Angela's Trip Report
Click on any image to see the full size gallery with captions.
Day One: Our first day on campus
After a long journey we were finally ready to get to work today! We started the day attending the FC (Foundation Course) which they have every morning, Monday - Friday. The entire campus attends (all students from all institutions, and all staff and faculty). In this meeting, Musheshe addressed the question "Why do we have FC?" The responses he collected from the audience included; that URDT is a learning institution, that through the FC everyone is able to learn together, hear about current events, emerging trends and share announcements, that through FC the departments create alignment and contribute to team learning in a visible way. Anyone can speak at FC on any topic, so it also develops individual capacities for public speaking. It was amazing to see it in action - the participation and the student reaction. Julia and I will be presenting at FC on Wednesday and Thursday morning discussing the topic of Communication. Erika will be presenting on Friday.
After FC, we met our colleages -- the heads of all of the departments. I shared my my background and listened to some of thier stories. It was a great opportunity for me to connect with them in an individual level.
Then, Enoch led us on a campus tour. We met his talented farm manager Charles. Enoch spoke passionately about environmental conservation, natural and organic practices and community learning. We visited the demonstration farm and gardens, the poultry project, the fish ponds and much more. Charles filled us in on how well the chick hatchery is doing (an AFPF Funded project) and we learned that the demand is very high for chick hatchery services. And we also learned it is very profitable. They are working towards expansion since it's doing so well. We also got a chance to see the first phase of a new running water system on campus, which has everyone very excited. The project will place clean running water at all taps on campus.
One of the highlights of my day was our interaction with the Girls' School students. We took pictures of them and captured them performing on video. I even worked with some on a few songs (I have a background in Music, FYI). It was a great time. They are some really great young women.
My first few days here have been very magical. I'm constantly confronted with a feeling of startling familiarity here. I have seen images of the campus, the students, and Kagadi for 3 and a half years in photographs and videos, but somehow seeing it in real life generates the feeling of seeing a beloved old friend who I haven't seen in years. I'll turn a corner and see for the first time with my own eyes something that I have seen in photos, and I almost jump out of my skin. At this point all I can say is this is shaping up to be an expereince of a lifetime.
Day Two: Going deep
I woke up early today and walked around the campus in the early morning light. Doors were opening, people were moving around, fires were burning, and pots were boiling. It was wonderful to experience the campus this way with quiet activity already buzzing at first light. I'm glad I got this moment of peace and purpose first thing in the morning, because the experience I had later in the day hit me very hard.
We journeyed deep into the sub-county, to a village that is very far and remote from the main road. The main road is a bumpy dirt (almost) single track road. As we drove along, the rural residents were going about their lives: women and children carrying water and firewood for very long distances (several miles), children in unkempt school uniforms and torn clothing walking along, some very young walking all alone. There were babies being cared for by older siblings, and women crouching over smoky fires. And everywhere, I mean everywhere, there was poverty. Not just poor people, but poverty. I have never seen anything like it, and now I can't un-see it. I thought I had seen it in the photos shared with me over the years, but they didn't (and probably couldn't) capture what I saw with my own eyes. I was not prepared for the effect it had on me.
But alongside this extreme poverty is also great hope. Epicenter manager Scholastica has been working with this group (pictured) for over 3 years and it is very clear that the group is on a path towards prosperity. Many of them are growing income generating crops, enabling them to fulfill their visions of better homes, better health, better nutrition, and more educated families. The members of Scholastica's group expressed over and over how grateful they are for URDT and for African Rural University, and especially for the Epicenter manager who has been working to uplift them.
I can hardly believe I've only been with URDT for 2 days. My eyes, my mind, and my heart are overflowing.
Click on any image to see the full size gallery with captions.
Day Three: Living beautifully in rural Uganda
After Tuesday's experience in the field, I have to admit I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the extreme poverty I witnessed. Today however, was a different story. Today I met Goodyear.
We arrived at his neatly swept, expansive compound deep in the rural area. His well dressed family - his own children and his nieces and nephews - greeted us, and I immediately recognized that this experience was going to be markedly different from my experience yesterday. Goodyear is a young man who attended the URDT Institute of Vocational Training and Youth Leadership. He first attended the school soon after his father, who was a rural farmer, passed away. At the time his mother was also sick and he had several brothers and sisters in school who were at risk of dropping out because the family breadwinner was gone. Goodyear felt he had to do something to help his family even though he was very skeptical.
He arrived at the Institute thinking that he wanted to study
mechanics, but through the process of creating his Vision (the creation of a Vision for one's future is part of the curriculum at URDT and ARU), he realized that the was no opportunity for mechanics in his rural area. So he made a Vision to become a farmer like his father. He started simply: with a small piggery and a few acres of land which his father had maintained. He sought further studies at URDT with Enoch, the farm manager (whom we met on the first day of our trip), where he learned about intercropping, water management, pest control, income generation and so much more. I can't even list everything he learned, because that would mean describing the crops and operation of his entire farm, which now is 10.5 acres of the most beautiful Ugandan farmland I've ever seen. He grows yams, bananas, mangos, sugar cane, passion fruit, coffee, eucalyptus, and a range of other items.
Goodyear was such a ray of light, I've now been completely
re-inspired about the future of Africa. His goal is to grow organic cocoa and export his cocoa and sugar to be sold in the international marketplace. I would not be at all surprised to find his products in my local Whole Foods in the near future.
Beyond that, Goodyear was a warm and grateful young man. He's a caring and engaged father and husband (his wife is also former URDT student by the way!) He and his family are living simply and beautifully in a very remote rural part of Uganda. He lives the life URDT and Africa Rural University hope to achieve for all of rural Uganda and beyond. After seeing Goodyear, I know it can happen. We must hold the Vision for that reality, and work hard each day to achieve it.
I did much more today as well, including killing my first chicken,
plucking it and making dinner on a charcoal stove, but that is a story for another day.
Day Four: Peace begins at home
On our fourth day visiting URDT/ARU, we made three very special field visits. The first was to one of URDT’s High Level Farmer Learning Groups, the second, a stop at the home of Agnes, a currnet Girls' School Student, and our final stop today was Ruth's home. You may already know Ruth, as we introduced you to her and her family last year.
This High Level Farmer Learning Group had members who came from several sub-counties, some traveling over 3 hours by car or motorcycle to meet with us. In fact, they regularly travel to this spot to meet and talk about their farming practices, learn together, and receive guidance from Catherine, their Epicenter manager. The farmers shared with us their stories of how how they had all improved their houses, many installing solar power and better sanitation measures. The had a wide range of crops, and their farming practices were very impressive, but what impressed me the most was their dedication to working together as a group to uplift themselves and each other. They all credited URDT and their partner, Epicenter Manager Catherine for their success.
After we left the farmers group, we stopped by the home of a current Girls’ School Student named Agnes. Her family was in the process of constructing a new brick house and growing crops to achieve income generation and better nutrition. Agnes is the second to last child of ten in the family, and before she attended the URDT’s Girls’ School Agnes’ father did not believe it was useful to educate girls at all. However, now that Agnes has transformed their family, her father is very enthusiastic about educating girls. Agnes’s mother told us that prior to their experience with URDT, there was no peace at home, but now there is peace.
On our final stop, we visited the home of Ruth, who we already know, from when we interviewed her last year for the video featured here on our website. Ruth is in her final year at URDT Girls’ School and plans to go to college to be an accountant. From her income generating projects at home, she will have enough money to pay for University. Along with her brother, who is the head of the family (they were orphaned when Ruth was only 10 years old), she has added many crops to her farm. Her Vision remains hanging on the wall, right where we saw it last year, and it was still guiding her family towards prosperity.
By the way, we sponsored a movie night for the Girls’ School tonight, and it was so much fun! They don’t get to see many movies and they just loved seeing how we live in America.
We can’t wait to share with you our video update on Ruth and so many others. For now, we hope you enjoy these photos.
Safira and her family.
Safira with her family's Vision.
Agnes discussing her family's crops with Angela.
Ruth pointing to her Vision for her family.
Day Five: New friends and old friends
Who remembers Safira’s story? For the longest time it was our only quality video about the work of URDT. I always wondered what happened to her, and today, I got to see. I can’t believe I finally met the famous Safira! And let me tell you, she is more impressive today than ever. She has her degree as a nurse and is working in a prestigious hospital. She still uses the URDT methodology of the Visionary approach in all her endeavors, and she and her family are tremendously successful farmers. They have over 30 acres and employ 6 workers. They have a beautiful home in town and also houses on the farm property where they live during the growing season. Her megawatt smile lights up the whole place and you just know she is so proud of what she has done. Her parents are also so special. Together they are a very committed team of learners and yes, rural transformers!
Saying goodbye to my new friends today was pretty hard. In just a few days, I’ve seen and experienced so much, it is hard to describe. I had the opportunity to build relationships with so many wonderful people who have dedicated their lives to uplifting Uganda. What is happening int his remote part of the world is truly inspiring. The work continues to evolve and transform, and I know it is having a tremendously positive impact.
My time at URDT and ARU was heart breaking at times, and incredibly inspiring at other times. I’m so thankful I got the opportunity to come here, to make these wonderful friends, and to experience the magic for myself. I'll never forget my time here.
Bonus Time: Chimp trekking!
We were fortunate enough to be able to squeeze in a trip to a nearby chimpanzee refuge. Here are some photos of our adventure. It was an amazing to be so close to these powerful and graceful animals, and a wonderful work retreat time with Musheshe and Jacqueline. The perfecting ending to our trip!