Now that were fully acquainted in Uganda, this week was mainly all classes and site visits. We had our first anthropology and social change class Monday morning followed by our first technology, change, and innovations class for the country. We talked a lot about ethics and research methods in our anthro class. All of this information is not new to me because of classes I have taken at Lehigh, but review never hurts. We talked about agricultural development in Africa in our technology class and discussed why Africa is so “poor”. This was an interesting conversation. Something we have talked about quite a bit/joked about is the common misperception that Africa is a country or talking about a place in Africa on behalf of the whole country. Talking about this has made me realize that I have been guilty of doing this before, and I have heard comments around me that fall into those categories several times.
We went to AGT (Agro Genetic Technologies) Laboratories for a site visit Monday afternoon. AGT is an enterprise that provides disease free planting materials for different crops (lots and lots of bananas) to farmers all over Uganda. Tissue culture, not GMO’s, is used to do so. Interestingly, Uganda does not have GMO’s, and thus is the biggest producer of organic food in the world. I don’t really know much about GMO’s, tissue culture, or anything to do with biotechnology, so it was really cool to actually learn what the difference between tissue culture and GMO’s is and check out a laboratory that does this sort of work.
Monday night I was able to see my beloved host brother from over the summer, Dezz. Our visit was brief, but it was so so great to see him! Hopefully, I will have time to see him once more before we leave.
We had our second social entrepreneurship class Tuesday morning and talked about the social business investment landscape in East Africa. We discussed the different sources of funding, what makes a business sustainable and scalable, and the difference between risk and return for social enterprises. As expected, social enterprises have higher risk with a lower return potential. We had a homestay check-in and a briefing on our site visit for the afternoon.
We went to YARID which stands for Young African Refugees for Integral Development. This NGO was founded by Congolese urban youth refugees living in Kampala to give hope to refugees mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, but also from Rwanda, Sudan, and Burundi. They have a technology program for men, and a tailoring/sewing program for women. While we were there, we talked about the history of what is happening in the DRC, and what programs they offer. We then broke up into groups with people that are currently utilizing YARID’s services to speak with them more. I’m not to sure how I felt about this visit. First, there was a major language barrier, most of the people we were with spoke only French which made communicating difficult. This led to the conversation being run by only a few people in the group. Second, we didn’t really know what we should have been asking. Mainly, asking refugees about their experience felt a bit intrusive to me. I don’t know if I feel like I had the right to be asking questions that may have triggered negative experiences. We didn’t have this in our group, but other groups ended up in conversations that involved some of the refugees reflecting on devastating things that happened to them while they were still in the DRC. After thinking about it, I didn’t really feel like we did too much good being there, but I’m not sure if we did any harm either.
This is one of the tough parts of this program. We are in a lot of different spaces in cultures that are not our own that involve sensitive topics. Thinking about questions like should we be here, are we being intrusive, is it my right to be in these spaces, am I doing more harm than good or anything at all, and more is quite difficult. I think a lot of it is situationally dependent, but essentially, I have no idea. I’m hoping I’ll have a better idea by the end of this trip, but as things usually go, I’ll probably leave with more questions. That’s life, right?
An idea that has come up periodically throughout our time so far, including in San Francisco, is the idea of experts being the ones who are best fit to solve problems. Being an expert is about how you relate to something, not necessarily the degree you have. Going back to the places we visited that work with homelessness in San Francisco, the women at the Coalition on Homelessness mentioned that in order to be an expert on homelessness you have had to experience homelessness yourself. This is really interesting to think about, especially around foreign aid and international development. This relates to storytelling and individuals coming into an environment that they are not from and thinking they know how to solve any problems the people of that place are facing and convincing them that they are lucky that this person has come to help them. Because without them, they wouldn’t be aware of what type of people they are or how to solve their “problems”. That was a lot of words, so my apologies if that made no sense at all, but all of this has been on my mind lately.
We had our case study day on Wednesday. As I mentioned in past blogs, our assignment for our social entrepreneurship class is completing a case study by visiting an organization that pertains to a specific topic. I’d like to think of this as a mini case study, because we are only there for one day. My topic is education and we went to an organization called Girl Up. The overall goal of Girl Up is to provide young girls and women with opportunities to survive and thrive in their communities. We spent time with the co-founder, Monica, and her team learning about the different programs they offer, interviewing them, and then going to one of their programs later in the afternoon.
I was extremely impressed by all of the work they are doing. They have so many programs addressing many different crucial issues (this could also be a critique for spreading themselves to thin, but it seemed like they are working very hard at everything they’re doing). Get ready, this list is going to be very long. They have an adolescent girls program, a big sister mentorship program, a young women’s empowerment program, a tailoring program, service health camps, a drama program (plays are put on to educate youth on crucial issues), a program called Champions of Change, a Kampala youth advocacy network, a program called Ni’ Yetu (which means “its ours” in Swahili) that educates women on sexual reproduction, health issues, and social change, a program called men-to-men, and finally, a toll-free number for people to call about sexual reproduction issues and post-abortion issues. All of the programs last for different times and are usually targeting different age groups.
Before I talk about the one program that stuck out the most to me, I want to mention how this program started. One of the co-founders for Girl Up is an American woman, Kim, who was able to connect the organization with funders from the states, the largest being Plan International. Kim was on her way to do work in South Africa when she met Monica on a plane. They happened to be in the same car when leaving the airport and got to talking. Girl Up was established in 2012 and is still thriving today. I couldn’t believe what a crazy story this was, such a small world.
The one program that I really liked was the Champions of Change program. This program works with both girls and boys to teach them about body changes, gender equality, gender-based violence, responsibility and more. They are taught these skills through modules. Boys and girls are taught different modules separately, but after every 2 they have a joined session called “Dialogue and Gender” where they share testimonies and stories about what they have learned so they can learn to work with each other. The leader of this program said, “If we are trying to teach the girls it can’t work without teaching the boys to respect them”. When he said this, I was like, “YESSSSS!!”. In my head, of course. I think this program stuck out to me because I felt like it was the most important. While I do respect women’s work, and am involved in some of it myself, I believe that men are such a huge part of work aiming to move towards gender equality. I felt like Girl Up was addressing a lot of the issues that I saw from the time I spent in the village over the summer. It made me really happy to see people working towards alleviating these issues.
Thursday morning, we had our second anthropology and social change class. We talked about the intersection between colonialism and anthropology, the idea of ownership being manipulated, and how the impact of colonialism has not just been economic. We went to a pool at a nearby hotel for cohort time in the afternoon and then spent the rest of the day doing work at the mall.
Friday morning, we had our second technology, change, and innovations class. We discussed mobile telephony in Uganda and how this innovation has really helped many populations gain access to banking services. After, we had a briefing session about our site visit to YARID and our case study days.
We had Friday afternoon to ourselves to do whatever we wanted. A couple of us went to an Indian restaurant that we were told was the place to go, and it was. This place was beautiful inside and delicious. It made us all a little more excited for India. I went to a dance class in the evening, and I am sure you can all guess that this made me very happy. It was called Koona (a combo of African, hip-hop, and latin) and was kind of a fitness class, but incorporated a lot of African moves, and of course, the best music. My endurance has decreased tremendously, but it felt great to be in the studio. After, we finally saw Black Panther!! This movie has been all the rage, and it was really cool to be able to see it while in Uganda. Interestingly, all movies in Uganda are in 3D. The movie was really great, I recommend everyone to go see it, and also listen to the soundtrack. I have been listening to it for well over a week now!
This weekend was the weekend that we were allowed to travel in Uganda. There was already an optional excursion to the source of the Nile in a place called Jinga on Saturday. We decided to extend the excursion and stay the night in Jinga and then go horseback riding the next morning. We left quite early for Jinga on Saturday morning and went on a boat tour on the Nile when we got there. I did something super similar when I was in Jinga over the summer, so this was my second time on the Nile. Boat tours are always nice, and it felt good to be on the water. We all went for lunch after and then were dropped off at the place we were staying the night at. This place was very nice and peaceful, and had a beautiful pool.
Sunday morning, about half of us went on a horseback riding safari. I haven’t been horseback riding since Middle School, so this was a lot of fun. My horses name was Southern Comfort and we went riding for about an hour and a half. The family that runs the safari’s have been living in Uganda for 14 years and are from Australia. Fun fact, there are only 100 horses in the entire country, so it was really cool to have the opportunity to ride. We headed back to Kampala in the afternoon and had our first assignment due that evening. The assignment was for our design thinking course and required us to do a deep interview with one person or brief interviews with multiple people and then represent it through written or visual form. I interviewed my host father and wrote a feature story on his time in politics serving his local community.
Stay tuned for more!
All the best,