Walter used to be addicted to drugs and stealing. Today he is supporting his large family, helping his friends escape the grip of drugs and heading up a government HIV campaign. Unbelievable!
‘Life wasn’t easy after my father died from a heart complication and, as the eldest, I was left responsible for my mum, brother and six sisters,’ explains Walter.
Tragically the Otim family lost everything during the war that raged between government soldiers and a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). ‘After the war we lived on a small plot of land near Lira town, but we had lots of trouble because our relatives wanted to take the land from us.’ (In Uganda women don’t have any land rights so family members often seize the land if the husband passes away.)
Addicted to drugs
‘Although I was the head of the family I didn’t feel strong enough to stand up to my relatives,’ says Walter. ‘So, a friend advised me to start taking drugs, saying they will make me strong and tough.’ Unfortunately Walter took on board his friend’s misguided advice. ‘I started wearing two skins: to my family I was a strong, good, father who defended them; but in my private life I was becoming addicted to all sorts of drugs,’ he admits. Walter ran a business selling eggs, but it was largely a cover for the fact that he was stealing in the community to get money for drugs and to support his family.
‘I found my first semester at Kira Farm very hard,’ says Walter. ‘I smiled and laughed and appeared normal on the surface, but I was in a lot of pain and sickness because I didn’t have any drugs.’ Over time at Kira, with love and support, Walter got clean. ‘For the first time I was content with what I had and the wonderful skills I was learning. I knew I would be able to make it in life without doing wrong things.’
After his year at Kira Farm, Walter returned home to discover his mother had taken out a loan of £334 which she was struggling to pay back. ‘If we didn’t start making payments in the next three months we were at risk of losing our home,’ says Walter. Having learnt construction skills at Kira, Walter immediately found work on a building site and by the end of his first project he had earnt £70.
Using some of the money he had made Walter set up a small food produce business for his mother, passing on the business skills he had learnt at Kira. ‘Now we had two sources of income in the family and were able to start paying back the loan – even before the deadline!’ the young man beams.
Helping his friends
‘Without Amigos my life would have been a disaster,’ says Walter. Back home he felt bad for his friends that he used to take drugs with and encouraged them to join him on the building site. ‘In the future I plan to form a building company which will train young people in Lira in construction skills and also provide employment so they don’t need to steal anymore,’ says the compassionate and entrepreneurial Walter.
At Kira Farm Walter learnt conflict resolution techniques which have proven useful. ‘I used to need to be under the influence of drugs to solve issues, but now I use the restorative training methods and it’s helping me a lot.’ An electricity company had compensated Walter’s neighbours for running cables above their plots, but because they didn’t take Walter seriously his family hadn’t received any compensation. ‘With my new confidence and knowledge of conflict resolution I was able to go to their office and secure compensation of £445,’ he says. Walter and his family decided to use the money to build a second home as a way of protecting their land.
Impressed by the change in his life and the positive influence he is having on his friends, community leaders have chosen Walter to head up a government health campaign teaching young people about HIV. He has been paid £75 for his efforts and has invested this money in planting ginger, which will reap a harvest of around £335. Now that Walter has significant savings he’s planning to enlarge his mother’s business.
‘I really love my life and I am so grateful Kira Farm gave me the opportunity to change. Thank you!’
Amigos Worldwide is a registered Charity/NGO both in the UK and Uganda.
Amigos Worldwide, Registered in England, Company Number 6122350, Registered Charity Number 1119450
Registered Office 7A Beech Grove, Pilton, Barnstaple, Devon. EX31 1PZ
(Amigos International and Amigos are working names of Amigos Worldwide)