I never thought that I could add vaccinating chickens and deworming cows to my resume, but these are just two of the new skills I acquired after shadowing SP’s livestock projects in Kamwenge. While I don’t foresee a future in rural vetarinary medicine, it was extremely exciting to witness how empowered the people of the communities in western Uganda have become as a result of SP’s livestock project. SP educates communities about livestock production then selects vulnerable individuals to receive donations of either fish, chickens, goats, pigs, or cows, based on a long list of criteria. The project is the most sustainable I’ve witnessed so far because the beneficiaries are required to payback the cattle they receive after they start producing. The payback cattle are then donated to new beneficiaries. In addition to improved livelihood and income security that the cattle provide, the communities organized their own micro finance agriculture groups where each individual pays a membership fee and they meet regularly for educational sessions. If a member is in need of a loan to cover an emergency expense they can take out money at a very low interest rate from the group. The people are so mobilized to improve their livelihoods and save money without the help of Samaritan’s Purse. It was beautiful to see the passion and motivation the communities.
A few highlights from the week:
-Attempting to break gender roles. Getting into discussions about marriage and family and the roles for women with the Ugandan SP staff. Perceived gender roles in developing (and many developed countries) have always been a big frustration for me. But it’s also opened my eyes to how blessed I’ve been to grow up in country where women can do most anything (even though we still have a ways to go when it comes to women’s rights I believe).
-Vaccinating eighty chickens.
-Building a chicken coop from reeds, wood, and mud (once again breaking gender roles). Getting to play in the mud for an afternoon? Yes please!
-Riding on the back of a motorbike through hilly, rural western Uganda on rough dirt roads=stunning+ being a tourist attraction because of my white skin.
-Getting into a long discussion/brainstorming session with the chairman of a village about rural electrification. For the first time since graduating I wished I had a multimeter to test his solar panel. It was also an opportunity to brainstorm grad school research ideas and I left the discussion thrilled at the prospect of returning to Uganda with new research ideas.
-Coming back to Kampala and enjoying meals that do not consist of beans and CARBS.
As a final note, I’m sure all of you have seen the Kony 2012 video floating around the internet world. I have actually not watched it yet because of my sketchy internet, but I do have a few thoughts/questions for you. How many of you knew about the LRA before watching the video? This is something that bothers me about all the media attention. Many Ugandans are upset about the video because most of the footage was from Uganda, when the LRA has not been active in Uganda since 2006. Also, the Kony 2012 paraphernalia (T-shirts) to Ugandans is offensive, considering that many Ugandans have not watched the video and do not know that the Kony t-shirts are meant to raise awareness rather than “promote” Joseph Kony. They compared it to people wearing Bin Laden t-shirts to raise awareness. This might come across as offensive to many Americans if they were unaware of the motives behind the shirts. Here is an interesting article about the film. Aljeezera has several interesting (and in my opinion balanced analysis of the film’s effects) articles about the campaign. The film was shown on a big screen in Lira, Uganda (first time ever that there has been a widespread youtube video showing in Uganda) where many of the refugee camps in the LRA were/are. Lira is actually my next destination for my internship rotation so it will be interesting to collect people’s thoughts on the Kony video and the LRA. Above all, I encourage all of you to do more research on the history of the LRA and how countries have been affected by it and the needs of those hurt and displaced by the violence instead of simply clicking “share” on facebook. The situation is not as simple as just capturing one man, but also involves the healing and restoration of all the people and communities damaged by the violence. I think what we need to remember about awareness campaigns is asking ourselves the question: are we really helping by intervening? This is question that development organizations have to constantly ask themselves and something I’ve been asking myself as I shadow SP’s projects throughout Uganda. Often the solution is merely empowering people to become the change in their country.