By Sarah Ray
In 2006, co-Founder Sarah Ray was living in Woodland Park, leading a High School youth group, and had just gotten married. Part way through the year, some of the students she worked with learned about her past travels to Africa and asked if she and her new husband would take them there. Only 25 at the time, Sarah was surprised when the parents of these students agreed to allow she and her husband to lead them on a multi-week trip to a remote farm in Northern Uganda, followed by a 14 hour overland journey aboard an overland bus to Kenya.
The students spent the school year eagerly fundraising and sharing about their upcoming journey and Sarah found herself purchasing solar powered phone chargers, mosquito nets, and syringe kits in preparation of leading her first trip abroad (with minors – eek!).
After 36 hours in-flight followed by chicken and chips and an overnight in a stuffy Kampala guesthouse, the crew bumped out of the crowded city and 8 hours up the dirt roads to the peaceful 500 acre haven that is Canaan Farm. Here their friends Richard and Suzan hosted them village style in mud huts, teaching them to tuck in their nets each night and take bucket showers beneath the stars.
Canaan Farm came into existence through the generosity and faith of Richard Angoma, his wife Suzan, and Richard’s parents, Charles and Sara. The previous land owner had a dream in which he saw an image of Mama Sara (whom he had never heard of nor met). She was working in a Sunflower Oil plant in Jinja, more than 5 hours away at the time. This man was told in his dream to sell his 500 acre farm to Mama Sara, and in faith, he travelled the long distance to the factory where she worked and requested a meeting. Mama Sara, also a woman of faith, agreed to the meeting but asked several other women to join her in the room. She then required this stranger to pick her out from among the others as the subject of his dream.
When he was able to do so, she invited him in and heard his story. When he told her about the land he was to sell to her, she prayed silently, “Lord, if this is the land I am to buy, let the amount be in the safe.” When the man told her the amount for which he believed he was to sell, it matched the amount in her safe and the deal was made.
As news about the Civil War incited by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) travelled from North to South, Richard and his would-be-wife Suzan, a nurse, began travelling to bring medical supplies and attention to those who were suffering. Using their own pocket money, they would go and stay weekends on the farm in crude mud huts, sleeping on the floor, and care for the sick and wounded.
As they spent more and more time together serving their displaced countrymen, their friendship grew and they decided to marry and move permanently to what is now Canaan Farm. At the time, there were only a couple of buildings and 2 fish ponds from which the surrounding community and their cattle were drinking.
As more and more people fled the north in search of peace, Richard and Suzan opened the farm to over 200 families. The families could come and settle, build homes, farm the land, and begin to heal.
When Sarah’s group arrived, they were amazed by what they witnessed, and broken by the many stories of war they were told. There was not a family present who had not endured great loss. Loss of land, livelihood, spouses, and children either killed or abducted. There was much disease and water-born illness, hunger, and grief. Very few families could afford shoes, clothing, or school fees as they sought stability and healing in the aftermath of war.
One of the individuals Sarah and her friends met on that first journey was Geofrey Olara. Geofrey had been abducted by the LRA as a young teen and forced to fight in the army for 3 years before he and a friend were able to escape. His parents, assuming him lost, had fled their homeland in Kitgum and sought refuge at Canaan Farm.
Geofrey was found in a village that had heard the radio advertisements his family had issued and he was miraculously reunited with them many years later on the farm. He had much trauma from which to heal and life and studies to begin anew, now as a young adult.
After hearing Geofrey’s story and similar ones from many families living on the farm, Sarah knew she had to respond by helping this community as they sought to be free from the grip of war and dared to hope for their future. The problem, was that she didn’t know how to help.
Having travelled extensively within developing nations, Sarah had seen charity do both great good and great harm. She knew she didn’t want to be guilty of the latter if it could be avoided. Not knowing the correct way to “help without hurting,” Sarah asked her new Ugandan friends what they needed most and how she could come alongside them in that pursuit.
Their answer? Jobs. We need jobs and a way to put our children in school so they can have a chance at a better life than we did.
Stay tuned for Yobel’s Beginnings: Canaan Farm Part 2