A chance glance at a poster at a country fair has brought new direction to Christine Quar’s life and given her children a revised take on Christmas. Chris Owen reports.
It was the cow that did it. There was something appealing about her. It might well have been the eyes.
Whatever it was, that bovine beauty was about to change Christine Quar’s life.
The animal was staring out of a large poster on a stall at a country fair.
Intrigued, Christine picked up a leaflet, stuffed it in her bag and thought little more about it.
When she got home she fished it out, read the blurb and was captivated. It was for a British charity called Send A Cow started 25 years ago by a group of farmers who sent Hereford cattle to help African farmers struggling to survive.
The subject of Christmas raised its head and she and husband Graeme called a family pow-pow.
Christine recalls: ‘Graeme and I had been talking about how much our children got for Christmas, so we sat all four of them down and asked them if they would each sacrifice the cost of a present to change a family’s future... in Uganda.
‘They were a bit baffled at first and had images of gift-wrapping a cow and sending it to Africa,’ she adds. ‘But they all said ‘‘that’s a fantastic idea mum, let’s do it’’. That first year we opted for chickens and those chickens quite literally have changed my life.’
That was eight years ago and the Quar family have done the same each Christmas since. ‘There have been bees, goats and, of course, a cow.’
The family also holds events during the year to raise extra cash and the family law firm, Graeme Quar & Co at Fareham, has adopted it as its chosen charity.
Last month Christine, 55, was able to see where her money had been going on a self-funded, two-week trip to northern Uganda. It was an eye-opener which makes Christine weep as she relates what she saw.
The country has been riven by conflict since the 1970s, but it was the cult-like Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) which probably did most damage. For 20 years its forces became notorious for abducting children to serve as sex slaves and fighters. At the height of the conflict, nearly two million people in northern Uganda were displaced.
The LRA has been driven out of the country but the people in the north, where Send A Cow does most of its work, are still picking up the pieces.
During her visit Christine was introduced to Josh. He and his wife had just been given a cow.
Christine takes up his story: ‘As a young lad he was abducted by the rebels and forced to rape women.
‘He told us that when confronted with the first girl he said ‘‘I can’t do this’’. He was ordered to do it or be killed.
‘So he did it and hated it.
‘Two years later he decided to try to find that girl. He was unaware that she was also trying to find him because she knew he hadn’t wanted to rape her. She knew he’d had no choice. It was either rape or lose his life.
‘Amazingly they found each other and now they’re married. They have a child. They’re happy and Send A Cow has just made Josh Farmer of the Year for the whole of Uganda.’
During her trip Christine saw many examples of how the agricultural and horticultural donations made by the charity can kick-start a new life for families, through the ‘incredibly strong women’ who lead them.
Christine adds: ‘Sadly, back then, many men hit the bottle.
‘They were drunk much of the time and happy to sit under a tree and take whatever money the wife could bring in and then buy more booze.
‘That’s how it used to be., but it’s changing, much of it because of Send A Cow.
‘I talked to women who repeatedly said that by being given animals they’re not only able to get milk or eggs for themselves, but they can then sell the surplus and gradually stand on their feet again.
‘This brings in money, the husband sees this and the bottle starts being pushed away and he takes part in family life again.
‘We’re not a marriage guidance charity, but we’re certainly bringing families together again.’
Christine adds: ‘It was so humbling and makes you realise how lucky we are.’
Achora Proscovia’s story
Christine Quar travelled to Uganda as an ambassador for the charity Send A Cow.
She was smitten by the country and its people.
‘Considering what they’ve had to endure for decades as conflict has raged around them, it’s incredible that they are so happy and welcoming,’ she says.
‘We met Achora Proscovia who told us that when she was 13 she was snatched by the rebels and taken into the bush. She was told she was ready to marry.
‘Several guns were placed on the floor and she was told to pick one. The owner of that gun would become her husband.
‘The girl chose one belonging to a 60-year-old.’
Christine adds: ‘She told us it didn’t matter that she was now married – she got passed around to other men to be treated as a sex slave.’
Christine adds: ‘I cried a lot during that trip because of stories like this.’
But there is a happy ending to Achora’s story.
She’s now 26, properly married, and has five children – three girls and two boys.
Like all her friends she lived in an IDP (internally displaced people) camp.
That is where she met her husband.
Send A Cow provided her and her women’s group with a cross-bred calf that in turn calved a bull.
Christine says Achora has entered into the entrepreneurial spirit of the age.
‘She hopes to sell the bull and use the money to buy iron sheets for their house.’
Her herd has grown and the group now also grows organic crops.
And with the profit she makes she’s invested in two solar panels. Christine says: ‘Everyone seems to have a mobile phone so Achora charges people to charge their phones for them.’
Matina Anyeko’s story
The war in northern Uganda was Africa’s longest-running war.
For more than 20 years the Acholi people of that region saw the security, economy and morality of their homelands eroded by the insurgency.
One of them, Matina Anyeko, spent an incredible 28 years surviving in a camp for internally displaced people of which there were two million.
Matina , now 54, managed to return to her village in 2009.
During her time in the camp she nearly starved to death, suffered ill-health and daily saw people being killed by their fellow men for stealing a kilogram of maize flour.
She was abducted several times by the rebels and managed to escape each time.
Matina saw women selling their bodies for morsels of food and many young girls married off in their early teens.
A mother of six, who are now all married, one of her daughters contracted HIV/Aids and died, while one of her sons is HIV positive.
In 2000 her husband, a peasant farmer, contracted the Ebola virus, but was treated and cured.
Christine Quar, who met Matina during her visit last month, says: ‘Her story is difficult to get to grips with.
‘When she escaped from the camp she fell and hit her head so hard she developed epilepsy.
‘At one time, within the so-called security of the camp, she had three daughters aged 13, 14 and 15. All were raped. The 15-year-old got pregnant and died giving birth.’
Matina’s group of women were supported by Send A Cow for three years and were trained in sustainable organic agriculture, animal husbandry, home hygiene and how to make a profit from their land.