Gareth Shrubsole, a BMS World Mission worker in western Uganda, was taken aback by the devastation he saw in the Kasese district when heavy rains brought flooding on May 1.
“I’ve never been anywhere where there has been flooding before. It took a while to get my head around the fact that the river I was looking at wasn’t even the original river,” Shrubsole said.
“We were standing there looking at a river that looked like it had been there for hundreds of years but which had previously been farmland and people’s gardens. The magnitude of what happened was really quite difficult to take in.”
Thanks to a BMS disaster recovery grant and funding from two other Christian charities, Shrubsole, along with his wife, Bethan, and a Baptist minister were able to supply blankets to 75 families in the Congo Quarter who had been cut off by the floods and had been overlooked by other aid agencies.
When he saw the amount of sand left on people’s farmland, it became apparent to Gareth that the people would need more help.
“We dug through the sand to try to reach the soil in places, and at one point I could stand waist deep in sand with my feet on the original soil,” Shrubsole said.
“It became obvious that you couldn’t just give this community a sticking plaster and tell them to get back on their feet. They were never going to grow that land again with traditional African growing methods.”
Shrubsole did extensive research into how the families would be able to grow crops on the land again.
After two months, he found a solution. Digging targeted holes, adding animal dung as compost and irrigating the soil with water pumped from the river would allow plants to grow.
At the end of August, Shrubsole did some training in the Congo Quarter, sharing with the locals how to get the best out of the sandy soil.
Once they had cleared their land, they would be given seeds to sow and access to hip pumps to irrigate the soil. The pumps were paid for by another grant from BMS Disaster Recovery Appeal.
So two months on, what is happening? Has the plan worked?
“Some people have taken the advice absolutely and for a few their gardens are thriving,” Shrubsole said. “They’ve got good nursery beds, they’ve managed to maximize the good soil where they could find it and they have got plants growing.
“A few didn’t take the advice on board, tried to plant tomato seeds directly into the sand, and those seeds haven’t germinated.”
One of the best gardens has been grown by a Christian. Shrubsole and a pastor from the nearby Baptist church are trying to encourage him that this could be a great opportunity to witness to his neighbors.
“We have been talking to him and trying to get him to help his neighbors and see that, as a Christian, that a way he can practically love his neighbor is to help them farm, help them use the pump and use the right planting methods so they can get a garden that looks like his.”
Shrubsole is encouraged by the progress so far and definitely feels it is an improvement on doing nothing. It is a tough project in a tough area. While some will benefit, others will still be suffering.
For instance, heavy rains recently led to a slight overflow of the river. Some seeds that had been growing well were swept away. Shrubsole is asking people to pray for the project.
“Pray we can work through the challenges of this project,” Shrubsole said. “Pray that the success of some gardens will not cause jealously or division but will be a positive sign of Christians helping their neighbors. Pray that through that there will be better relations in the community and between the community and the church.”
Chris Hall is the editor of BMS World Mission’s Engage magazine. A version of this article first appeared on the BMS website and is used with permission. You can follow Chris on Twitter @chrishallnewb and BMS World Mission @BMSWorldMission. More information about Bethan and Gareth Shrubsole can be found here.