Author Archive for Matt

Animal Shopping

My sparse writing during these last two weeks can easily be explained:  I have been incredibly busy.  It started with an email, which led to a second meeting.  Then, things really started moving fast.

After the second meeting, I had a list of all the grandmothers and what animals they chose to receive.  It is probably the most interesting shopping list I’ve ever had:

Animal Shopping

My co-worker Joseph and I got to the village of Buwaiswa on Wednesday afternoon, and were immediately greeted by Mama Lillian, who helps out at the orphanage.  Mama Lillian conveniently had eight piglets ready to be sold, we could have first pick if we so chose.  Done.

This gave us time to go around on foot (anything else was impossible) and visit some of the grandmothers who wanted goats.  Three of them had even done shopping on their own and found goats for us to buy.

That night we went into the trading center of Busota to see if we could find an animal salesman named Dadi.  He supposedly had a bunch of goats waiting to be sold.  After we arrived in Busota and were mobbed by kids who hadn’t seen a white person before, we eventually found his assistant.  He confirmed that Dadi had some goats ready to sell; the only problem was that he wasn’t in town.  We would need to come back tomorrow.  We exchanged phone numbers and then hitched a ride back to Buwaiswa.

The next morning, we took an early tea and then ventured up to Busota again.  Dadi was still missing.  His phone wasn’t getting any reception (no surprise), so we just had to wait.  And wait.  After repeated attempts, we finally got Dadi on the phone long enough to find out that he was technically sold out of goats at the moment, which was why he was frantically driving around trying to find more.

Back to square one.  This was going to be a long day.  Our boda-boda driver told us that he had an idea, which was as good as anything, so we pulled a u-turn and headed back past Buwaiswa.  Along the way, we found a chicken farmer and made his day.  He finished the transaction sixteen chickens lighter and 105,000 shillings richer.

The goat dealer we found didn’t have any either, but he at least knew where to get some.  We found a tree for some shade and sat down as he took our boda driver off into the bush.  Over the next hour, he came back four times with a goat on his lap, tied it to a stump, and headed off in another direction.  On the fifth trip, he hopped off, tied up the last goat, and walked over to us.

“That’s all I could find.”

I was impressed.  Five goats in an hour.  That’s twelve minutes per goat!

After this stroke of luck, things were looking good.  In war, what we did next is called “mopping up.”  For the rest of thursday and friday, we just meandered around on foot and found the last four goats.

Our shopping was over.  We called the grannies.  They needed to help bring in groceries.

A Tale of Two Meetings

With new funding and less restrictions, I’ve been running around lately trying to get my project complete before I finish next Wednesday.

Before my grant got rejected, I had a meeting with all of the grandmothers who would be receiving loans.  I explained the rules of the loan:

  • It had to be used for income-generation
  • It had to be paid back with 10% interest
  • It could not deal in animal husbandry

They were perfectly fine with the first two rules, but when I explained the third, they groaned.  They were frustrated, and understandably so.  They knew how to raise animals.  They didn’t know how to run a business.  And they were quite frank — they weren’t interested in learning.  They wanted to tend to their crops and animals.  They wanted to do what they were good at.

But we continued, and I guess the meeting was an overall success.  We settled on different activities for the grandmothers to pursue and they walked away thankful.  However, I could not shake the feeling that they were not in it.  Sure, some of it was a lack of confidence, and that could be changed with training.  But there was also the fact that they weren’t able to do what they wanted to do.

Then I had my second meeting with them.

Last week, I went out to inform them that the restriction on animals had been lifted.  I thought that I’d give them the chance to reconsider their project again, this time with the possibility of practicing animal husbandry.  There were fourteen grandmothers there, and fourteen of them changed their minds.  They all wanted to raise animals.

Not only that, but the meeting itself had an entirely different feel.  In our first meeting, I was struck by how aloof they seemed.  In this meeting, they participated in the discussion.  They made jokes.  They laughed at ours.  They stayed around after it was finished to make small-talk.

They were excited!

Their excitement rubbed off on me.  It was contagious.  We all had our own reasons, but everybody wanted this project to succeed now.  We all had something at stake.

What have I learned this trip?  The capacity and the expertise can come from outside, but the ideas must come from the people.  You cannot storm a country with ideas of your own and hope to make an impact.  Someday you will have to leave, and if the people do not feel ownership in the project, they will abandon it.

Turning Point… Uncultured Style

A while back, I wrote about my project’s turning point.  I wrote about how FSD had decided that because my project is young, they didn’t want to put any more money in it until it proved itself to be sustainable.  There were certain FSD stipulations attached that made my project “unsustainable.”  For instance, I had to find a way to guarantee that the loans would be repaid.  I had to complete 75% of the project by the time I left Uganda.  Also, I wasn’t allowed to use it for anything that “exploits the earth.”

My project didn’t guarantee that loans are repaid.  If something terrible happened to the loan recipient, OGLM wasn’t going to be there kicking down the door for repayment.

My project would have gone on much longer than I was here in Uganda.  It was long-lasting.  Granted, I wouldn’t have been here to oversee it, but isn’t long-lasting the goal?

And admittedly, my project exploited the earth.  It was going to supply small subsistence farmers and animal breeders with the capital necessary to grow from subsistence to business.

In summary, a project that was going to fund local solutions to local problems, repay itself, benefit others on down the road, and last for a long time was ruled unsustainable.  To paraphrase the oft-used phrase from Zoolander, I felt like I was taking crazy pills.

Even though I had flown all the way to Uganda, I was stuck inside writing Excel spreadsheets.  I was doing something important, sure, but it didn’t take long before I was finished and just waiting for the end of my internship.  What is worse, of the 187 grandmothers who are registered for our loan program, only 24 of them had anything to show for it.

Then, along came the Uncultured Project.  Along came the power of YouTube and the internet, connecting people who care about poverty.  Who want to change the conversation about poverty by seeking real-world solutions.

Thanks to the Uncultured Project and its donors and its awesome community, I won’t have to confront those three groups of grandmothers and deny them their loans.  Instead, I will be able to give them seeds and tools and animals and training.

It will be tough, since I only have 10 days left before my internship is over.  But now, my project can go past my ending date. I can do “tough.”

What I can’t do is “impossible.”

And thanks to the Uncultured Community, I don’t have to worry about “impossible” any more.

…Same Here

Just because you are in another country doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate Independence Day.

That was our motto on Friday, and we stuck to it.  Some of the FSD interns got together in the afternoon and watched the classic American movie The Shawshank Redemption.  We almost watched The Patriot, which would have been more fitting, but it’s just such a mediocre movie.

After that, we hopped on a taxi out of town and headed to the village of Bugembe, just north of Jinja.  There are four Notre Dame grads who are on a 16 month service project teaching at a local primary school.  Since they have already been here for 10 months, they went absolutely nuts preparing for this party — even to the point of driving to Kenya to pick up real American food.

The end result was an all-you-can-eat buffet of salad, hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries.  The 20 Americans that had assembled (15 from Notre Dame) started the celebration by saying the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the National Anthem to the huge American flag painted on the inside wall of the living room.  Then, we went outside and lit off some of their homemade fireworks.  We finished the night the way any American college student would – yelling along to Bruce Springsteen’s Greatest Hits.

If the neighbors didn’t always think Americans were insane, they do now.

“The Big Man”

El mundo es tuyo...So when I entered Uganda at the Entebbe Airport, I naturally handed my passport over.  I got the 20 questions routine that I was expecting.  One of the standard questions is, “Why are you coming to Uganda?” FSD alerted me that the only choices are business or tourism, so a volunteer should choose tourism.

Unfortunately, when I answered “tourism,” the customs lady didn’t quite believe me.  “Ten weeks is quite a long time for tourism, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, I guess.  Not really, though.”

So, she used her ball point pen to carve a big “2 MO” across the top of my passport. This means that I am authorized to stay for two months.  Eight weeks.  Not ten.

Now what?

Continue reading ‘“The Big Man”’

Turning Point

Last week was a pretty big turning point for my trip.  This entire time, I have been operating under the assumption that I would be applying for a grant from FSD, and with that grant money, I would issue loans to grandmothers for income-generating activities.  I have developed budgets, interviewed grandmothers, and written a huge grant proposal  all to these ends.

However, when I submitted my proposal, the feedback from the local site team was a little different than I expected.  Since the last grant given to my host organization, OGLM, was also used to deliver a batch of loans, FSD would most likely not fund my project.  Since the first batch of loans has not yet started repayment, FSD has no way of knowing how well the project has been working.  As a result, they will not risk any more money on the project until its success is more tangible.

That left me, with only 18 working days left at OGLM, without a plan of action.  Had I wasted my first five weeks here?  What can I do with only one month left?  How am I supposed to effect any change in this short time period?  I really started envying Shawn, who has both much more time and freedom to do what he wants without the interference that comes with working for an NGO.

I have since come to realize that this change of plans isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  In my remaining 18 days, I had budgeted the following activities:

  • Work with four groups of grandmothers to develop sustainable income-generating activities.
  • Determine what materials each group would need to start these projects.
  • Deliver loan-basics training, bookkeeping training, and business-specific training.
  • Work with an agriculture specialist to train the two agriculture groups in proper farming-as-a-business techniques (this would require five days of training alone).
  • Bring each group to the market and buy the materials they needed to begin their projects.
  • Monitor the grandmothers as they begun business operations.

Once you factor in the fact that the work pace is much slower here and that most of this work depends on my translator being free, that schedule is ridiculous!  It wasn’t that I was being naive, it was just that I didn’t realize how little time I had left before I leave here.

I have since worked with the staff to develop a new plan for the rest of my time here.  I will be developing OGLM’s microfinance program on the organization side.  Kind of like a microfinance consultant.  I will be restructuring the program and training the staff to make sure that the program lasts for a long time.

The bad news is that this work won’t be anywhere near as interesting as the stuff that Shawn does on YouTube.  The good news is that OGLM definitely needs it.  This is something I am confident that I can accomplish and its effects will last long after I hop on that plane 31 days from now.

The Beggar Children of Main Street

The Beggar Children

We ten interns had more or less just landed in Uganda.  It was Day Three, and we were touring Jinja on foot.

Imagine.  A parade of mzungus meandering around downtown, fingers pointing, and heads on swivels.  With stomachs full of matooke and rice, we took our time digesting as we strolled along the broken sidewalk.  Shopkeepers called out, hoping that their wares could draw our attention.  Boda-boda drivers offered us rides on their bicycles or mopeds.  A third group called us too.  Three small children, around five or seven years old, quietly implored, “Sirs, 100?”  They were asking for a meager 100 shillings, and we had just spent 8000 on lunch.  Surely we could spare the equivalent of 6 American cents.

Before we could respond, our program director shooed them away in their native language.  Many of the interns were heartbroken.  I know I was.  Here is a little kid, malnourished and poorly clothed, and all he wanted was a nickel.  That’s not too much to ask.  I could have tossed him the coin and moved on.

But, as our program director explained, it is not about the amount of money.  It is the principle.  You can only effect serious change by striving for sustainability.  What will that boy do when we leave?  Who will care for him then?  Any change that you try to initiate must be able to last without your input.

It was only the third day, and I felt like I was already being taught how to rationalize away the most vulnerable members of society.

Continue reading ‘The Beggar Children of Main Street’