A statement on ‘White Saviourism’

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The Zuri Project Uganda has been my life for the past five years and along with many other 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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(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

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(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!

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(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.

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

Ross.

Kihembe food outreach during COVID-19 Crisis

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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.

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(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.

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(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.

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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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(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

Kishunju Primary School: A story of Rebuilding

One week after returning from Uganda in April of this year, we heard from our Ugandan team that the classroom blocks at Kishunju Primary School, housing students from Nursery class through to P5, had been totally destroyed in a storm. This news was particularly worrying, given the fact that there were students inside the classrooms at the time. Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured, which is a miracle considering the damage that was caused. The classrooms that collapsed were old, made from mud and wood, and were not at all fit for purpose.

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(Inside one of the classrooms just before the storm)

This is not an attempt to lie blame at the door of the school, not at all. But it is the sad reality that faces many primary schools across Uganda. They are so bereft of resources, teaching staff and financial support that they have to deal with what they have. It’s actually incredible that students and teachers turn up to class each day and are motivated to learn in such an environment.

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(Some of the students of Kishunju outside the devastated classroom block after the storm)

The Arden students who had recently visited the village had already decided that they wanted to support Kishunju as part of their legacy project, and this process was expedited when the terrible news of the storm reached us here in the UK. The money that was raised by Arden was enough to make an immediate start on the new classroom block, and work was underway by the end of April. At the same time, our fundraising team in the UK did an incredible job of raising money and we were able to get enough money together to build all of the required classrooms, to a safe and usable standard.

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(One of the new classroom blocks (to the right) under construction earlier this year)

We decided that we would then use the summer and early autumn months to fundraise to complete the plastering and painting of the classrooms, as we simply didn’t have enough money to undertake the whole project in one go. It wasn’t just The Zuri Project and its supporters that contributed to this project. Many members of the PTA of the school and fellow community members contributed whatever they could, including bricks, small amounts of money and even food for the labourers who were undertaking the work.

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(Students outside one of the classroom blocks after the initial building work had been completed)

In what was one of our quickest projects ever, we were delighted to learn that by the end of May, the classrooms were being used by the students and we were well on our way to achieving our fundraising total to finish off the classrooms. As I write, the finishing touches are being added to the new classroom block at the school, and as always, I’m so thrilled with what our Ugandan team have been able to achieve in such a short space of time.

You can watch a short video here of Monica and some of the team showing you the progress they have made with the project thus far.

Upon completion of the classrooms, I will share another post with lots of photographs to show you just how significant the improvements will be to Kishunju Primary School. A huge thank you to everyone who has been involved in fundraising for this project – we couldn’t have done it without you!

Ross x

@ZuriProject

Uganda 2019: Arden Academy – Student Reflections

Last week I promised to share with you reflections of the students that visited Uganda as part of the Arden Academy trip of April this year. Here they are. I hope you enjoy reading them.

Frankie Smith

For me, Uganda was an experience of a lifetime. It opened my eyes to the opposing lives people in different parts of the world lead. Uganda’s economy has very little money yet I can guarantee that I have never seen people with smiles as big as those in Kihembe. Their smiles reflected their warmth, kindness and most of all their elation at our presence. Being over 6,000 miles away from home was a nerve wracking thought for us all, yet our hosts Monica and her daughter, Patience, welcomed us into their traditional Ugandan home and village and made us part of their very loving family. The aim of our visit was to plan a legacy project with the people in the community of Kihembe, in order to do this, we had to visit the possible sites at which a legacy project could be developed.

We visited the local primary school, secondary school and health centre which were in an incomparable condition to sites like these in Knowle. The most emotional day for me of the two weeks was visiting Kishunju Primary School, the children greeted us with the most powerful singing and dancing that sent shivers down my spine. These children were so enthusiastic and positive yet were learning in classrooms literally about to fall down, that we would deem dangerous as they put the children at risk. Sadly, days after returning home from Uganda, these classrooms were blown down in a storm; luckily, before we left we had decided to invest our money to enable the building of permanent classroom blocks for the children at Kishunju.

We are hoping that these classrooms will not only provide a safer learning environment but also give the children an incentive to keep going to school, which we hope will lead to higher overall attendance and most importantly improve their education. The people in the village are very proud of what they have, even though to us it would seem very little; this has demonstrated to me that we take the smallest things, like running water, electricity and flushing toilets for granted. I chose to apply for this trip to Uganda because the opportunity excited me; not only has it taught me about a completely different culture but has also taught me that money doesn’t provide happiness, it is the people around you who do. I can’t wait to go back! The relationships I built throughout this trip with the members of the Opportunity Africa team and the people of Kihembe are something that will stay with me forever.

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(Frankie with Moses at the Opportunity Africa office during the legacy project meeting)

Ashleigh Lawrence

Our visit to the village of Kihembe is an experience I will never forget, it was genuinely life changing. We came to Uganda to appreciate and learn about its culture, to meet new people and interact with the villagers. We saw and did so many incredible things but for me, the close relationships that we built with the Opportunity Africa team and the villagers was something I didn’t expect and is honestly what I miss most about it.

The welcoming, unconditionally generous and generally happy nature of these people made our visit the wonderful experience it was and I know it was the beginning of some very special friendships. The visit did have its share of challenges, but the most difficult one of all was having to say goodbye – I’m missing it and everyone so much that I am already hoping to go back! My visit to Uganda was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I am so grateful to Ross, Danielle, Monica, The Zuri Project Uganda and Opportunity Africa for making the village of Kihembe part of our lives.

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(Ashleigh with Monica, Frankie and Moses, on a tour of the secondary school site)

Eoin Russell

The trip to Uganda was a life changing experience and I am grateful that i’ve had the opportunity to see an area of the world that is so different to England. Our experience of Uganda was definitely not what any of us expected. I think England on the whole is fed quite a negative image of Uganda through the media but I must say that it deserves a much better reputation that the one it is given. I tried to approach the trip with empathy for the Ugandans but in fact, I left the trip envious of them and their culture. They are some of the happiest people I have met and this has taught me that money definitely doesn’t equal happiness.

We were greeted with an overwhelming reception everywhere we went and my favourite memory of the trip was our arrival at Kihembe Secondary School. The students proudly performed traditional dances, songs and acts. It was very touching to see how grateful they are for their opportunity to get an education (something that we take for granted) and how the charity’s contributions have positively impacted their lives. I’m sure that Arden’s contribution will be equally as impactful and that is something that the whole school can be very proud of. Ross told us that The Zuri Project is built on relationships and now I understand why. In the short time we spent there we made some amazing friends who we still keep in touch with now. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Uganda and hope that future sixth formers can have the same experience as we have.

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(Eoin & Nihal doing what they do best: playing football with the secondary school team! Pete (blue cap) and Ross (big bum) are also in the huddle!)

Nihal Bhatt

I would like to thank Arden and The Zuri Project for exposing me to such a different culture and lifestyle to the one that we have here. While we were in the village we went to visit some of their most important facilities and while they were incomparable to the facilities we have here, everyone was appreciative and were very optimistic for what these facilities can and could provide in the future. Everywhere we went we received a very warm reception and were made to feel at home which was a truly heart warming experience. This hospitality lead me to build some great relationships in the relatively short space of time we spent in the village.

It was very refreshing to see overseas charity work being done with the community in charge. What really stood out to me was the selflessness and ingenuity of the community members, especially the members of Opportunity Africa. For example, the use of coffee and vegetable plants to sustain teachers’ salaries and to maintain infrastructure, I thought was such a creative solution to a serious issue. I am delighted to have had the chance to be a part of The Zuri Project and I am certain this is not the last time I will be a part of this amazing initiative.

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(Nihal, front left with some of the OA & Zuri Project team. From Back left – Monica, Bright, Frankie, Ross, Moses, Danielle, Eoin, Elly, Ashleigh. Front from left – Nihal, Jimz, Pete & Sarah).

More to follow next week!

Ross.

@ZuriProject

Arden Academy & The Zuri Project

I’m frustrated with myself that it’s taken me so long to write a post about this. Mainly because this partnership and the resulting opportunities it has created thus far have been life changing, quite literally.

I first rocked up to Arden Academy, or Arden School as it was known then, as a skinny, anxious 11 year old in Autumn 2002. The five years that followed were full of the usual ups and downs of senior school and I have too many stories and memories to go into any great detail in this post. However, there is one memory in particular that I would like to share, as it’s particularly relevant to the development of my relationship with Arden as an adult.

In Year 11 I was (rightly) told that I was crap at Maths. I didn’t need to be told as I was already dreading the Maths GCSE more than any other. However, I was offered the opportunity to take up additional one hour Maths lessons after school on Friday evenings. Unable to remember my motivation for doing so, I agreed. With initially little to no enthusiasm, I started to attend these after school sessions, led by a new teacher, Mr Pete Simpson.

After a couple of weeks, for the first time in my school career Mr Simpson had managed to do something no other teacher, in my humble opinion, had; he was actually talking sense in a Maths lesson. I can’t remember exactly what it was about the lessons, but I suddenly developed a basic understanding of some of the concepts that had been keeping me awake for years and I dared to dream that I might actually pass my Maths GCSE. It turned out that Mr Simpson was tutoring intermediate Maths very patiently, whereas previously, for some unknown reason, I had been in a class where higher Maths was on the agenda. With Mr Simpson’s advice, I ditched higher Maths and chose to take the intermediate paper at GCSE level.

When I got a B I couldn’t believe it. Fortunately Mr Simpson, or Pete as I now know him, has no recollection of this, which is great for me of course as I wouldn’t want him taking too much credit for my incredible turnaround and newfound outstanding mathematical genius (wink wink).

When I met Pete in his office 10 years later, we weren’t together to discuss GCSE Maths. Fortunately. We were meeting to discuss how The Zuri Project could form a mutually beneficial partnership with Arden Academy, particularly the Sixth Form, of which Pete was (and still is) the head. With nothing grandiose in mind, I was just enthusiastic about the idea of going back to my old school and having a chat about Uganda and what i’d been up to. Over the course of a number of meetings, Pete and I had many rich, engaging conversations about international development, Arden’s interest in engaging students in rewarding extra-curricular activities, as well as a whole host of other interesting topics.

Somehow, we agreed that it would be a good idea to plan a school trip to Uganda for four Arden Academy students. I shared my research into Voluntourism with Pete and told him about our charity’s stance on engaging with volunteers in Uganda. (You can read about this in my post from last year). If I was to be involved in supporting young adults to visit Uganda, it was going to be in a totally different way to anything I had previously encountered. And this was the beauty of our partnership, we had a blank canvas to work from.

What we came up with, essentially, and with the help of our Ugandan partners Opportunity Africa, was the opposite to what I would regard as conventional Voluntourism. This trip was to be forged by the people of Kihembe, through the leaders of the community. It was an opportunity for Opportunity Africa to show ‘the Uganda that Ugandans want you to see’ and the focus of the trip was to develop cross cultural relationships and develop compassionate understanding. We decided that the students would not actually do anything – they wouldn’t teach classes, they wouldn’t dig a well, they wouldn’t help build a school. They would simply visit, learn and enjoy the company of their Ugandan hosts and the natural beauty of ‘The Pearl of Africa’.

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(Arden Academy students with some of the OA team’s family members, taking a leisurely walk just outside the Bwindi National Park)

The only thing that we actually built into the trip, was the opportunity for the students to sit down with the Opportunity Africa team at the end of their time in Kihembe and help plan a legacy project that would be designed and delivered by OA and the local populace when the students returned home. The students, through a non-uniform day at school and some of their own creative fundraising initiatives, managed to raise £3,000 to contribute to the legacy project, and it was decided that the money would be spent at Kishunju Primary School (more on this in future posts).

I was taken aback by the trip in many ways. I was delighted to witness young people from Knowle interact with people from Kihembe. The contrast in their upbringings, their culture, their beliefs, traditions and interests made for some remarkable conversations and interactions and the building of some lasting friendships. Personally, I achieved something that I so desperately desired; to show people that there is an achievable, impactful alternative to Voluntourism. One that does not place the foreign visitor on a pedestal above their native counterparts, nor one that relies on outdated stereotypical assumptions that wealth and privilege is a pretext for alleviating ‘poverty’.

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(Project Manager Bright proving to us that he does in fact love millet)

The trip was remarkable. It was inspiring and it was life changing for many of us involved. But i’m not going to tell you why and/or how. I’m going to let the four students who participated tell you that.

All will be revealed in next week’s post.

Ross x

@ZuriProject