'My life before Kira was a mess'

Struggling to cope with supporting a mentally ill father, alcoholic brother and ageing grandmother, Stephen wanted to run away to Kira Farm Development Centre. He soon discovered Kira wasn’t just an escape, but the means to turn his life around.

‘My life before Kira Farm was a total mess,’ admits Stephen. ‘If it wasn’t for my grandmother I might have taken my life just to have a rest.’ Stephen’s problems began when his mother, a successful businesswoman, died after contracting Ebola. Unable to cope with the sudden death of his wife, Stephen’s father developed mental health problems.

Fear and isolation

Things got worse for Stephen’s family when a neighbour - jealous of their prosperity - spread false rumours about the family practising witchcraft. ‘She said the witchcraft had gone wrong, killing my mother and making my father go mad,’ explains Stephen. ‘After that people became afraid of our family, they isolated us and we were never invited to weddings or parties.’ When Stephen’s older brother wanted to get married, girls would refuse his proposal, fearing the rumours were true. As a result, Stephen’s brother grew frustrated, turned to alcohol and started to experience mental health problems of his own.

No longer able to cope

‘I was left taking care of my elderly grandmother, a mentally ill dad and an alcoholic brother – it was too much for me,’ says Stephen. Despite having the opportunity to train as mechanic on a government vocational programme he didn’t have the fees to complete the course. ‘Any money I made from farming had to be spent on medicine for my dad and taking care of the family,’ Stephen explains.

Joining Kira Farm Development Centre

‘The main reason I wanted to come to Kira was to run away from my life,’ admits Stephen. ‘However during the first month I was sick with worry about everyone back home.’ Stephen shared his concerns with the family on Kira and they encouraged him. ‘We prayed together and I felt peaceful and able to focus on my training,’ says Stephen.

Finding support

When Stephen returned home after a year away life was even worse than before. ‘There was no food and everyone was weak and sick,’ says Stephen. ‘I looked at my grandmother and I just burst into tears. You could count all the bones in her body.’ Stephen knew he needed support so he went to his local church and introduced himself to the pastor, explaining his situation, what he had been doing on Kira Farm, and how he could pass his new skills onto the church and the community. The pastor visited Stephen’s family the following day and they prayed together as a family. ‘My pastor then visited church members to collect some food for us until we were able to grow our own,’ explains Stephen.

A better life

The following Sunday at church, Stephen was asked to share his story. ‘I explained what had happened to my mother and how her death affected my father,’ says Stephen. ‘And I promised to train the congregation in the better farming methods I had learnt at Kira.’ Within a couple of months things started to improve for the struggling family. ‘Villagers stopped avoiding us and our neighbor, who had spread false rumours about us, apologized during a village meeting and I forgave her,’ explains Stephen.

Thanks to his new conservation farming skills Stephen’s family now has enough to eat and even a surplus to sell. ‘I have made £155 from my garden!’ smiles Stephen. His brother’s mental health is improving and he has been working alongside Stephen on the land. Stephen has also picked up some work on construction sites, due to the building skills he learnt at Kira, and he has joined a village savings group (a traditional bank would be inaccessible), saving £8 a week.

Creating employment

Thanks to the money he has saved, Stephen has been able to take his father to see a specialist at a psychiatric hospital in Kampala. ‘The doctors said he will improve and I was able to afford the medicine to help him get better,’ beams Stephen.

Stephen’s strong work ethic has been recognized and he has been sub-contracted to work on a local road, employing eleven young people. By the end of the contract he will have made a huge profit of £333. ‘I have now built my own hunt, bought a solar panel and I’m sleeping on a bed rather than the floor. My family is getting back on its feet!’

Pictured below: Stephen has built an energy saving stove and a new hut.

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