By Marci Varley:
I arrived in Tororo town the night before my visit to Rayland Rural Development Organization (RARUDO) and was warmly welcomed by Mr. Joseph Onyango, the Executive Director and Founder of RARUDO. We sat together for about an hour so that he could tell me more about the organization which is non-denominational and non-partisan and hopes to “help the community (his hometown of Tororo) to stand on its own.” Joseph founded RARUDO in 1997 because he “wanted to form a group of people to help, support and educate all of those in need.” He truly wants to give all of those in need a chance to dream of a future, something many people in the developing world never do. Currently, RARUDO supports 240 children and 60 women; and, since 2007, has incorporated a local group of disabled and elderly people into the group (25 women and 15 men).
On Friday morning, we headed to the office in a rural village outside Tororo town to meet with other members of the organization…both those working to help the community and members of the community being assisted by the organization. As we approached the office, a group of about 10 women danced out of the main door singing a welcome song followed by other songs of appreciation and thanks as well as songs about the scourge of HIV/AIDS, their worries and their hopes of a better future. It was such a beautifully, traditional welcome that warmed my heart and definitely started the visit off on the right foot. (The attached picture is of the women singing another song as they re-entered the office and formally welcomed me. All of these woman have received aid from RARUDO.)
Several of Joseph’s colleagues spoke about their work with RARUDO and even described how the organization helped them in years past. They outlined the projects of RARUDO which include, but are never limited to: training farmers in sustainability; distributing goats for sustainability projects; trainings and support on agriculture and livestock rearing; teaching long-term HIV/AIDS survival skills (through trained HIV/AIDS counselors within the group); sensitizing/teaching communities on avoiding/living with AIDS (through trainings and drama performances); building new homes to provide healthy living environments; distributing mosquito nets; running a vocational school for women and orphans (teaching tailoring and other domestic works such as baking in their new fuel-efficient oven for income sustainability); distributing scholastic materials and fees to orphans; and generally supporting the poorest of the poor (orphans, elderly, widows, widowers and disabled).
In addition to hearing about these projects, I also heard from a few of the community members who have received assistance from the organization. One AIDS widow, named Azeresi Achieng, even performed a monologue to describe her journey since learning of her own HIV status…her feelings of fear and solitude and how she overcame those feelings with the help of RARUDO and found strength to move forward. Ms. Achieng’s initial thoughts were “where did this come from? it’s all over the country and all over the world; everyone, even doctors are suffering; and no one knows where it came from” and she even thought that she should kill her children so that when she is gone, they don’t suffer. However, with the help of RARUDO’s trained counselors, she learned that she could live a happy and healthy life with HIV and now sees how “life, in so many ways, is good.” The organization has aided her in several ways including teaching her how to stay healthy and training her in tailoring, but most importantly, RARUDO provided emotional support that truly helped her to get past her initial reactions and gain the strength to survive.
As I said my goodbyes and left the office, Joseph translated the song that was being sung by the women: RARUDO is a symbol of development and hope within a community of widows, orphans, disabled and elderly people. The group works together to support and counsel each other and are partners in the development that uplifts the community. RARUDO tells youth to study and work hard, to be safe and to know about HIV. The women will not stop singing, but will always tell others about RARUDO’s work and continue to do what they can to be a part of that good work.
My visit with Joseph and all of the members of RARUDO is one that I will never forget. The work they have done in the community is inspiring and as I left them I felt myself wanting to be a better person.