Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Poverty and population in Uganda

Children of Peace vocational training, Bududa - Allison Godwin
In 2007, the Canadian Friends Service Committee entered into a partnership with the African Great Lakes Initiative. AGLI is an offshoot of the US Friends Peace Teams and it is best known for its outstanding peacebuilding activities in East Africa. In Uganda, AGLI helped establish the Bududa Vocational Institute, now called the Bududa Learning Centre. In 2010 CFSC began a partnership directly with the Bududa Learning Centre, which now has its own board and official registration in Uganda.

Nestled in the foothills of Mount Elgon, which straddles the Kenyan border in the far east of Uganda, Bududa District is both stunningly beautiful and lush, with its annual 180 to 200 centimetres of rain, and isolated and impoverished. There are several branches of Friends Churches there, which is how Quaker organizations like AGLI and CFSC began to know the community.

The birth rate is as striking as the luxuriant vegetation and the mountains. Uganda has one of the highest fertility rates in the world and fertility amongst the Bugisu tribe is high even by Ugandan standards. Families of eight are common and there is relentless pressure to extend the cultivated area. In two generations, crops have crept up to the very summits of the volcanic peaks, and farmers are even encroaching on Mount Elgon National Park. Unemployment and underemployment are rife. Villagers are keenly aware that the only escape for their children is education.

Sheila Havard, a Coldstream Friend who often visits Bududa, was solicited for money by one local Friend, who sought funds not to treat the oozing sore on his leg, but to pay his children’s school fees.

The Bududa Learning Centre, by offering training in vocations that are in demand, such as brick laying, carpentry, computer use, dressmaking and tailoring, and nursery teacher training, makes self-improvement accessible in this remote area. Since it opened its doors in early 2008, there have been three graduating classes and many graduates have found employment. Enrolment has increased from 30 to 65.

The Institute contends with obstacles inconceivable in the West, one being its remoteness.  Visitors to Bududa jolt along a tortuous red murram (mud) road winding around shambas (small holdings) of plantains and bananas and so deeply potholed that vehicles are often forced almost to a halt and dodge this way and that around the obstacles. The only means of transport to town is a matatu or communal taxi, invariably a decrepit second-hand Toyota minivan. Electricity is coming but not very affordable.  The lack of night-time lighting makes the unmarred star-studded sky a wonder to behold. A reasonably reliable Internet connection exists for those who rise at 5 a.m. These communication problems are just some examples of the challenges facing the school. One might also mention cultural factors, the primary one being the clash between Western concepts of efficiency and punctuality and local values.
In tandem with the vocational training, the Bududa Vocational Institute runs a project for 200 local orphans.  In many cases one or more of these impoverished children’s parents are dead. Where one parent is still alive, the families may be dysfunctional. The caregiver may be unable to support the family due to alcoholism or mental health issues or the father may have deserted the family for a second wife, etc.

In some cases, the head of the household is a young teenager. In short these are needy children. There are thousands of such children just in Bududa District. The Children of Peace program provides supplementary education and enrichment. The children attend Saturday school at the Vocational Institute, where schoolwork is reviewed and they get a chance to enjoy art and sports activities sorely lacking from their everyday lives. Medical problems that might otherwise go undetected come to light and teachers can arrange for treatment. Basics, such as school uniforms, pencils, soap, vaseline and the like are distributed periodically. Such supplies are essential in an area where students are often kept home from “free” government schools because their parents cannot afford the required scholastic materials. Lastly, two much appreciated hearty meals are cooked for the children: porridge in the morning and rice, beans, and cabbage for lunch, providing a valuable supplement to an otherwise meagre diet.

The women’s microlending program began in 2011. There have been twenty women participants in each of three sessions so far.
This article was reprinted from the CFSC's webpages. See also the recent report in Quaker Concern and Sheila Havard’s diary of her visit in November 201, Allison Godwin's blog, AGLI's PeaceWays bulletins, and David Zarembka's new book.

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