Kihembe Vocational Secondary School: Building for the future

After finishing the construction of the science lab at Kihembe Vocational Secondary School (KVSS) last month, as a team we wanted to keep the momentum going and start a new project as soon as possible. Therefore, at the end of last week we provided the funding to start work on the construction of a new three classroom block at the school.

WTYS1759.JPG

The money we have sent will complete the construction of the first classroom and lay the foundations for all three classrooms. We hope that in the course of the next 12 months, we will acquire funding to complete the other two classroom blocks in a timely and efficient manner.

 

The new classroom block is significant in many respects. However, most excitingly and most importantly for the school, one of the new classrooms will serve as an IT lab and library. Thanks to the sub-county team who installed solar at the school in June, we now have a vital power source that gives us the opportunity to provide IT equipment for the first time.

IMG_1758

 

Until recently, learners at the school have had to undertake practical science examinations without access to practical science equipment. The same is true for IT. How can you feasibly sit an IT exam without ever using a computer? It’s baffling but testament to the hard work of the students that many have passed these exams in spite of the obvious challenges that they face.

We hope that by the start of 2021, this situation will have changed. But we need your help. We have put the funding in place to construct the classroom, but we need your help to provide IT equipment. Through your generosity, we hope to acquire the following:

  • At least ten PCs or laptop computers, cleared of all passwords, personal information and files etc. to stock the IT lab.
  • At least one printer that can also serve as a photo copier and a stock of replacement ink cartridges.
  • Information books that can stock the library – these include encyclopedias, reference books, dictionaries, IT books, informative non-fiction works etc. Please note that we aren’t currently asking for novels.
  • Funding to buy a Microsoft office package for each PC.
  • Funding to ship the equipment over safely and securely.

We aren’t clear on exactly how much funding we need, but we estimate that it will cost approx. £1500 – £2000 to ship the equipment to Uganda and deliver to the village. Normally we like to buy the necessary equipment for our projects in Uganda, but given the cost of computer equipment we feel that this isn’t feasible for a charity of our size at this time. That’s why we are humbly asking for your help.

IMG_1746

Many of us have spare PCs at home that we no longer use and some of us may have access to PCs or Laptops from work that are no longer needed due to new working from home instructions from our employers. If you think you can help us with this, then please send me an email – ross@zuriprojectuganda.co.uk – and I will let you know how we are hoping to store and send the equipment.

Back to the project in hand – as you can see from the photos that are included in this post, work has already started on the new classroom and we’re thrilled with the progress that is being made at this early stage. On Tuesday of this week we held a commissioning at the site that was attended by the whole team, board members and local political leaders. It was a great day and one that encouraged us all about the future direction in which the school is heading.

IMG_1748

The local radio station made an announcement about the work being done at the school yesterday and we hope that it will help us increase enrollment when schools reopen after the COVID-19 lockdown. We all recognise that we’re part of something very special here and we invite you to join us.

IMG_1753

Thanks for your support and I hope to hear from those of you that can help us continue building KVSS.

Ross x

A new science lab at Kihembe Secondary School

I’m absolutely delighted to share with you the news that the science laboratory that we’ve been building at Kihembe Vocational Secondary School (KVSS) has finally been completed! This project has been a long time in the planning and development and I’m delighted with the progress that has been made.

science lab 1

The government of Uganda announced that all schools would have to close back in March due to the outbreak of COVID-19. As a team we used this as an opportunity to complete work on the secondary school. As is the case with all of our projects, this was done in phases and began with the completion of the building work, which was actually finished at the start of the year.

science lab 2

As it turned out, building the lab was the easy part. In order to understand what a school science lab looks like in Uganda, we visited a number of schools in Kanungu to get some inspiration. Working with local carpenters and guided by the science teachers at the school, we created a plan for the interior of the lab, which included a storage room at the back, desks and stools, as well as electricity and a sink with running water.

science lab 3

The carpenters from Kihembe skilfully handmade all of the furniture for the lab and it looks fantastic, as you can see from the photos. They also created space for the storage of the science equipment at the back of the lab. We are waiting for the equipment to arrive from Kampala and as the lockdown is still ongoing, we’re not entirely sure when it will arrive. But at the very least we know we will receive it before schools reopen, whenever that is.

Arguably the most challenging element of equipping the lab was acquiring a safe and constant water source that could pipe clean water to the sink that is needed for practical lessons. We decided that a water tank would be the most cost effective and simplest way of achieving this. I’m very grateful to Coventry Jubilee Rotary Club who very generously donated £500 to contribute to the construction of the water tank.

sceince lab 4

As well as supplying the science lab with water, the tank will also serve as a crucial water source for the school kitchen, and the staff will use it in order to prepare meals for the students. Everyone in Uganda is very grateful to the Rotary for their ongoing support of our projects and this latest contribution was both timely and integral to the successful completion of the science lab project.

Another significant development that we’ve seen at the school site during lockdown is the installation of solar. We are very grateful to the sub-county team for organising this and it is another example of our collaborative model that we’re so proud of. There are many stakeholders involved in the development of the school and it’s always wonderful to see local politicians and leaders making a positive contribution to schools in their districts.

The installation of solar is hugely beneficial in a village where there is currently no electricity. The solar will provide power to the science lab, but it will also provide a power source for our next project: the creation of a computer lab and library. We have already approved a budget to start building work on the new classroom that will serve as the computer lab, but we would like to ask for your help with this project.

science lab 5

Because computer equipment is so expensive over here in Uganda, we’re asking you to have a look at home to see if you have any old laptops that you no longer use. If you do, then we would be incredibly grateful if you’d be willing to donate them to the school. We ask that you reset factory settings on your laptop and remove any passwords. We are also requesting for novels and informative resource books that students may be able to utilise. All textbooks will be purchased in Uganda.

It is our hope that we will be able to send across 10 computers and a significant amount of books that will stock the library. We will do this in one shipment and we hope to send them before Christmas. If you can contribute to this project, then please send me an email – ross@zuriprojectuganda.co.uk – and I will let you know how you can support us.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed to the science lab project at KVSS. We hope that now we have a science lab, we will be able to attract more students to the school and we hope to see a significant improvement in the test scores of the students who undertake science practicals in their examinations. As the plans are already in place to work on a computer lab and library, we’re very excited to see the school this time next year.

Ross.

What about us? BLM & the scourge of colonialism.

What about us

The scourge of colonialism has never gone away. Many of us Brits know too little about this dark chapter in our history, yet it lingers in every corner of the previously colonised world today.

Colonialism was a collection of acts so heinous that it condemned millions around the world to lives of servitude and assimilation. The colonisers pillaged their way through so called ‘uncivilised’ nations, denouncing their cultures and beliefs as ‘savage,’ before systemically imposing Western ideology, religion and culture on the unsuspecting populations. Nowhere was colonialism so pronounced than on the continent of Africa. In the late 19th century, the ‘Scramble for Africa’ gained momentum and left almost no corner of the vast continent untouched by the colonisers.

The so-called father of African literature, Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, was a prominent figure in anti-colonial ideology across Africa. His revered & seminal novel Things Fall Apart is perhaps his most striking exemplification of how colonialism arrived in Nigeria; proceeding to alienate communities from one another, before annihilating traditional belief systems and then systematically ruining the life of the novel’s protagonist, Okonkwo.

I read this novel in college and was struck by its simplicity and brilliance. As an 18 year old, I discovered a world of treachery so barbaric and absolute, that I couldn’t believe it was the creation of my ancestors in the not so distant past.

You see, as a white Brit growing up in the 90’s and 00’s, I learned mainly about our great triumph over the Nazis, and understood that Hitler and his cronies were the custodians of pure evil, to which every other murderous and inhumane regime and individual should be compared. Without a doubt, the crimes of the Nazis require our study and understanding. But what of the redoubtable acts of the colonisers?

It’s criminal, in my opinion, that revolutionary African writers such as Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka & Ngugi wa Thiong’o are absent from our mandatory reading lists. Crucial to understanding colonialism is to hear from the oppressed, not the oppressor. And in Ngugi’s Decolonising the Mind, we have access to four essays that have the potential to change our understanding of the indignity of colonialism.

In recent conversations with some of my Ugandan colleagues, whose parents lived through their nation’s struggle for independence in the 1960s, we’ve spoken in depth about the Black Lives Matter movement. We’ve spoken with interest and empathy about the terrible events in the USA recently and it’s sparked a conversation about race and colonisation here on the African continent.

That’s when I heard one of my colleagues say, quite innocently, “so what about us?” Of course, her intention wasn’t an attempt to renounce the current efforts of the BLM movement; it was an attempt to begin an important conversation about the dynamics of race and inequality here in Africa.

Her question sparked a surge of intrigue within me. Because so many visitors to post-colonial Africa today don’t understand the wretched policies and tactics employed by the colonisers of centuries past; there is a lack of understanding about how such events have shaped modern day society in many of Africa’s relatively new independent states. With this, in many cases, there is still the common misconception widely perpetuated that white = right and that people from countries of the ‘developed’ world need to develop countries of the ‘undeveloped’ world.

This paradigm is best explored within current development circles and you will find many organisations, often unintentionally, dishing out forms of unrefined neo-colonialism to communities where their interventions are neither wanted nor needed.

I’ve come to believe that it’s a lack of understanding, not malice, that motivates people to fall into the trap of becoming ‘white saviours.’ If only they could understand the scourge of colonialism and the history and cultures of the people they intend to work with, then much of their colonial-type behaviours could be avoided.

I praise the work of the Black Lives Matter movement and I think we all need to act. I believe that action must start with education. And if we are to consider my colleague’s question – ‘What about us?’ then we must educate ourselves about how colonialism has impacted the African continent and what we can do to avoid such acts in the future.

My recommendation is to start with the work of the three writers I have already mentioned in this post. Below is a short reading list, each of which I hope you find to be an interesting introduction to post-colonial literature and to realise that Black Lives Matter everywhere.

 

Chinua Achebe

 

Things Fall Apart

No Longer at Ease

Arrow of God

 

N’gugi wa Thiong’o

 

Decolonising the mind

A Grain of Wheat

 

Wole Soyinka

 

Myth, Literature and the African World

Ake: The Years of Childhood

A statement on ‘White Saviourism’

ask-for-alms-1742502_1920

The Zuri Project Uganda has been my life for the past five years and along with many  talented individuals, I’ve tried my utmost to make it a success. There are many things that we should be proud of, and you can read about many of our achievements in this blog, but there are also many things that have happened that require some introspection from those involved, including myself. One ‘thing’ in particular that I have become acutely aware of since I co-founded The Zuri Project in 2015 has been a concept that has become known as ‘Whte Saviourism’ – and I would like to share my thoughts on the topic with you in this blog.

The issue of white saviourism is broad, polarising and too often overlooked by development practitioners in countries of the colonial West. But it’s a serious issue. I’ve been involved with international development for five years now, and I’ve tried so hard to avoid falling into the imperialistic trappings of brazenly stereotyping Africa as a singular place, Africans as a singular people and the often erroneous action of considering people to be poor, simply because they don’t have a great deal of material wealth.

Yet in my experience, I’ve come to realise that my whiteness, not a term I’ve ever actually used before, inescapably places me at the crux of the very saviourism that I’ve been trying to avoid. Regardless of how hard I try to deflect any faux praise that is directed at me for the work that I’ve done in Uganda, I can’t get away from the fact that I receive it nonetheless.

My whiteness, in Uganda, is my distinguishing feature. I’ve realised that no matter how many times I tell people that it’s my Ugandan colleagues who are responsible for the delivery of a certain project and not myself, they don’t seem to take on board what I’ve said. They assume that perhaps I’m just being modest, when in reality I’m just being honest.

It saddens and disheartens me a great deal that development is still too often seen as something that is concocted by outsiders and then handed down to community members suffering from some kind of ailment, who should then be reassuringly grateful for the work done to them. I’ve interacted with a great deal of white people in Uganda, and the sad reality is that some (but certainly not all) of these people sanctimoniously dish out an un-refined type of neo-colonialism under the auspice of “making a difference”. That might sound harsh, but I’m afraid it’s true. It can take many forms, but kind of child sponsorship is often a favoured travail of the white saviours.

There’s also the good old voluntourism trick. Why not go to Africa; a place where undergraduate students from privileged backgrounds with little and often no practical experience, can volunteer in health centres, teach in schools and look after wild animals, whilst having a jolly good time to boot. Before you scold me, yes, this is how I first experienced sub-Saharan Africa.

And I feel terrible about it.

This is perhaps one of the fundamental reasons why I wanted to set up an organisation. I can honestly say that, in a small way, I wanted to show that it is possible to collaborate with Ugandan organisations and co-create something different and meaningful. In many ways, my decision has been vindicated. I have done things differently and as an organisation, we have challenged many stereotypes and tried to do things the right way.

The right way, as we see it, is to spend nearly all of our money in Uganda on projects and also to have only Ugandans working in our organisation, in the communities that they are from. I’m proud of this, I really am.

But the spectre of white saviourism has been ever present. When I’m in Uganda, people try and impress me and whoever I’m with. Students dance for us; project benefactors make sure they tell me how grateful they are for my work and of course, people stare at me and talk about me as I walk around project sites. Why? Frankly, it’s because I’m white and it’s because they think I’m in charge.

I’ve slowly come to realise that even after trying so hard to persuade people that I’m not, many people see me as just another muzungu, just another white saviour on a mission from God. And it’s for this reason that I’ve decided that The Zuri Project needs to be even more specific when outlining our objectives in Uganda. Whilst we have made progressive steps towards re-defining the roles and responsibilities of our project partners, we simply haven’t done enough to reverse a trend that equates white with right. I have failed, to a degree, to do enough to stop the spread of the pervasive attitude that development is being done to, not done with our Ugandan partners.

Therefore,  I have decided that as a trustee of The Zuri Project, I am going to passionately advocate against malpractice in the international development sector and educate and encourage people to only participate in projects that they are truly qualified to be involved with. I also welcome comments and feedback from those that we partner with on how we can better collaborate, as we are far from perfect.

I believe that we still have an important role to play, but we must consciously re-define it. We mustn’t get caught in the trap of believing we’re more important that we are. I’ve known for a long time that the projects we support in Uganda could happen without us (if funding was sourced from elsewhere), but it’s now our responsibility to further nurture relationships that will allow our Ugandan partners to flourish and not just exist.

I hope that in making this bold announcement, we can wholeheartedly renounce the mysterious world of white saviourism, and work in a way that is truly representative of our values and beliefs as an organisation. I feel passionate about community development and I’m proud of the friendships and relationships that I’ve developed as a result of our work as an organisation. But I feel the time is now right to adapt our organisation and become more aware of our position in the world in which we operate.

This is crucial.

Ross.

 

A new kitchen during lockdown

Just before the nationally enforced lock down due to COVID-19 began, our team in Uganda were busy constructing a new kitchen block at Kishunju Nursery and Primary School.

kitchen1.jpg

(The new kitchen block, without a roof, standing next to the old block)

Back at the beginning of March, we held a meeting at Kishunju with the board members of the school, the teaching staff and members of the PTA to listen to their concerns and to learn about their priorities for the school going forward.

The meeting was fruitful and we heard lots of ideas about how the school could be developed. However, there was consensus from all parties regarding the biggest priority – they wanted a new kitchen block and the latrines renovated.

The original kitchen block at Kishunju was actually built as a result of the efforts of Zuri co-founder Martin and Rebecca Kealey. When they were in Uganda on one of their first visits (before Zuri even existed) they helped to construct a kitchen block using local materials.

The parents and teachers were incredibly grateful to Martin & Rebecca for the work carried out and it served as a kitchen block for more than six years. However, in recent times, due mainly to heavy downpours and termites, the building has become increasingly unstable and the stakeholders within the school wanted to make improvements to the building.

kitchen2.jpg

(Using the doors and the roof from the previous kitchen helped to save costs and make this project a success)

Therefore, together with Opportunity Africa, we put together a budget to construct a new kitchen, this time using bricks and timber to try and make a more permanent structure. Although our work was slightly disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak, we’re delighted to say that the structure has been finished, and once schools are permitted to reopen, the kitchen block will be put to good use.

We were able to recycle the doors and the iron sheets for the roof from the previous structure, which allowed us to complete the project in a cost effective and timely manner.

kitchen3.jpg

(The finishing touches were added and the kitchen will be ready to serve the students once the school reopens after the COVID-19 lockdown)

Together with our partners, we’re thrilled that this project was able to be completed, and we hope the new kitchen will serve the needs of the school for many years to come.

Ross.

Yet another collaboration to be proud of

94977925_673331906774137_1904721947422359552_n.jpg

(Food parcels prepared for families)

I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that our food distribution project in Kihembe was a great success. This was truly a collaboration to be proud of and there are many people to thank. First and foremost, we must thank our Ugandan partner Opportunity Africa, for developing the idea to provide critical food support to families during this time of COVID-19. As a result of the team’s foresight and organisation, we identified 190 families in the village of Kihembe who would each receive 10kgs of maize flour (for posho), 5kgs of beans, 1kg of salt and 1 bar of soap. On average, the team believe such a contribution will provide each family with food for one week, but many will be able to supplement this contribution with foods from their garden.

94977131_673331803440814_4937300253779951616_n.jpg

(A lot of beans before packaging!)

Next, we must say a huge thank you to all of our friends and supporters in the UK who donated money towards this cause. We raised just short of £800 in one week to contribute to this project (making up just under half of our overall target), which is remarkable at a time when many are without work and are being careful about spending. It really just goes to show the depth of the human spirit and we’re very grateful indeed for all of the well wishes and financial support that we have received.

95206141_673331903440804_894311074059255808_n.jpg

(Families waiting patiently for distribution)

It was also a privilege for us to partner with the government of Uganda on this project. As an NGO, we tend not to get involved with politics and work independently of the government, yet we were delighted to work alongside the Resident District Commissioner and many local political leaders to make this project a success. We even have to thank the media who helped to spread announcements about our objective and supported us to mobilise families in a safe and responsible way to distribute the food.

94795934_673331910107470_7822925004269420544_n.jpg

(Opportunity Africa Director Mercy organising the distribution efforts)

There are many organisations doing great work to support people during this difficult time and we applaud them. Here in Uganda, it has been wonderful to be part of yet another successful locally led initiative where community leaders from Kihembe took the initiative to provide vital food support to many families who needed it. Our role was simply to provide funding to make this happen, which given the difficulty of making all of the necessary arrangements and corresponding with all of the stakeholders, was pretty straightforward!

94779572_673331796774148_5204072612543594496_n.jpg

(OA project managers Jims and Moses enjoying themselves!)

We once again thank everyone for being part of this initiative and we’re humbled to have been a part of it. At a time like this it’s important to understand that someone can’t help everyone, yet everyone can help someone. And we feel that by making this donation to the community of Kihembe we have been able to make a contribution. We hope you are all safe and well at home and we send our love and best wishes.

94879685_673331900107471_254997040201728000_n.jpg

(A parent receiving food from one of the local political leaders)

Ross.

Kihembe food outreach during COVID-19 Crisis

OA office

It’s a difficult time for citizens of the world right now and we’ve all been affected by COVID-19 in some way. Many people in Kihembe are suffering food shortages as they cannot travel to their gardens and/or shops, and therefore cannot provide adequate food for their families. Therefore, we are hoping to raise enough money to purchase food for as many families as possible, in an attempt to lighten their burden during this lockdown. Anything you can contribute will be gratefully received.

We have identified 170 families who we hope will benefit from our support. It is our intention to provide each family with:

10kg maize flour

5kg beans

1kg salt

1 bar of soap

This will cost approx. £10 and could support a family for up to one week. If you are in a position to make a donation, we would be most grateful and you can do so by following the link below:

https://cafdonate.cafonline.org/12817\

Many thanks in advance for your support and we hope you are staying safe during this difficult time.

Team Zuri x

The One 4 One Coffee Project

It’s with great delight that I am able to announce our new One 4 One Coffee Project. The premise is very simple. For every 250g bag of delicious Bora coffee that you buy, we will donate the neccessary funds to plant one coffee tree at one of our project sites in Kihembe, Uganda. You can read more about our first coffee project in a previous post written about the subject.

b6386ef2-e879-4297-abb6-15a5987a6105

(Our Rwandan coffee from the Missouzi Co-operative is particularly popular)

The project is primarily a drive for sustainability. In order for our projects to have a lasting impact in Uganda, we need to incorporate income generating strategies into their design and implementation. In Kihembe, conditions for growing coffee are good and we have a highly skilled team in place in Uganda who are able to manage the growth of coffee at our three primary project sites: Kishunju Nursery & Primary School, Kihembe Secondary School & Kihembe Health Centre.

Coffee takes between 3-5 years to grow and harvest, but when it is ready to be harvested after careful cultivation, the money that can be made is proportionally high for the local economy. The money generated from the coffee sites will be directly funded back into the projects. For example, at Kishunju the money could contribute to the cost of teacher’s salaries, reducing the stress of the parents to find the fees each term; at the secondary school the money could pay for important scholastic materials such as textbooks, exercise books and other stationary; and finally at the health centre, the money could buy invaluable medicines that are prohibitively expensive for an underfunded local health care facility.

e284b0f1-a687-49f2-ba96-b6fdc370c869

(Our project manager Elly with some of the coffee planted at Kishunju PS)

In time, it is our dream to work with coffee growers in Kihembe to produce a crop that we could potentially import to the UK and sell at Bora! Whilst this is ambitious, we believe that we can do it, although it is likely to take a while as we want to ensure that the coffee is of the highest quality possible.

To buy a bag of beans, please visit the Bora website for more information.

Ross.

@ZuriProject

#HelpingNotHelping: More on the Voluntourism debate

Earlier this month, JK Rowling, who needs little introduction, spoke very candidly about Voluntourism. Focusing on Orphanages in poor countries around the world, Rowling said:

“Despite the best of intentions, the sad truth is that visiting and volunteering in orphanages drives an industry that separates children from their families and puts them at risk of neglect and abuse […] Institutionalism is one of the worst things you can do to children in the world. It has huge effects on their normal development, it renders children vulnerable to abuse and trafficking, and it massively impacts their life chances. And these dire statistics apply even to what we would see as well-run orphanages […] The effect on children is universally poor.”

[The Guardian, 24th October 2019]

The campaign that Rowling has launched with the hashtag #HelpingNotHelping, is long overdue. Her focus on highlighting the dangers of participating in orphanage volunteering is commendable, I only wish that she extended the net further. Whilst orphanage tourism is proliferating, particularly in places such as Nepal and Indonesia, poorly thought out volunteer programs are being rolled out all over the world that entice impressionable young adults with their empty promises of global change and virtue.

boy-wearing-blue-shirt-sitting-on-swing-1686467

Rowling’s #HelpingNotHelping campaign should also focus on removing untrained & unskilled ‘volunteer’ teachers from schools, disallowing unqualified individuals to participate in any type of medical volunteer work and even stopping volunteers from doing manual work that community members could be paid to do instead. The latter in particular is one of the most common types of volunteering prevalent in some of the poorest corners of the world, with volunteers turning up in their droves to build schools, dig wells, paint buildings etc. before disappearing and being replaced by the next in line.

Such a conveyor belt of arriving volunteers denies local agency by outsourcing work that many in the locale would be skilled, able and willing to do. Moreover, because ‘jobs’ are being taken by these volunteers, community members are being forced to look for other sources of income generation, many of which then inadvertently come as a result of the exploitation of the volunteers in some way.

The whole system of Voluntourism is designed for one primary purpose: profit. This is counterproductive when taking into consideration the values usually associated with volunteering. People volunteer their most valuable resource (time) to try and make a positive contribution. By charging people a, usually exorbitant, fee to participate in Voluntourism, companies are exploiting the altruism of the individuals seeking to do a good thing. When profit is the sole focus of a company, less care is often afforded to the quality of the service offered.  This is very much the case when it comes to Voluntourism. Whilst there are some exceptions, Voluntourism placements are often generic, one size fits all projects, where little to no emphasis is placed on cultural differences, the will of the local populace and worryingly, the impact that the volunteer will have during their time in the host community.

With the help of JK Rowling, I believe it’s time for many grassroots organisations such as The Zuri Project to speak up against the practice of harmful Voluntourism projects. We must be particularly careful not to fall into the trap of avoiding the issue now that such a high profile name has launched a campaign. The opposite is in fact true. With Rowling’s comments and profile, she has given advocates for responsible volunteering a platform from which to build an argument and even an alternative to Voluntourism.

Change is urgently required and I believe that by urging young people to avoid Voluntourism and seek alternatives, we can slowly begin to turn the tide.

Ross.

@ZuriProject

For a previous post about our stance on Voluntourism, click on this link.

 

A Milestone.

I finally received some good news from the surgeon regarding my leg. He said that it’s OK for me to start walking short distances and he confirmed that I am able to both drive and fly (on an aeroplane, not by myself). I took this as the perfect opportunity to book a flight to Uganda. I’ll be visiting to spend time with our team for three primary reasons:

  1. To enjoy their company.
  2. To reflect upon the projects completed throughout the course of 2019.
  3. To plan our strategy for 2020.

To be fair, I need little excuse to go to Uganda, but I think the timing of this visit will be ideal. It’s taken me a long time to nurse myself back to something resembling decent health, and the draw of Uganda has proven irresistible. Before I go to Uganda, however, I will be speaking at Arden Academy’s presentation evening on November 15th. Almost a year to the date after my wedding speech, I’m actually even more nervous about what’s going to come out of my mouth this time around.

The temptation for me when I stand in front of a large group of people, is to simply talk about Uganda. But I’m not going to do that this time. I might mention it, but it’s unlikely to be the focus of my little speech. We’ll see.

Anyway, onto the topic of this blog post. For those of you who are unaware of our way of working, I want to clear things up. Our organisation is essentially split into two:

The Zuri Project (UK)

Opportunity Africa (Uganda)

The UK team is responsible for fundraising, attending events, administration and reporting to the Charities Commission. We also advise and support the creation and delivery of projects in Uganda, however we don’t actually do any of the work.

The work is done exclusively by our Ugandan team, currently consisting of five members of staff, who work in the village of Kihembe. The team represents the wishes of the local community, is accountable to a board of directors, and oversees the delivery of all projects that are funded by The Zuri Project and our UK supporters.

Elly & Monica

(Our Ugandan team is led by Monica (right) with Elly (left) playing a crucial role in the organisation’s development since its inception)

This successful way of operating has been achieved by a number of years of trial and error and building trusting relationships based upon shared values and a coherent understanding of what both organisations want to achieve. As part of the UK team, I feel that it is not our place to dictate to our Ugandan partners what type of projects we think that they should develop and deliver. We give our Ugandan team full autonomy over project selection, monitoring and delivery. This way, we know that the community members are invested in the project, as it is not an outside intervention, but a community led initiative. Yes, we are involved in the evaluation stage, but this is simply to ensure that we are compliant with our duties as a charitable organisation in the UK.

Our visits to Uganda are mostly relaxing to be honest, with time spent chatting, visiting people and enjoying the hospitality proudly dished out by the ever-friendly Ugandan people. Every time I go to Uganda, I adopt a minimalist philosophy; less is more. The less I plan, the more I enjoy. The less I do, the more I learn. All I really need to take with me from a professional perspective is a notebook and a camera. The rest just plays out in front of me and as always, I’m astounded and quite simply amazed at how brilliant our Ugandan team is.

Focus group

(Focus groups, like the one above, are a great way of learning lots about the will and ideas of the community members)

In the UK, we have recently passed a milestone of our own. What started as a simple idea to do things slightly differently, The Zuri Project has turned into something much larger than we ever imagined. We’ve recently passed the milestone (without realising it) of raising £60,000 to support our projects in Uganda, with more money on the way as I write.

When I think about what that figure has helped to achieve – renovate a dilapidated health centre, build a secondary school from scratch, deliver numerous community wide projects, create jobs and provide on-going support to a private primary school – I can’t help but feel a little proud.

OA office

(The signpost outside our office in Kihembe, Kanungu district)

It really is amazing what you can achieve when you do things with integrity, a clear purpose and common sense. More of the same is in order, I think.

Ross

@ZuriProject