KAGADI--BOOM TOWN IN THE WILDERNESS
After a five-hour drive from Kampala, the last three hours on bone-jarring, deeply-rutted dirt roads which are only passable because the rainy season has not yet begun, you reach the frontier boom town of Kagadi. Like any frontier town, this one swirls with dust as vehicles come and go, with people picking up supplies, bringing family members to the 100-bed hospital, dropping neighbors off at the bus stop. In Kagadi today, you can get your cell phone, radio, bicycle, or motorbike repaired, buy food, clothes and shoes, buy agricultural and building supplies, buy furniture for your home, buy beer and soda, eat at a restaurant, or stay in a local hotel. Since my last visit in March of 2006, power poles and wires have finally reached Kagadi town, but no electricity is being delivered yet.
This is the way Kagadi looks today. Although located 3 hours via dirt road from the nearest city, this town has grown since 1987 from one street with three stores to a bustling town, complete with electricity, a 100-bed hospital, and an Internet café.
UGANDA’S GOLD MINE: URDT
There is no gold in Kagadi, nor any other natural resources that have built up the local economy. Kagadi’s “gold mine” is the Uganda Rural Development and Training Centre, known throughout the nine counties it serves as URDT. It’s fitting that URDT’s 60-acre campus sits on one side of the valley facing the increasing sprawl as the town of Kagadi grows and thrives, nourished by the social and economic entrepreneurs that URDT produces.
URDT was created 25 years ago by three social entrepreneurs--Mwalimu Musheshe, Ephrem Rutaboba and Silvana Veltkamp--who were welcomed by the town of Kagadi to lead them in grassroots community development.
Photo: Part of the URDT/ARU Campus which sits a stone's throw across the valley from Kagadi
URDT is a secular non-government organization that has evolved its education and training programs to support the dreams of Kagadi’s villagers and those of the six million people in the 9 nine surrounding districts. This area is a multi-tribal, rural, subsistence farming area that had been rife with conflict, underserved by the federal and local governments, and therefore dubbed the “lost counties” of Uganda.
Training and Education
Today, URDT provides training in organic and intensive farming, fish-farming, carpentry, brick-making, solar energy and bio-gas production, functional adult literacy, journalism, accounting, business, micro-finance, human rights, land rights, gender issues (including family planning), and HIV prevention. You can learn computer skills, access the Internet, or broadcast your contributions on its community radio station (KKCR).
The Role of Community Radio
Since its inception in 2000, as the first community radio station in East Africa, KKCR radio reaches about four million people, many of whom are glued to the station on their hand-held battery-powered radios. The programming ranges from local music to agricultural extension classes, to human rights training, to women’s issues, to political commentary and history. People call in to ask questions, to debate local issues, and to broadcast messages to their families. URDT uses the radio station as its main outreach to the communities, promulgating a “can do” attitude, exposing corruption, teaching nutrition and sanitary practices, educating families in how to prevent domestic violence, and in the rights of women and children.
Photo: On the left, two students present a program on Kagadi Kibaale Community Radio, which reaches 3 million people in 9 counties. On the right, a journalism student interviews local women about womens’ rights in preparation for her radio program.
One of the most popular shows is Odembos Maloba’s call-in show. Odembos is the human rights officer at URDT. He uses the radio as the last resort in resolving domestic conflicts. When all other measures fail, Odembos uses his weekly radio program to expose a particularly egregious example of child neglect, domestic violence, or human rights abuses. He gets the parties on air to make their cases, he takes calls and suggestions from avid listeners, and he arbitrates publicly, illustrating the principles of justice, fairness, and explaining the Ugandan penal code. Joseph Musse Wasibi, the Land Rights Officer, provides a similar weekly radio program focusing on land rights issues and violations--how to resolve family and tribal squabbles over land which is owned by the male head of household--and what happens when that person dies intestate, often leaving multiple wives and sons squabbling over the house and surrounding farmland. The girls from the URDT Girls’ school also create and broadcast programs on the topics they are learning--including domestic violence, corruption, proper sanitation, and nutrition.
URDT’s Educational Institutions
URDT includes a boarding school for 12- to-18-year-old girls from rural, low-income families, a vocational and training institute for young men and women, and its latest jewel: The African Rural University--an all-womens’ university that is training young women to be community transformation leaders. The graduates’ mission is to replicate the successful model of integrated grassroots development that URDT has invented and evolved over 25 years into other rural districts and communities across Uganda, and eventually, throughout Africa.
Photo: Two-Generation Education. Students teach their families how to create a vision and take actions to achieve their desired outcomes. Here is one of the students leading a parent’s workshop.
There are three aspects of the educational programs at URDT that are fundamentally distinctive and that have led to dramatic results in the development of the surrounding district and communities:
• Everyone learns the creative process--how to create a vision of what you want, contrast that vision with your current reality and take action to achieve your vision. (In short, how to innovate!) This creative orientation is amplified throughout the surrounding communities through the two-generation approach to education. The students teach their families how to envision what they want and how to take action to achieve results.
• All the students--the young girls at the Girls’ School, the young men and women at the vocational institute, and the young women at the university--learn both traditional subjects (math, science, reading, creative and business writing, drama, music) as well as practical subjects--the application of appropriate technologies (solar energy, biogas production, charcoal cooling), construction, the latest agricultural practices, entrepreneurship (including micro-finance, accounting, and management).
• All of the learnings on the campus are applied in the field, in each Girls’ School student’s “back home” projects with their families (building latrines, raising new crops, building new homes), in apprenticeships and new businesses for the vocational students, and in field work for the university students.
Monica's Back Home Project: Build a New Home!
Monica is a student at the URDT Girls’ School. Monica’s back home project during the vacation between semesters was to mobilize her family to build a new house (on the left). Their old house on the right now serves as the kitchen.
URDT’s Demonstration Farm includes highly productive greenhouses. With an investment of $850 in an easy-to-construct greenhouse , tomato plants, water and organic fertilizer and mulch, you can generate over $500 in income a year. The investment pays for itself in 18 months and generates enough supplemental income to move a family from subsistence to economic viability.
Photo: Organic intensive farming--growing tomatoes in a simple-to-construct greenhouse.
GRASS ROOTS COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT IN ACTION
I had a unique opportunity to witness the way these development projects work on February 24, 2007. We traveled an hour east on a dirt road to the village of Kabamba in the Kahunde parish with the team of six ARU students and two professors. The village consisted of a cluster of one-room homes visible from the road, a small dirt-earthed church, and a few footpaths disappearing into overgrown fields of brush, presumably to other huts and cultivated fields. The local priest, Father Matayo Baylebuga (or Father Matthiew as he introduced himself) had mobilized the villagers to meet with the ARU team. Father Matthiew’s goal is to create a development plan for his far-flung parish to present to his Bishop. He has asked URDT to help him and the ARU students have taken this on as a class project. They have already met with the members of three communities, gathering their visions and current reality. This visit was the fourth of six such field trips. SEE MY REPORT ON ARU IN ACTION
Through the eyes of a western business professional, the task of rural development looks daunting. Where do you start? What trade-offs do you make? What’s most important? Clean water, better nutrition, good healthcare, or education? Better roads so you can get to the hospital faster and get your crops to market, or better schools? Better agricultural practices, or other kinds of businesses? Do you address the sources of tribal conflicts and land disputes, or educate women in family planning? That’s the crux of the matter--there’s no one answer. It’s a complex web of interconnected causality. And, the needs and priorities differ in each community.
A Replicable Process for Grassroots Development
I realized that what I was about to see was in some ways a mirror of the first meeting that took place 20 years ago, when Ephrem, Musheshe, and Silvana had been welcomed by the elders in Kagadi town. At that time, Kagadi consisted of a few homes and a couple of stores. There was no clean water, no sanitation, no electricity, high infant mortality, and a sense of despair. The trio led the villagers of Kagadi through an exercise that was quite similar to the one we were about to witness. Everyone gathered under a mango tree, next to the village school--over three days, the villagers met to engage in a facilitated co-design workshop.
Photo: Typical Grassroots development in action. Here Odembos Malobas leads villagers in a visioning workshop.
On the first day of that Kagadi workshop in 1987, the community members described their visions of the lives they wanted to lead and the community they wanted to live in. On the second day, they talked about the issues they currently faced in their daily lives. On the third day, they discussed what they could do on their own to make their visions a reality, the kind of training they would need to help them get going, the resources they’d need, and the ways they might go about attracting those resources. The facilitators made it clear that they were not there to provide the resources, to dole out money, to provide tractors, or to build schools. Their role was to help the villagers decide what they wanted to create for themselves and to support them in achieving that vision. URDT was born out of the villagers’ desire for the education and training that would help them achieve their individual and collective visions. URDT’s programs have evolved over the years, as the needs of the people in the surrounding districts and communities have evolved.
Now the ARU Students are Planting the Seeds of Innovation in Kabamba Village
We arrived in Kabamba around 11 am on Saturday, February 24th. We were greeted by the village elders, and an assortment of villagers ranging in age from infants to people in their 80s. At the outset, I counted 13 young men, one nursing mom and six other women, 14 kids, three elders, and three people who introduced themselves as church deacons.
Photo: Even the kids of Kabamba participated in the visioning workshop!
We convened under the shade of a large mango tree between the church and the latrine (which was convenient, as the deliberations lasted for five hours). Benches were pulled out from the church and arranged in a circle for the introductory remarks. More people began to arrive, so by the time Father Matthiew kicked off the program, there were 33 adults present. By the end of the five hours of work together, the group had swelled to about 60 adults, 40 children, and 8 babies. The community members who attended this workshop were from several different tribes and a variety of religions--Catholic, Muslim, and local animists.
Please follow the rest of the story on the African Women University's students ARU in Action blog.