We also teach community members to start small gardens of high value crops commonly called kitchen gardens,” says Godliver Busingye, a key facilitator at the climate centre. The intention is for the community to integrate the learning in their homes and communities.
One of the major problems during floods is the regular collapsing of pit latrines that the households in the area construct. A high water level in the village compounded by regular flooding leads to the collapsing, often injuring its users. In the face of this challenge, the centre has been training community members to adapt and start building ecosan toilets.
The EcoSan toilet is based on the principle of recycling nutrients from excreta to create a valuable resource for agriculture. When the pit of an EcoSan toilet fills up, it is closed and sealed. After about eight to nine months, the faeces is completely composted to organic manure and can be used on farms. When the first pit is closed, users can switch to using the second pit. Being a closed toilet system as opposed to the pit latrines, it prevents groundwater contamination in a region like Osukuru with a high water table.
The manure from the ecosan is used in the bio-intensive food production within the centre. The community members are taking it up and creating businesses in biointensive food production—an organic agricultural system that uses no fossil-fuel based fertilisers, while simultaneously increasing biodiversity and sustaining soil fertility.
Building Businesses with Seeds and More
“While promoting tree planting at household level, we encourage indigenous trees and plants,” adds Hajra Comfort Mukasa, another facilitator at the centre.
The participants gather, collect and preserve indigenous tree seedlings too, like mvule (Milicia excelsa), mutuba (ficus natalensis), musizi (Maesopsis eminiiEngler) and mugavu (Albizia coriaria) and also participate in seed banking, apart from Guava and avocado.
The seedlings are then planted in the households and compounds of community members. The extra seedlings are sold to generate income for the community participants. All this supports the community reforestation programme.
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“To decrease the impacts of rains and droughts in the country, we want to make our area green again,” says Okollet.
Up to 5000 women from Osukuru and surrounding communities are currently being supported under this initiative.
“Most of the trees are generated by the members. Food is starting to come back because of the kitchen gardens. Our area is reaping big results from the centre,” says Vincent Wanjala, Chairperson Kayolo Local Council.
The centre’s 2020 impact report reveals that over a thousand community members in the Tororo region of Uganda were trained and engaged by the centre and 50 community members have been trained in biointensive farming techniques. Ten of them will become trainers and community facilitators to help grow and scale the practice.
“We were taught about savings and business. I started a poultry and vegetable growing business and my monthly income has since increased from 10 USD to 50 USD,” says Irene Amayo Barbra, a participant in the centre’s activities.
“We also plant tree seedlings including guava, avocado,that we sell to make money to sustain our families—with food like vegetables, maize, sweet potato and cassava, school requirements and health services,” Irene adds.
“We need deliberative and participatory processes by communities and leaders to strengthen citizen-led climate action and improve inclusive national-level climate decision making,” says Richard Kimbowa of the Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development (UCSD). “This helps in community ownership, encourages learning and inclusion of all in climate resilience building.”
“This work is helping to create a community of practice at the grassroots to tackle climate change. It’s bringing climate change from the conference rooms to where the problem lies, in the everyday lives of the community,” says Hajra Comfort Mukasa, a facilitator at the Centre.