The dairy of the dairy cows…

I am happy to announce that Communities for Development has started rolling out its first income generating activity in Bulambuli district. Dairy cattle for milk production & selling has been selected as the IGA by the Buwebele Savings and Loan Association group after training and careful evaluation of the business plan. The micro-enterprise has 30 members split into 15 pairs looking after one cross breed cow. The cross breed (exotic) cows constitute less than 20% of the cattle population, yet they produce up to 75% more milk then the indigenous cows. Each pair has raised an adequate structure for the cow as advised and supervised by the veterinary officer in the district. This includes sheltered space as well as exercise room of minimum length and width specifications with separate compartments for treatment, feeding, milking and relaxing. Based on the budget prepared, Communities for Development have contributed a grant of 60% of the total start up costs while the group contributed the remaining 40% out of their savings pot. Members of Bwelebele Group are now a happy lot –  all 15 exotic cows have been purchased. Crucially, before receiving the cattle all members underwent a 2-day training with both, the veterinary officer as well as business woman, selling milk from the nearby village. This was a very important step in creation of the IGA as only by careful and adequate care of the cattle one can maximize the milk production and henceforth the income. The vet training covered the best types of feeds for the cattle, sanitation and hygiene on the milk side, insemination methods and pest and diseases prevention and treatment. The business side of selling milk included topics such as the importance of correct transportation of the milk, boiling and storage.

The next step is to open up a small shop in the village town where members of the group will be selling boiled and raw milk to local people and suppliers of restaurants. The profits made will be split equally between 30 members, excluding running costs of the enterprise. Additionally, 5 pairs whose cows produce the highest amount of milk will receive an additional income as a reward and incentive for others to look after the cows well. We’re working closely with the group to provide them with necessary tools and mechanisms to avoid conflict and ensure the accountability of the business takes places daily and is correct. This include further conflict resolution training and on-going monitoring of the IGA. The cows will also undergo a yearly insemination in order to produce an offspring to be used to extend the program in time or for extra profits in difficult times.

The group will also be helping out to spread the awareness of milk as an important nutritional element in children and adult’s diet as well as boiling the milk which is crucial for consumption in order to prevent diseases and fast detoriation.  This will be done by a short performances done by the local drama group, verbal advice given in the shop and workshops held together with the sub-county health officers.

It’s a very important and happy moment in Buwebele community as the members will not only gain extra income but also work together as a group to improve the livelihood of the whole community. 

Postcards from Bulambuli #3

IMG_5200

Latest postcard from Bulambuli shows one of our beautiful cross-breed cows delivered to the Buwebele Savings and Loan Association group. 15 of them have recently arrived and their milk will be sold in the town village as group’s micro-enterprise. Pint of milk anyone?

High unemployment vs 100% enrolment

I’d like to talk a little bit about Ugandan school system to which many attribute high unemployment rates. Quick overview of Ugandan education structure that’s in existence since 1960s:

  • 7 years of primary education
  • 6 years of secondary education (divided into 4 years of lower and 2 years of upper secondary school)
  • 3-5 years post secondary education.

As part of a policy aimed at providing universal access to primary education, the government of Uganda in 1997 eliminated primary school fees. Initially Museveni provided free education for up to four children per family but the program wasn’t working well based on lack of regulations and the complex structures of Ugandan families. It was then opened to all children per family which caused a havoc as the schools were totally unprepared for the influx of pupils. The demand for learning materials, teachers, and infrastructure became a challenge putting the school system on the verge of collapse. Let’s think about it: even though the number of pupils grew rapidly which is in itself a very good thing, the speed of the change left them in enormous size classes often with a teacher – pupil ratio of 1:120 and higher. Large number of students make the learning environment much more difficult and becomes a tough environment for the teachers too: it’s hard to be heard and to teach, let alone focus your attention on each and every student. What is also noticeable in many schools is the inappropriate age of the students caused by late enrolment or repetition of classes. After primary school only some who can afford it go further and get a secondary education. In my mind the lower secondary education (up to S4) should be made compulsory and be finished with a national examination certificate.

Free education up until S4 should go hand-in-hand with a focus on quality teaching in smaller size classes and motivated teachers. The focus should be on the skills-development, not on the academics per se. Primary education should set a solid foundations of mastery of reading, writing and mathematics. Talking with most secondary school students around half of them is not able to read and write properly! Secondary school curriculum could be then expanded to history, social science and arts with a particular focus on skill building and not just passing the national examination.

Another issue affecting pupils directly is lunch or rather lack of it. Private schools have food included in their fees but in the government schools the lunch isn’t provided, meaning many kids go on hungry. How can they study and concentrate if they have an empty stomach? 

Only a fraction of those who graduate from secondary upper school actually go on to pursue a higher education at University level. I believe that given 80% of the population lives rurally there should be an incentive and a country-side promotion of vocational / technical schooling preparing students for a mastery in a particular trade. Vocational training in particular aims at creating opportunities for productive employment and providing access to adequately paid work, which enable people to lead a self-determined life.

Another visible issue, present in most Western country, is the huge divide between private vs public schools. And the exodus of young and well-educated Ugandans from private University to neighbouring countries or outside of Africa. I won’t focus on it in this post but it’s an issue affecting many countries not just on this continent.

This are just some of the challenges that the Government needs to address. Focus on better split of the education levels, free lunch, quality of teaching and support of public schools should be at the forefront of the agenda in the education ministry department.

IMG_3964

Cyrus (19) and Derrick (14) – both in Senior 2 school.

Africa in the time of cholera

Water-borne cholera is both preventable and curable. Africa is one of the very few continents where the disease is still endemic. Please agree with me that it is a huge crime against humanity. Cholera isn’t a cancer where we still not fully understand it nor can cure it. No people should die of cholera in 21st century as we know exactly what is it and how to deal with it. Yet, almost 90% of cholera deaths happen in Africa and most recently an outbreak in Eastern Uganda killed as many as hundreds in Bulambuli district alone.

Cholera is a water-borne virus that causes dehydration and acute diarrhoea. The infection happens when a person consumes water or food contaminated with the bacteria. The virus is spread through poor hygiene practices in places where people don’t use latrines or soap to wash their hands. According to a doctor who’s my neighbour, cholera in the East of Uganda came from the mountains where a dead person’s sheets containing excrements were washed in the river. The water then brought the virus to the city and further down, as the river flows, to Bulmabuli and nearby districts.

Cholera can kill in a day or two. After the virus colonizes the intestine where it multiplies and there it secretes a powerful toxin which interferes with water and electrolytes absorption. Usually by day two, the body collapses with constant purging and vomiting and sever dehydration causes muscle spasms and eventually death. This all can be prevented with a simple oral rehydration therapy (ORT) and adequate sanitation and awareness programs. And this is the saddest part which at the same time makes me immensely angry – how could we fail to eliminate cholera in Africa as we have done in most other parts of the world, if we know the disease and we know the cure?

We know that the promotion of the importance of hygiene through public campaigns and access to safe drinking water is crucial. A couple of weeks into the cholera outbreak I have seen health officers conducting workshops in villages around the district (!). My local volunteers were instilling good practices of washing hands properly and boiling water before drinking after each meeting we held. In the whole of Africa, the investment in prevention practices should be greater – from health campaigns, new boreholes, sewage disposals and latrine building. I believe that food shortage and lack of drinkable water is becoming the greatest crisis in Africa. Regional wars can erupt over the rights to water and land. I worry that large water bodies could already have cholera pathogens, including Lake Chad, Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika which can affect many countries from Nigeria, Cameroon, Zambia, Uganda and many more. I have read about using satellite images who could prevent the outbreak of cholera for up to a few weeks. Cholera or no, the subject of water and sanitation in Africa is hazard. We need more bottom up investment and more light on the sheer scale of the problem of cholera (and other preventable diseases) to avoid unnecessary deaths. For that we need less planning made by politicians and agencies and misused funds and more capacity and infrastructure building at the rural level to enable people take the task through shared responsibility.

Would you agree?

 

 

 

 

 

‘Planet 50-50 by 2030‘- International Women’s Day

8th of March marked the International Women’s day and I’d like to tell all young women around the world to remember: ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent’ as Eleanor Roosevelt said. Throughout history, women have made extraordinary contributions to their societies. Some are well known, some less so but there’s no doubt that in light of the UN goal of becoming ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030’ we still have a long way to go even in the 1st world countries. For far too many women the ability to lead a healthy life without violence and hunger remains a distant aspiration.

Uganda has taken many steps forward in promoting and safe guarding the rights and dignity of women. Yet the gender position is often considered inferior to men. The reasons are countless: customary practices contradicting law against discrimination, deeply rooted patriarchal traditions and poverty – to name just a few.

Let’s start with the good bit: progress has been achieved in the past decades in many areas. Fewer women are dying in pregnancy and childbirth. The access to prenatal health and family planning has improved. The African goal for 100% enrolment of kids in primary schools paved the way for many girls to access education. This has positive implications for other aspects of their lives and is, in fact, good for all of us, men included. Educated women and girls can make informed decisions about their lives.

Yet certain traditional customs amongst Ugandans contradict the country’s laws against sexual and domestic violence. Enforcement of the laws is haphazard and the inherent patriarchal traditions are abiding. Even though many recent laws were enacted to curb domestic violence, it has helped very little to change women’s state of affairs. The poorer the household the higher probability of domestic violence. Estimates vary but as high as 50% of Ugandan women have endured domestic violence at the hands of their partners.

Life of women in Africa is tough. They get married young, often at the age of 14,15, despite the legal age set to 18. After marriage, they immediately start ‘producing’ children. All of the daily chores are typically done by women, sometimes with help from children. In addition to cooking and laundry they also work in the gardens and fetch water often from far away. Most of them did not complete secondary school and lack vocational skills that would open up more opportunities to them. ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030’ established a series of strategic goals to achieve gender equality, which were summarized in twelve critical areas – including education and training of women. Women need more vocational training and help in establishing micro-enterprises which would in turn empower them and encourage to save. At Communities for Development around 80% of the saving group members are women. They are working hard to improve their household financials and providing their children with a brighter future.

To achieve ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030’ – world where all women and girls have equal opportunities and rights by 2030, there’s plenty to be done. From political and regulatory framework through education of boys and girls to worldwide support for the most vulnerable women and girls. Above all of that I’d like to encourage all women to not make themselves feel inferior but to have courage and fight for a more equal world.

IMG_4552 

 

Book review: The White Man’s Burden by William Easterly

Written by a former World Bank economist and author of a few development books and papers, Easterly asks the question we all ask: does foreign aid work? The book provides no easy answers and each page got me more and more frustrated at big aid institutions, aid itself as well as Easterly’s writing style. No doubt he’s a great economist and raises very important issues but the book has a little too much of critique of some of his colleagues to my taste!

Key questions asked by Easterly is what many of us wonder – what is our motivation with global aid? Focusing on a distant horizon and big plans with grand slogans are we not missing out on what would actually help the extremely poor Africans?

Easterly divides the people and organisations working in development into ‘Planners’ who promote grand plans to save the world with a bang; and ‘Searchers’ who seek solutions to concrete problems that actually can be solved. Let the foreign aiders forget about their utopian blueprint plans to fix the third world. Collective responsibility for multiple goals for each agency doesn’t pave the way for a focused and country-tailored approach that will help the poor. Conditional aid won’t change their bad governments either (for examples and detailed analysis please refer to the book). Let’s stop invading other countries, trying to fix governments and wasting time on meetings and summits. Homegrown development and hard work of local individuals and firms in a free market is more likely to achieve end of poverty. Aid agencies should focus on channeling the aid to to get the poorest people the basics: vaccines, food supplements, roads, fertilizers, boreholes, textbooks and such. It is giving people health, nutrition, education and other tools so they can themselves seek their way out of poverty.

These are more less key messages from the book. They are supported by somehow thorough historical context and examples from various countries since the Cold War. Bear in mind that as with most development books, some of the data here is hotly contested. I found another study telling the opposite outcomes of one of the experiment brought up in Africa but this isn’t uncommon.

 A Ghanaian economist Yaw Nyarko was quoted saying: ‘foreign aid distorts incentives’ as ‘it makes people look to others to solve their own problems’. I agree with this statement. Giving billions of dollars in aid whether through bilateral or multilateral agencies does not guarantee country’s development, and often the conditionality of it and corruption prevents it creating a dependency which is counteractive.

As the saying goes: the road to hell is paved with good intentions and it pretty much sums up William Easterly’s book. I am mostly on board with his critiques of some of the big agencies and I really like his ideas about bottom-up development and the importance of accountability in development work. I did have some frustrations with the book too – for example, his failure to critique multinational corporations with the same incisiveness that he critiques international financial institutions and governments.

Overall opinion: worth reading to understand why aid hasn’t eradicated poverty yet and why should we focus on doing rather than planning. 

 

.

3-month milestone!

Hard to believe but I’ve been now in Uganda for 3 months! Not even half a year ago I was sitting in my London office desperately wanting to go out there to help people and get out of the rainy city I’ve spent my last 8 years. Time flew by when you doing what you love. Those 3 months were wonderful yet challenging. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is the type of work is what I want to do – marrying up travel with doing good to people and communities. It’s incredibly fascinating to live in an African village and watch the community grow and benefit from your work. How did I overcome some of the difficulties?

  • Chill out! Uganda and in fact the whole Africa doesn’t perceive time in the same way we, Westerners do. Time for us is more of a linear concept, a road with clear marks of past, present and future. Africans don’t regard future as time. It’s a ‘no-time’ hence the concept of time itself is more liquid and fluid. In Africa people tend to value other things like interpersonal relations more than time. Unless there is a strong drive for time management, everything in Africa will always be behind schedule. Being quite a punctual person this one definitely has taken me the longest to get used to! Typically, am the muzungu arguing with the matatu driver who told me ‘sister the vehicle is leaving now’ (and it’s obviously not).
  • Food. Glorious food. I have written a post on it here. I love it but had to break up with cheese! Sigh.
  • Muzungu… how are you? I heard that probably 100 times every day and I won’t lie – in the beginning it could annoy me especially when you are trying to talk with your companion! I got used to it now 🙂
  • Things just take time… this is truth for doing a simple bank transaction to something basic like a greeting. You stop, you smile, you exchange a series of questions: how are you? How’s your wife? And kids? And neighbours? How’s your mother and father? How are things in your end? And it goes on and on…
  • It was incredibly hard to see poverty both in the village and in town for the first time.

I am excited for the next 3 months ahead and loving my Ugandan life!

IMG_3669