It’s been just over a week since we got back from our trip to Uganda and what an experience it was. For the Davidson-UF team this trip was unlike anything we had ever done. It’s much easier to talk about development and poverty eradication inside the walls of a classroom, but actually having those conversations while working in the region is completely different. We are happy to report that we were able to finish our project. We successfully got the goat house built, purchased a total of 55 goats, and distributed them to students and their families as well as members of the local community. We hope that the owners of these goats will be able to use them as a source of income and that the project will remain consistent with Nourish International’s goal of finding sustainable solutions to poverty. To keep the goat project going 5 out of the 55 goats will remain at URF. With this trip came a fair amount of challenges that were listed in one of our previous blog posts, but I am glad that I decided to go on this trip. Without it I would not have met my spectacular project team members, Mehrzaad and Cy or the Boston University/Hope College team (Kanoko, Brenda, and Blair). It was truly a pleasure working with all of them as we stumbled our way through learning Luganda, posho, and walks through Masaka town.
Although we were not as involved in our original project as we had hoped, we found we were able to work with URF in other ways. We worked on the debate system that the school used to help their students practice English and public speaking skills. We reworked the existing system and streamlined it to enable the students to truly focus on practicing English while not getting lost in the technical aspects of the debate system. In addition to tweaking the debates we also led weekly public speaking workshops.
Once a week we traveled to neighboring towns with one of Hope Academy’s teachers to speak with students about the importance of education. The area we were in was experiencing problems with students forming strikes and acting out violently in schools. Our role was to discourage them from doing so.
Overall this experience, although challenging, taught all of us a great deal about development and how to make it happening within a country’s cultural context. What struck me about Uganda was the willingness of the average person to help another who found themselves in a difficult situation. We were lucky enough to meet several people who were truly selfless. They gave everything they could while expecting nothing in return. One of the friends we made owned and operated a maize mill and would frequently give maize flour to Hope Academy free of charge and his family also sponsored several children who could not afford to pay their school fees. This friend just so happened to own the farm next to URF and we were able to visit him often and learn about the motivations behind his work. He explained that as an educated and fairly wealthy member of society he could have gone and looked for a job in Kampala (the country’s capital), but he chose to continue working in agriculture. When we asked why his response was simple, but it captures the spirit and strength behind the collectivist culture that exist in Uganda. He said, “If I went to Kampala I would be looking for one job, staying here I create many jobs.” With his high level of education and social status he could have easily pursued opportunities outside of Uganda, but he chooses to stay in the country to better the lives of the people around him. He continually told us, “Come back guys, in two, three, years things here will be different”. It is this kind of unwavering belief in change that will enable it to happen.
During the time we spent in Uganda we found that we had a surprising amount of downtime, which initially was rather frustrating. We arrived ready to go, get working on the project, lead it and make sure it was executed the way we envisioned it, but instead we were spending a lot of our time inside our host family’s house. As time went on I began to realize that I was just an observer, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Why did I arrive thinking I knew what needed to be done and that I could do it as well or better than the people that lived there? I was a guest who was able to get a window into the workings of this particular community and given a reference point from which to tackle the question, what is development?
It can be described as a progression from point A to point B, in other words a step up the ladder. The persisting problem with the term development is the inherent question it poses. What are we developing and where is the line between developing and developed? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but this trip really got me thinking about development on a deeper level.
It is a strange sensation to be so fully outside of ones cultural context that the only emotion that you can muster is inquiry and confusion, utter puzzlement of the situation at hand. Looking back I remember wondering why Uganda was in the state that it was. I felt angry and saddened when I saw people’s living conditions and heard about the hardships they had endured, but that right there was the problem. With my line of thinking, I seemed to be in the minority. Most people were reasonably comfortable and happy with the way they were living. As a friend said, “The problem is that people here are too comfortable in poverty”, but that is looking at Uganda through my lens, a western lens, which was shaped by my upbringing and experiences. The people of this country are not lost in poverty; they are simply living. Is it a bad thing to be content just living without the excess that we as Americans have grown so accustomed to? These are only a few of the questions I asked myself and continue to think about. I did not do what I had originally planned on doing in Uganda, but I have gained a completely new perspective on development. I am excited to continue working with Nourish and strengthening the newly founded Davidson chapter in an effort to further explore potential answers to these questions.
This week was week 5 on the project and with a week to go we were able to finish up our final visits to the remaining schools in the area. We visited a nursing school in the surrounding town of Kyetume, where we spoke to the students who had great appreciation for what we were doing for them and hope that we would return again soon.
We also continued working with the students at URF and helping them to prepare for the weekly debate. We were really excited to see the improvements that they showed this week. They conducted themselves a lot better, improved their English and had already showed major progress in their speaking ability. After that, Wednesday was a big day for the kids. We called their parents to URF and had a ceremony where the children we selected received their goats. Before we distributed the goats, a doctor from Masaka sprayed them all with disinfectant and taught them the best way to take care of them. It was really exciting for all of them and they were all optimistic for what they could do with them in the future. Though its just one goat per student, it is still enough to change their lives and give each one of them a source of income. Some of them didn’t even know in advance and they were so happy and thankful for our project.
As our last week is coming up, Isabel and Cy are continuing to work with the students in preparing them for the debates and Mehrzaad is still tutoring students in their classes. We also spend the nights with the students and watch the world cup games (which they all get really pumped about). We’re also making sure the goats get to the students homes who don’t live at URF and working with them in the beginning stages to make sure that they are handling their responsibilities properly.
UF and Davidson
We are coming to the end of our third week here in Uganda. Nothing too drastic has happened since our last blog post. The goat structure is nearly complete, we were able to help with the construction yesterday by carrying water to the site to make cement. We are looking forward to purchasing the 50 goats for the students of Hope Academy. Last night we had the pleasure of speaking to the founder of Uganda Rural Fund, John Mary Lugemwa. Although he lives in the U.S. as a the URF representative there, he has been able to follow the progress of our project as well as the work that the chapter has been doing regarding public speaking, debate, and youth empowerment.
We plan on visiting more secondary schools tomorrow and next week to give a presentation on the importance of education. In addition to these school visits, we are attempting to put in place a weekly public speaking/debate work shop at Hope Academy as well as an optional English enrichment meeting where students can come and practice english with us and ask us any question they might have. Last night the Davidson-UF chapter, joined by volunteers from Boston University aided students in filling out applications for leadership positions at the school. We were able to assist John, the Youth Empowerment Coordinator, and other administrators in interviewing students running for positions. Today is election day and we are all excited to learn who the leaders of this school year will be!
In addition to connecting with the students at Hope we have also been able to get to know the URF staff very well. Through taking school trips with John to playing cards with Charles we have been able to gain a deeper appreciation for who these people are and what they do at URF.
Charles, the Volunteer Coordinator has organized a trip for all of the Nourish volunteers. This weekend we are planning to go with him to Murchison falls to see some of the beautiful landscape that Uganda has to offer and take a game drive through one of Uganda’s national parks.
We are excited to see what the second half of our trip brings.
Sincerely, faithfully, yours, (as said by one of our students)
Cy, Mehrzaad, and Isabel
We are writing you from Plot 99–an internet cafe that is home to many a Masaka-bound-muzungu–while electricity and internet at our host home is taking a break.
Quite a bit has happened since our last post, so we will try to get you up to speed!
Our intended main project is progressing well. The goat house now has a structure and a roof. Although we dug the holes for the tree trunk-frame, we have left the ladder-less climbing and roof construction to the professionals (local contractors hired by URF). The next step for the goat house is to attach more tree trunk supports, as well as aluminum siding. As we are still novices in Luganda, we will likely have to leave the finishing touches to the contractors. While we had hoped to be more directly involved in the construction, we have realized that as we do not have the skills, language, or local building knowledge needed to efficiently help the local contractors build the goat house. Once the house has been finished, it will be time to bring in the goats! We are not exactly sure what this process will look like, but we do know that our funds have arrived, and 40-50 goats will be on their way to URF.
So, we are not doing exactly what we expected, but are putting our ability to adapt in practice! Last week we attended a debate at Hope Academy (the secondary school supported by URF) and saw ways in which the system being used could be improved. Isabel has experience with debate and mock trial, Cy (your current author) is a public speaking tutor at Davidson, and all of us feel confident with helping the students with their English skills. Thus, we will be working with John Mbriizi (a local teacher and URF volunteer) to improve the debate system in addition to starting a weekly program where students will be able to ask us English related questions, and improve their public speaking skills. We anticipate that this program will be voluntary, and targeted towards students that are up for debate that week. We hope that this program will strengthen the students’ confidence in their English speaking, debate skills, and public speaking.
A related development that we are excited about is John’s invitation to aid him in a traveling lecture program on education and leadership skills. This past week we visited five schools (including Hope) and added our own experiences and perspectives to John’s presentation on leadership as a student. While we had to adapt to waiting for John to translate and clarify our thoughts, the experience was both positive and challenging. Visiting schools around Kyetume allowed us to see the range of educational environments in this rural community, and hopefully contribute concepts that have developed our educational experiences. We will be visiting 8 more schools in the next two weeks.
This weekend we were able to attend a Business summit Exhibition in a local village showcasing URF and many other socially-focused business ventures in the surrounding villages. The summit was an opportunity for the local villages to spread word about their organization and Ugandan President Museveni also made an appearance. We were able to see him, but unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures.
We are continuing to adapt and help URF in any way we can, and will keep you updated on our progress!
-Mehrzaad, Isabel, and Cy
or, as they have been adapted here in Uganda,
Zahd, Eesabear, and Shy
Definition of Muzungu: Any foreign person that is not from Uganda.
When we first arrived in Uganda, we heard the local children shouting “Muzungu” at us. When we walked to town, groups of children ran towards us screaming this and caught us by surprise. The expression is an acknowledgement that we are different from them and that they are excited to see us. To say the least, we were pleased by the warm welcome. Since our arrival here, there has been a lot for us to learn and adjust to. There have been many challenges that we have faced, including the language barrier and adjusting to the local customs and lifestyle. Most of the people here only speak Luganda, the local language, and English is very uncommon. Still, a few of the staff members at the Uganda Rural Fund do speak English and have served as our translators and have been able to teach us conversational phrases in Luganda. We are still learning more of the language, but are picking it up slowly.
Additionally, adjusting to the living conditions has been a challenge. The three of us have been staying in one small room and have had to adjust to several things such as using a mosquito net every night, and going to the bathroom in an outdoor latrine. While it has been difficult for us to adapt to these conditions, our hosts have been very supportive and encouraging day by day, and we are getting used to it. We have also had to adjust to the customs and cultural norms of the region. For one thing, animals roam free as they please. The family that we are staying with has chickens, roosters, pigs, goats, cows and other animals. We have had to get used to their presence, and one day we found one of the chickens trotting into our bedroom, so now we keep our door locked. Also, one of the customs that we were taught during our first meeting here is that in Ugandan culture, time is relative and only a suggestion. In Uganda, being late to meetings is acceptable and forgiven since it is understood that circumstances arise which cause people to be late. As our first week comes to a close, we are doing a good job of adjusting and learning these practices.
As of yesterday, we have started our work on building the goat house. We are digging holes for the posts of the structure and as soon as the funds arrive for the project to begin we’re going to gain headway by purchasing the goats. So far it has been very interesting and educational to live the local customs and way of life, and every day we continue to learn more.
Until next time,
Bye (Lugandan for Bye)
UF and Davidson
In less than 24 hours, the interns of Davidson College and University of Florida will be headed to Masaka, Uganda for 6 weeks to begin our project with the students of Hope Academy. Leading up to the trip both chapters have been hard at work planning the project and communicating with our partner organization, Uganda Rural Fund (URF). Our project’s focus is on creating a business education program at Hope Academy. Students will be putting what they learn in the class room into practice: each student will receive a goat that he or she must take care of and learn how to milk.
Our goal is that the project be self- sustaining. When a baby goat is born it will be given to another child to be taken care of, thus continuing the program. Through our project, we hope to work with the students of Hope academy and the larger community to create a new source of income through selling goats, goat cheese, and goat milk. We are all very excited for the project and look forward to making meaningful connections with the Hope Academy students.
Keep checking back here for future posts!
– Davidson & UF