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.
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