Q&A with Country Director James Lomude
“I wish Seed Effect had exsisted when I was young.”
-James Lomude, Seed Effect Uganda Country Director
In this Q&A James and Joel discuss:
- James’ personal story of growing up in extreme poverty.
- The root of poverty.
- The true need in northern Uganda.
- How Seed Effect is bringing a sustainable solution.
Q&A with Country Director James Lomude
Join Seed Effect Uganda Country Director, James Lomude, and Seed Effect U.S. Director of Operations, Joel Cox, in this conversation as we hear directly from James about what it was like growing up in extreme poverty and how your support of Seed Effect is writing a different narrative in Northern Uganda today.
JOEL: Thank you guys so much for being here. It really means a lot for people to come and hear what Seed Effect is doing in northern Uganda – to see a room full of people interested in this little corner of the world that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention. So really, truly I thank you for coming and spending your lunch with us today.
We’re so excited to have James here, our Country Director, but when I go to Uganda and James takes me around to different churches and different groups that we go and visit while I’m there he likes to introduce me as his brother from another mother. He likes to flatter me and say we’re similar. We look similar, we’re similar height, similar weight even though I’m shorter and fatter than he is, but he truly is more than a Country Director. We really have over the last few years grown to become really great friends. He is a brother to me. It’s been awesome to get to know him. He’s so inspiring and so encouraging, so I am super excited that he’s here and I’m so excited that you guys are going to get to hear from him and for him to share his heart with you guys.
This is his first time to the U.S. This is his first time outside of the continent of Africa; actually, so this is a… he’s been absorbing a lot, as you can imagine. I would love to be inside his head hearing the thoughts that are going on. This is also the longest he’s ever been away from his family, so we thank you so much for leaving them behind for a few weeks and coming and spending time with us. So let’s start there, why don’t you introduce us to your family.
Thank you, Joel. Hello everyone! I am married faithfully to one wife, Stella and God has blessed us with four daughters: Mercy, Rachel, and twins – Lydia and Sarah. So I’m excited to be leading this family and happy to be here.
Thank you, James. Yeah it’s awesome, so we should probably be thanking her for taking on that load for you while you’re gone. So I know you grew up in northern Uganda and I know the circumstances of your childhood were difficult and challenging so, if you’re willing, I would love for you to share with people here what it was like for you growing up in northern Uganda.
JAMES: Yeah, thank you, Joel. My story is a painful one, but it’s worth telling for the glory of God. I am the fifth child of eleven children my mother and father had and when I was, when we were, growing up we grew up through difficult – no access to education, no access to health. No access to education because my parents couldn’t afford to send us to school. They were basically in prison. They grew food only, do agriculture for food. Yeah so none of us got an opportunity, none of my older brothers got an opportunity to go to school.
(JOEL: They weren’t generating an income.)
And when I was 10 years old, my dad passed away, and when he passed away it made life harder. And even before he passed away, four of my siblings died just to temporal diseases, malaria related cases. And losing four siblings and finally losing the dad in difficult circumstances where you have no access to education, no access to health, no access to any form of opportunities life became more difficult when my father died finally when I was ten years. It was really so, so hard, and I remember one time I would think that,
“Why God? Why did you allow our father to die; yet we are in all these kind of difficult?”
We already faced so many challenges when even he was alive and adding on that he died was almost like everything was gone and there was no future and there was no opportunity for all of us. And because of that we got frustrated and my older brothers, including me, went into unproductive living.
You cannot imagine at the age of ten, eleven I was already introduced to drinking alcohol just because of frustration. And all of my older brothers, we almost became nuisances in the community just because of frustration.
And when our mother, single mother, realized the lives we were living she became furious, and one day, I remember, she told us that if this is the life you are living it is not good so you better go to the church so that you can be able to change your lives. And that is when, I think, things started changing.
My older brother started going to church and he decided to follow Christ and later on he invited us also to go to the church. My other brothers went and they also decided to follow Christ, and myself also followed them and I decided to follow Christ. So when we joined the church and decided to follow Christ that is when life started changing in our family.
We started living productively. I can remember we would dig, almost a whole day from morning up to sunset, but still you’re digging when you do not have food. You are digging basically on empty stomachs you can only take water to survive. I remember we’d only eat a meal per day. We would eat at 3:00 pm today and wait tomorrow until 3:00 pm to get another meal and that was the situation that I was in together with my other brothers. So still even as we went to the church there was no opportunity for me to go to school.
Thank God, when I was 12 years I started this church that we went to gave me a scholarship to attend school at no cost, which was really not usual because in Uganda unless you can pay you cannot attend school at most.
So that was a God given opportunity that started opening the way for me. So at the age of 12 I started going to school and I progressed very fast, got another scholarship to go and attend high school, and from high school I also passed with high grades, got a government scholarship to go and attend to Uganda’s number one university. And when I graduated I got out and not only stopped with the first degree that I got from this university in Makere, I went higher to pursue.
I now have two post-graduate diplomas, which God just opened the way for me. I had not to pay anything, none of my parents, or none of my siblings or my brothers had to pay for it but I just said this is a God given opportunity that allowed me to be able to progress and catch up with the rest of my peers.
James’s story is a remarkable story. I already own the book rights actually, so, in case any of you guys were wondering. Your story is incredible to go from yeah just trying to make it day by day, losing family, losing siblings, losing your father, the weight, the weight of the world seemingly being on you and your brothers’ shoulders and that kind of crushing you for awhile until you got into church and you started to see life and what life could be and turn things around.
I can’t even imagine starting school at the age of 12, going into first grade at the age of 12, catching up would be a miracle. To catch up and then graduate high school at the top of the country to where they want to send you to university I mean it’s absolutely incredible. Your circumstances obviously growing up were very difficult from a physical, material stand point – lacking the food you needed, the healthcare you needed, the opportunities that your family would’ve needed, but also clearly coming from your story is this whole emotional aspect, social aspect, spiritual aspect of these kind of deeper layers of what you were going through.
So I’m curious what you would say, and I would love for you to share this, what if the scenario what if someone had come to your family when you were ten and they had said I see your situation. I see your family’s situation. Here is some food, I will pay your medical expenses so that you can get this thing done whatever the current disease was. Here is $500 take this and run with it. Would that have been, what impact would that have made on your family? Would that have been the solution? Would that have been the answer for your family’s situation?
ROOT OF POVERTY
JAMES: I believe our family was rooted in poverty. And probably this poverty did not even start with my parents. It might have started a long time ago with our grandparents because they didn’t have any source of income. And in our situation when somebody comes to give us food, education, or even money I would think that that was not enough.
Yes, it would help, just for a short moment, but it wouldn’t really eradicate the deep problem. Because I believe poverty is really not only the lack of these material things, it goes beyond and what really I think when you give me something you give me payments, you give me money, you give me food.
I treat that just as a mere handout so dealing with poverty which is a long term problem cannot be solved or cannot be addressed by mere giving of handouts which is short term. So treat that probably when you give me something give me school fees, giving me food to eat, you are just postponing my suffering for a short while. But when you stop giving me the money, giving me the school fees that means I will go back to my previous situation.
So I think that really, dealing with poverty goes beyond giving a mere handout. It goes beyond creating an opportunity, it goes beyond changing an attitude. It goes beyond making someone realize that I can be able to make something by myself I can be able to change my situation within my environment.
“And it goes into opening the eyes of people to be able to see and look at opportunities surrounding around them and to me that would be the best way.”
If you can be able to give me skills you can be able to empower me to be able to use those resources and change my behavior to be able to really create opportunities around me.
And also poverty on top of the psychical lack has an emotional aspect. It has a social aspect; it goes with the spiritual aspect. You’ll remember in our situation because of the frustration that we were in we decided to end up doing drunk things, going into life of drunkardness, fighting in the village, which I think it was more of the physical needs.
We were hurting. We had an emotional torture and that is why we resorted to that kind of life and two before we got connected to the church we lacked this relationship with God and because of lack of this relationship even if you had given us money during that time before we got connected to the church I don’t think we were going to use that money responsibly. We were not going to use that opportunity responsibly.
So I believe that surely the sustainable way of dealing with poverty goes beyond giving a mere handout. It goes beyond, you know, paying school fees, which is good for short time, but it cannot eradicate the problem.
The best way to eradicate the poverty is to look for a sustainable solution. And the sustainable solution to me, is creating knowledge, changing attitudes giving tools of empowerment that somebody from within a certain kind of community in society can be able to use those skills, can be able to use those tools, can be able to use, you know, those opportunities to be able to live within his or her own reach and be able to create a living and that to me is the best way that we can be able to deal with poverty and eradicate it if you want to eradicate it sustainably.
But also not only the physical aspect it goes with looking into the emotional healing, going into, looking into the spiritual kind of connection we lack a lot when we are not connected to God. We go in to unproductive things when we do not have, when bitterness, when not in connection or we do not listen to God and that is what I am thinking. Fighting and alleviating poverty goes really beyond just a mere handout.
I have learned, I’ve learned a lot from you in this kind of arena, this perspective. I mean it’s so interesting, I think, for us to hear you talk about that because we as Americans, I think we see people struggling, we see people hurting and we want to help. We want to help the people that are struggling. We just tend to jump immediately to the physical lack – the lack of material things and we tend to think if we can just get them those things then that will get them over the hump.
So to hear you say that, of course that’s helpful, you would’ve taken it, but that wouldn’t have been your long-term solution and it wouldn’t have been addressing the deeper emotional, spiritual traumas that you were, that you were going through. So I think that is revolutionary for us to hear. So that was your experience growing up, but not to give away your age but thirty, thirty-five years have gone by since then in northern Uganda, so what is it, tell people what it’s like now. What, how is it for families growing up now in northern Uganda.
Uganda in general has made great strides in the fight against poverty, but when it comes to this particular region, northern Uganda, the situation is different. Northern Uganda, the situation is not for worse, it has not changed. Many of you have heard of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Movement Army (LRA) who terrorized northern Uganda for over twenty years. Even if, actively right now, he is not in the region, but the impacts of the war that he created left a lot of challenges.
This area is underdeveloped with poor road network, without good schools, without proper healthcare system, and above all even proper economic engagement is not in this place. Because, you know unless you have good roads investors cannot come to your situation. Unless you have stable power nobody can really choose to go to this region.
So generally in this region you see that the area is lacking a lot. It’s lacking formal financial institutions. I can give an example in northern Uganda you can find a community of people, over 50,000, but without an access to, to banking. You have to walk or ride over 50 kilometers to be able to access banking services. So this is the situation northern Uganda is in right now, even after more than even thirty years, close to thirty-five years.
So I could say that this region really nothing has changed really from the time that I was growing up, and I still see mothers struggle to put food on the table. People still struggle to take their children to school. We see still children continue to die of malaria, which could be treated just easily. So many children die of simple, treatable diseases. And still this is the situation in the local host communities in Uganda and this is the region that is also hosting right now 1.4 million South Sudanese.
So this is the region that you see already the local Ugandans are struggling to earn a living and another community of people who are also struggling to repair life, are also put in this region. You are bringing, combining two communities of people who are suffering or struggling to make ends meet together, and it made almost things worse. For the refugees it is worse. No bank wants to go to the refugees, no any form of financial institution because these are people who are from a foreign land and you don’t know who could go there – nobody. So they are like, this region is almost like an abandoned region, without anybody really taking an initiative to invest in them, and creating, making them to create an opportunity within themselves. So if not for worse I could say that the situation is the same both for the local Ugandan communities, but even more worse for the South Sudanese refugees in this region.
It’s hard to even fathom a whole region of a country not progressing in thirty-five years time. A complete lack of development and yet you have millions of people living in this situation, Ugandans living there locally, but then now you have 1.4 million South Sudanese refugees escaping war in their own country now settled in northern Uganda all living in this situation, and struggling to get by, and as you said, coming in with a short-term solution would of course be helpful, they would take it, but it wouldn’t be addressing their long-term issue. It would be kind of like a band-aid, and it wouldn’t be addressing the traumas that they’re going through. It wouldn’t be addressing their social, their spiritual, emotional issues that they are dealing with, and yet so you want to try to help them build something, but yet there’s a complete lack of infrastructure to build on. There’s no place to save if they are able to scratch together some money, there’s no safe place to save it. They don’t have access to small amounts of capital to get something going, and then they have no access to insurance type things so that if something were to happen, if some medical emergency or some household emergency were to come along if they were able to generate something now that’s wiped out whatever they were able to put together.
So you to start to see these dominoes stack up. You start to see the dominoes line up, how you get to generational poverty and man, so here you are you are now leading an organization, on the ground, Seed Effect Uganda, tasked with the mission of planting the seeds that overcome poverty overcome situations like this. So share with us what are how are you, what are you doing? How are you going at this problem?
HOW SEED EFFECT IS BRINGING SUSTAINBLE CHANGE
JAMES: Thank you, Joel. When I joined Seed Effect actually, I was thinking I wish Seed Effect was there when I was little, probably I wouldn’t have gone through the challenges that I’ve gone through and probably so many people would have be helped if Seed Effect was there sometime back.
So through Seed Effect we’re bringing holistic poverty alleviation tool called Christ-centered, savings-led, microfinance to our members. And using this tool we have our groups are trained and given the materials that they use to provide safe places to save their money and also borrow loans from their own savings, and but also provide access to micro-insurance for the group members.
And we also go ahead to train the members in these groups that we put together, skills to be able to utilize these skills in creating income generation. We give them, train them on skills so that they can use those skills to be able to leverage the resources around them and begin start a business with the skills beginning any kind of income generating activity and this is what Seed Effect is doing.
And through this our members are able to provide for their families with dignity. A mother can be able to put food on the table, can be able to pay the school fees of a child, can be able to pay the medical bill, and can be able to change the circumstances around them. Through this system, or this approach, we have seen that Seed Effect has worked with many of our groups for a cycle, a cycle of between 9 – 12 months, but even after these groups becoming independent we have watched these groups because they have really learned the benefits of being in this group, they have continued to a second cycle, their third cycle, and even more cycles.
We have seen the future that these groups that we create, and train, and empower, we equip them with the tools to live in the groups even beyond when Seed Effect is not there. That is on the physical aspect. But through even the spiritual aspect, looking on the spiritual aspect Seed Effect in all its operations have Jesus Christ as the center of everything.
And beginning from the staff we have the spiritual director who is in charge of all the plans, and what the spiritual director and the spiritual department of Seed Effect does for the staff, we do daily devotionals and we have one-hour staff prayer, which is conducted every week. We also have staff retreats that staff gets an opportunity to be off the office to reflect and pray and share their experiences together, but also the staff will get an opportunity to be able to connect with local churches in the communities that we serve, which is key because one of our goals is to strengthen the local churches. So we do outreaches to the local churches and share with them, share the word of God with them and also teach them and that is one on the side of the staff of spiritual development.
But to our groups that we serve each of the groups that we have select a spiritual leader. And the spiritual leader is someone who is mature among us. On average a group has 25 members, so out of the 25 members our groups select a spiritually mature leader and that person becomes the lead spiritual leader.
And our groups meet weekly, so every week as our groups comes to meet the spiritual leader, the role of the spiritual leader is to lead the group using a developed curriculum which is based on the four key broken relationships that Missy talked about. And this curriculum that we have developed, we call it Bible Study Guide with all Bible verses that talk about how the broken relationships can be restored, and we talk about the broken relationships as man with God, man with others, man with himself, and man with the rest of the creation.
So this guide helps to take the group and educate the group how the broken relationships can be restored and this is the role of this particular leader in this group. And through this, we have realized almost, actually 100% of our group members have been reached with the Gospel. That is one thing, because as they come, they got the opportunity to be able to listen to the Gospel and that is great. And also using this tool we have realized we have had so many testimonies that people have been changed and even people in our groups are members are living cohesively together.
Some of our groups have got more than one tribe. We have a group, which has over 12 tribes. In this group, tribes that never used to stay together, never used to meet together because of this teaching of the restoration of the broken relationships we have seen these tribes living together in our groups for more than a year, and we believe it’s because of the impact of this training that we give them through our groups’ spiritual leaders.
It’s really incredible to see James and the team on the ground lead these groups so well and to hear the stories coming out of the groups. There’s a quote I love from a book called Portfolios of the Poor that says,
“If poor households enjoyed access to a handful of better financial tools their chances of improving their lives would surely be much higher.”
So we are essentially putting that idea to the test, right? We are putting the idea to the test that people living in extreme poverty are capable, that they are created in the image of God, that they are able to build something and that if given the tools that they need to save money, to build on that savings, to be able to loan that savings to each other, to build something if they have access to insurance that they can generate resources. And they can build on those resources and they can apply those resources to their areas of greatest need.
And then if we couple that with the word of God, with community and with prayer now you start to see the dominoes line up that can lead to true transformation. So that’s he idea we are putting to the test.
And since in addition to many things we are also nerds. We are collecting the data on this. Right, we are asking questions. We are trying to figure out is this working, because if it’s not we don’t want to do it anymore. Right? So we go to our groups, we survey them. We’ve been doing this for a little less than two years in northern Uganda. So I want to show you some of the results that we are seeing.
We have over 19,000 people in our groups, almost 750 groups. And those 19,000 people have generated over $800,000 of their own money, and they are generating a 34% average return on their savings. So they save money, they loan it out to each other, those loans are repaid back into the group at an interest rate agreed upon by the group. That activity is generating a 34% return on their savings.
We ask lots of common poverty indicator type questions, and there’s a page in your annual reports that has more of these charts and you can see them much better so I invite you to look at that later when you have a chance, but basically we are asking our members a whole list of questions before they start the actual program, before they start their groups and when they graduate from that first year of training to see if we have seen any movement.
So the left bar is the beginning responses, the right bar is the graduation responses. And so in short, we want to see the yellow and green areas grow, okay, and we want to see the red areas shrink. So as an example, when I need to pay the doctor or when I need to pay school fees, so what often happens is people have to sell a household asset in order to be able to do that. They have generated something but they don’t have either access to a loan or savings to pull from so they have to sell off something to pay for that.
Almost half of the people in our groups say that that’s what they do at the beginning when they have to pay for school fees or for a doctor. And we see that drop dramatically to both under 20% and we see huge growth in the answers of now I can borrow money or now I use savings or business income.
We also have asked questions like how many meals per day are you eating and we see a great decrease in the people who are saying they are only able to eat one meal a day, and growth in the people who say they have three meals a day.
We asked how steady is your income. That’s a huge factor for people living in extreme poverty. When you think about how these people are earning an income, it’s often $2 one day and then nothing and then nothing and then $6 and then nothing for a few days then $4 and that’s incredibly difficult to manage your household. So the steadiness of your income is an incredibly important factor when you’re living in conditions like this. 11% of people said at the beginning that my income is very unsteady and we almost completely eliminated that answer, 1% of people say that at graduation, and we see huge growth in people saying my income is somewhat steady or is steady after that first year. This will build.
We will continue to ask these questions year after year, right, as they go through future cycles. We will continue to track this data.
We’re also tracking from a spiritual standpoint. Almost half of the people who join our groups, our groups are open to everybody, almost half the people who join our groups are not believers. They aren’t Christians when they come in to a group. 43% of that group of people who say that they’re not a believer at graduation say that they have put their faith in Jesus Christ, which is absolutely incredible.
And from a discipleship perspective, 98% of people say that they see improvement in those four key relationships: the relationship with God, the relationship with themselves, the relationship with others, and the relationship with creation.
So it’s absolutely incredible and exciting to see what’s going on and that’s not a one-time thing. These groups are sustainable. We train these groups to be equipped so that when the training is done they can continue on, on their own if they want to and that’s the true test of whether they see value in these groups, do they continue on their own, and 99% of our groups continue on into a second cycle on their own.
[Member story removed for security purposes]
I can imagine how many people are suffering outside there that could otherwise be reached if, if Seed Effet could be able to be in all the areas and be able to reach all to them. This, this is a great challenge that I always think about it.
Well yeah, she’s such, she’s such a great example of their capability. And her spirit, her drive is so inspiring to, to go through what she’s been through and to see where she’s come, what access to the resources can do when you give them seomthing to build on. What she was able to do, I mean it’s absolutely incredible, but she’s also a great example of how poverty is not just the physical lack, right, of how there’s something so much deeper than that going on in so many of these stories and that doesn’t happen without you guys in the room.
You guys launch all of this. Again, I mean it in so may ways, we are so thankful that you guys are here because when you guys come to these things, and you pray for this organization, and you give your resources you are hiring Ugandans and South Sudanese. You’re hiring the people to go do these training. You’re providing the resources that they need to have a safe place to save and generate loans and have access to insurance. You’re providing, you’re sending out the Gospel. You’re providing the Bible studies. You’re doing so many things, and so I’m just so thankful that you guys are here and best of all you get to partner with this guy. You get to partner with James, who is absolutely amazing and I know when you give you want to know that you’re resources are being spent with wisdom. You want to know that they’re making Kingdom impact, that there’s real transformation happening, and I hope that after hearing James that you can be, that you are as confident as I am that that’s exactly what’s happening. So James, thank you so much for being here. Thank you for sharing. If there’s anything you want to close us up with, you’re welcome to.
Thank you so much, Joel, and thanks everybody for praying for us.
I want to reiterate by saying poverty is a long-term problem, which requires long-term and sustainable approaches of alleviating it. Addressing poverty does not need only giving a handout, but it goes with creating an opportunity, giving skills, and giving the tools that local people can be able to use to be able to come out of their situations. And I want to say that the vulnerable people, the poor people are capable.
Poor people have dreams, they have goals, they have aspirations. They just need an opportunity – they need their eyes to be opened.
They need the tools that they require to be able to change the situation around them. I have watched this and I have seen that they can make it. And that’s why this program and this approach I believe for sure, 100%, that this is the best approach that if you want to totally eradicate poverty this is the best approach that we can use.
And I want to say thank you so much that you have partnered with us and you are praying with us that we can be able to do this and I’m so thankful to you and my prayer is that may God bless you and continue to reach you and that we will continue in this goal.
We have a big opportunity, South Sudan has 64 tribes and these 64 tribes right now are put together in the refugee camps and we are ministering through your support. We are ministering, not only to one community, not only to the refugees but also we are ministering to the entirety of South Sudan, over 64 tribes. Thank you so much, may God bless you.
THIS IS WHERE YOU COME IN
Seed Effect serves in the hard places. These are fragile states, refugee settlements, closed countries, post-conflict zones and rural areas deeply affected by extreme poverty.
But our goal is actually not to be the biggest organization of our type rather, we hope to be the special forces, bringing dignity poverty alleviation to hard places just like this. We can make a difference in that, but none of this can happen without you.
Our program is scalable, there’s tremendous demand, and we have access to qualified staff. Our biggest barrier is funding. Your donations are the catalysts setting all of this in motion. As James and Joel talked about the average member is saving more than your investment in the first year, and once these groups have been trained they are fully equipped to continue on independently. Joel, said that 99% of our groups continue on to a second cycle. So your one time investment in a member or a group is a sustainable, life-changing opportunity for them.
When you give to Seed Effect, you are bringing hope and opportunity to places that are typically devoid of this type of empowerment. And we have an opportunity, today, to do it again, to reach more new members across our existing locations. We have a lot of reasons to celebrate and yet as James shared there is so much need that we see as an opportunity.
By the end of this year, you saw that we are around 19,000 members served we hope to have served 30,000 members in northern Uganda. These are families. So today, with $150,000 we can fully fund and launch this next round of growth, to bring the same impact that James and Joel shared about. I want to tell you a little bit about how far your gift can go as they do that.
- Every $6o sends one person through our program.
- Every $1,500 empowers an entire group.
- For $60/month you can send one person through each month.
To donate you can give online at seedeffect.org/donate. Again thank you guys so much for being here, for your prayers, for your partnership, for making all of this happen.