Link Letter from
Simon and Sharon Challand in Uganda
February 2002

Dr Simon Challand with two colleagues at KaseseSouth Rwenzori Diocese
PO Box 142, Kasese


Encouraging Ezera

Some of you may remember my good friend Ezera. In an earlier link letter I told you how he cared for me when I had malaria. We met soon after I arrived in Uganda and I wanted to experience village life. Some friends from Kagando hospital sent me to the other end of the district clutching a note, and after Ezra had checked that I would cope with the pit latrine I checked in for a month. This is Ezera’s story:

I was born just over the border in the Congo in the 1950s. My father was a Baptist pastor and I had three brothers and three sisters. Two other children died at birth. For the first nine years I lived in the small village of Katwa and started primary schooling, but Congo’s independence from Belgium brought a lot of turmoil and we had to flee to Uganda. It was a difficult time, we were amongst different people and had to learn a new language. I started primary school again but as my father was not being paid anything I had to find work digging other people’s land to make money for school fees and uniform.

When I was thirteen I had a severe attack of malaria and at that time there were no health services in this part of Uganda, so I had to go back to the Congo for treatment. It took me a year to fully recover. Eventually I came back to Uganda but lack of money in the family meant I could only continue my education to the end of primary school. During this time my father had established the first Baptist church in Uganda and it has now grown to be a national organization.

My mother and father are still alive but getting old and frail. Despite this my father still walks and cycles well and my mother still digs our land. I am thankful that God has given me a good wife Noel who helps look after my parents, works with me on the land and encourages me when I feel discouraged in life. We have three lovely children, the first is Eric who is17 and at his second year in secondary school. It is expensive to do secondary education and we have only managed to send him because some generous friends have helped us.

Our second child is Anita who is four and growing up very well. I remember that for the first three years whenever Simon came to visit she would run away because he was the only white person she knew. Now she is old enough not to be afraid she runs to greet him. She even thinks all white people are called Simon.

Two years ago I started to build my own house. The bricks were made from clay on my land and fired by stacking them up and burning wood underneath, and the roof is ‘mabati’ (corrugated iron). It has a living room, three small bedrooms, an outside kitchen and some store rooms. Part of it is built around a palm tree that was already growing here. There is still work to do, the floor, inside doors, windows and we have very little furniture. Like most people here we do what we can with the little money we have and then work stops until we manage to find some more.

The whole family gets up at 6.30am when the sun rises. The young children go to their grandparents for the day. My wife and I do not have breakfast but go straight to the ‘shamba’ (the land where they grow food) where we work until one or two in the afternoon when it becomes very hot. Depending on the season we have to dig, plant, weed and harvest. Before coming home we may have to collect firewood. We can sometimes find it on the shamba but this week Noel had to go five miles into Congo. Many families also have to send their children to fetch water but we are fortunate because the pipe bringing water from the mountains for the village has a tap by our house. In the afternoon Noel lights a fire, pounds the cassava, and shells the beans in order to prepare food for the evening. I may do some bicycle repairs, but now I have been trained as a local evangelist so I may go round the village talking to people about Jesus.

Because I have such a basic education I depend entirely on what I can grow on our land, such as beans, cassava, bananas, maize, soya beans and groundnuts. Most of what we eat is what we grow ourselves: we sell some of it to buy other food and the daily essentials such as kerosene for lighting, soap, matches, salt and oil. We also rely on this to pay for medicines if someone is sick and to buy school uniforms, books and pens. If the weather is bad and we have a poor growing season then we really struggle. To be clear I must say that my life is a miracle and I depend on God to supply our needs; sometimes he does this through Christian friends.

My father grows coffee and I help harvest it for him. Most of our neighbours have a few bushes and rely on harvesting and selling it twice a year to buy things for school and pay fees. Recently the coffee price has been very low so we are struggling. For instance my father has half an acre or about 500 bushes which produce a bag of coffee each season. This used to be worth (£65) but now it only sells for (£26).

Coffee beans have to picked at just the right moment of ripening. As the berries on the bush ripen at different times harvesting is a time consuming activity and needs to be done by hand. To harvest the crop by machine would produce a mixture of ripe and unripe berries - a poor quality harvest.

Researchers have genetically engineered coffee so that the berries stop growing just before they mature. A chemical is then sprayed on the berries to make them ripe at the same time. This allows for the berries to be harvested at one time by machine. Ezera’s family and his neighbours won’t be able to compete.

What will this mean for their survival? The income of coffee-growing families will continue to be reduced. There is already a glut of coffee world wide. Prices for the growers have plummeted but of course High Street coffee bars haven’t reduced their prices.

Whose ‘need’ is being met by GM coffee? Buy Café Direct and other Fair Traded food at your local supermarket. If they don’t stock it, ask why.

Simon Challand
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 2nd February 2002