A CHARITY set up more than 30 years ago by a group of Worcestershire farmers to help rural people in Uganda is expanding. The Farmers Overseas Action Group is spreading its wings and aiming to become a serious player in the international development field.

It’s new chairman Iain Patton, who lives at Stanford Bridge in the Teme Valley, explained: “Anyone can be involved with FOAG, not just farmers, so I want Worcester-shire people to see the organisation as their international development charity and take a sense of pride and satisfaction is its success. “Part of this would be for individuals and groups to make connections. For example, schools here link with schools in Uganda or medical people and centres in Wor-cestershire linking with their equivalents over there.

“We are also looking for people to help run events and manage our fund-raising, help with our communications, photos and videos, web developments, join the committee.”

The official launch of FOAG is listed as 1981, but things really began to move in January 1984 when two of the organisation’s founders, David Harper, from Holt Heath, and Malcolm Rankin, from Powick, were first invited to Uganda.

“We were overwhelmed by the need for help everywhere,” recalled Malcolm, “and that visit generated a determination in us to do something to help, even though, at the time, we had very little money or network of support.

“The country had been decimated under [Idi] Amin, but it was still suffering under Milton Obote’s re-instated leadership years later.”

Back home, FOAG swung into action, gradually at first, but the momentum built up until the organisation now raises £50,000 each year to help projects in Uganda. The money comes from fund-raising evenings organised by members, rotary clubs, which are particularly supportive, churches, clubs and other societies. Last year it was one of the Mayor of Worcester’s charities.

Now Mr Patton is aiming the raise the bar even higher, ‘a gear change’ in its profile and activities, as he put it.

“We continue to do loads of operations on children to help them walk and overcome disabilities,” he said, “but an additional focus now is on micro-finance, which unlike traditional charity is more of a partnership where, for example, we loan money to a group of farmers to buy oxen to plough, but with the extra cash they get from the increased cultivation, they repay the money which gets reinvested in more oxen for more groups of farmers. “It’s very successful and in these days of austerity, goes down well with donors who can see a positive outcome to their giving.”

Among the projects currently supported by FOAG is the Chekwii Initiative for Rural and Integrated Devel-opment, which is trying to ensure the people in this remote and harsh part of Uganda have access to affordable food between harvests. The FOAG scheme uses large communal concrete silos to store and protect excess maize or beans which is bought at a fair price from local farmers. This gives them a small income. Then in the dry season the food is sold to the wider community again at a fair price.

FOAG has also long helped Masindi Centre for the Hand-icapped, where, although the teachers’ salaries are paid bythe Government, the day-to- day running costs and the salaries of the bursar, the matron and the ancillary staff are paid from the support of FOAG and other UK- based charities.

Mr Patton said: “We have seen the school grow and flourish over the years and become, as the wife of the president of Uganda said: ‘A centre of excellence’. In the last term there were 109 residential children, 54 girls and 55 boys.

But now we want to do even more and FOAG is going through a big change as a new generation steps up to bring its work to a new generation of Worcestershire people.”

To that end an Introducing FOAG – Out of Africa to Worcester evening is being held on Friday, October 12, starting at 7.30pm at Top Barn Farm, Holt Heath, near Worcester. This free event is a must for everyone wanting to know more about FOAG and there will be an opportunity to meet its officials and members and hear first-hand stories of its successful work in Uganda. Refreshments will be served. Details at foag.co.uk, book at info@foag.co.uk or call 01905 831276.