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La Serenissima

La Serenissima

Just back from Venice (significant birthday gift, many thanks to family). and the Architectural Biennale: ‘Reporting from the Front’. A huge exhibition with much about poverty, refugees, rapid urbanisation and the developing world, all relevant to our time in Uganda and our time back in the UK.

Venice, Architectural Biennale 2016

Venice, Architectural Biennale 2016

For example Solano Benitez from Paraguay: “Working with two of the most easily available materials – brick and unqualified labour – as a way to transform scarcity into abundance”. All those mud bricks and blue skies took me back to being VSO volunteers on a DFID sponsored vocational training programme in Northern Uganda.

Solano Benitez Brick Construction at Venice Architecture Biennale 1

Solano Benitez Brick Construction at Venice Architecture Biennale 1

There has been a lot in the press recently about foreign aid, the Guardian ran a very good editorial recently showing the benefits of foreign aid. But it is the Daily Mail and their petition for a debate in the Houses of Parliament on 13 June that is more worrying. The debate itself was surprisingly measured and supportive, despite those trying to demonize Palestinians our MPs were, mostly, a long way from the distortion and untruth that characterises what we read every day.

Digging, drying and stacking the bricks on the plot

Digging, drying and stacking the bricks on the plot

Brickmaking was everywhere in Northern Uganda, it is a relatively unskilled process. Bricklaying and Concrete Practice was a standard course in our vocational colleges and heavily subscribed. The resultant buildings were simple and quick to put up but often unsuitable for the climate or their occupants and never innovative.

Earth Construction at Venice Architecture Biennale

Earth Construction at Venice Architecture Biennale

Many exhibits at the Biennale concerned these traditional methods of construction and what could be done with them, along with mud bricks, rammed earth or ‘pisé de terre’ was en vogue throughout, eg the Renzo Piano Paediatric Centre in Entebbe).

Solano Benitez Brick Construction at Venice Architecture Biennale

Solano Benitez Brick Construction at Venice Architecture Biennale

Benitez uses simple formers to pour mortar and place the bricks in sections. Low skilled workers use these modules to make high quality buildings relevant to them, the possibilities seemed endless, that high roof would keep the heat down for example and keep down the need for timber. A flexible building method that can be ‘owned’ and developed by its users, no need for imposed solutions that collapse once the Westerners have gone.

The sustainable simplicity I saw in some (but definitely not all) of the exhibits at the Architecture Biennale, made me think of some of the people we worked with in Gulu, and wonder how they are getting on and what they might have been doing had our programme had not existed.

Margaret Atoke

Margaret Atoke

Perhaps the most impressive was Margaret Atoke from Koch Goma. I made a film with her, showing the impact of our programme. Margaret had not been to school, she was a girl and no one would pay for her. But after our training she was able to set up her own business and employ others, training them herself.

Margaret and staff outside her hoteli

Margaret and staff outside her hoteli

I remember her saying that the day she put on her college T shirt was the proudest of her life, the thought that she Margaret could actually go to school was what inspired her to make her a subsequent life a success.

Margaret Atoke 2

Margaret Atoke 2

This is why UK aid matters. UK aid was leading the way in Uganda, and East Africa, developing aid programmes that delivered tangible results. Previous programmes by others made little substantial change. By contrast, the DFID programme was carefully planned, monitored and evaluated. It not only trained 15,400 students in employable and relevant market relevant skills, but the accompanying psycho-social and life skills programme, the in-depth entrepreneurship, literacy and numeracy training and six month post training support, meant that the training would last; a first for the area.

Margaret's Hoteli

Margaret’s Hoteli

It is not only the 15,400 students directly trained that benefited from the DFID programme, (50% female by the way, unusual for this sector). Their families, their dependents, the local and national economies will all benefit, this was a graphic I saw in Venice pointing that out.

7 - 12 people supported by livelihood at Venice Architecture Biennale

7 – 12 people supported by livelihood at Venice Architecture Biennale

Apart from the great goodwill towards Britain, we benefit too, making people healthy, financially independent and responsible for their own lives will help prevent the sort of violent collapse of order that caused such problems in the first place. Ebola for example was first identified amongst Ugandan soldiers in Gulu, the programme’s centre. Virulent disease, violent systemic disorder, destructive ideologies, mass migration, all these problems can now be quickly exported across the world. But carefully managed, well designed and monitored programmes such as the one delivered by DFID and VSO volunteers in Northern Uganda over the last three years, can make Britain safer and happier too, safe also in the knowledge that we have helped humanity and ourselves.

DFID students and teacher at Daniel Comboni Vocational Institute Gulu, climbing the ladder to success

DFID students and teacher at Daniel Comboni Vocational Institute Gulu, climbing the ladder to success

Please believe me that British aid works, I have seen it doing so and have many films, stories and pictures to prove it. Please support the British Government’s successful, and much envied by the way, aid programme. Try contacting your MP, it’s much easier than you might think. Remember Margaret and many like her, it’s your money (in a way) that helped her, be proud of that. And start shovelling that mud in the garden to make some bricks, who knows what you might build yourself?Burning the bricks

Goodbye to Gulu: a last monitoring visit

Goodbye to Gulu: a last monitoring visit

Still packing, getting ready to leave Gulu after two years and eight months on our volunteer placement.
“Will I really need these light coloured trousers again? Probably not.”
Saying goodbye seems a feature of volunteer life, you are always bidding farewell. Saying good bye to good friends at VSO and good colleagues in the colleges, well it doesn’t get any easier.

Goodbye to Gulu: feeling like a beetle on it's back

Goodbye to Gulu: feeling like a beetle on it’s back

A last minute hiccup. My passport was ‘mislaid’ by immigration services. Sudden panics and setting up of consular appointments for emergency travel documents, planning how to make the instant eight hour journey to Kampala and eight hours back to carry on packing.
“Can we get all this Congolese fabric in our bags? What’s the weight limit again?”

Goodbye to Gulu: Chameleon in the greens

Goodbye to Gulu: Chameleon in the greens

Intervention by senior management and lo – a document that had been ‘completely lost never to be found’ is miraculously found again, and for free. A bit last minute, but somehow I am ‘used’ as they say here.

Goodbye to Gulu: because you can never have enough photos of Giraffes

Goodbye to Gulu: because you can never have enough photos of Giraffes

We return to cold wet England, “Will I want to wear these broken sandals on our return?” Our askari (gatekeeper) leaves each morning staggering under the weight of unwanted summer gear.
A last all day workshop to remind me of some things I won’t miss. After the usual list of problems we are more positive and there is much to be positive about. Fifteen thousand four hundred students trained, (an equal number of male and female too which is unusual in this context). Thirty seven colleges involved across Northern Uganda, many, many students in employment, so many new businesses started. We talked about what we had learned: how much good teaching depends on good leadership; how psycho-social support was probably just as important as skills training; the role of literacy, numeracy and business lessons; the importance of raising student self esteem, hence all the graduations, cultural events and open days.

Goodbye to Gulu: the metalwork exam at GDPU

Goodbye to Gulu: the metalwork exam at GDPU

“I want to give this to someone, can we get a three foot mirror on the back of a bike?”

Goodbye to Gulu: a last sunset

Goodbye to Gulu: a last sunset

We empty the house tomorrow and, really difficult this one, give back the motorbikes. After nearly eleven thousand kilometres, like the policemen in Flann O’Brien’s book who become part of their machines through a combination of Einstein’s theory of relativity and very bumpy roads, I think my bike and I are also going to find parting very hard to do.

Goodbye to Gulu and the bike

Goodbye to Gulu and the bike

My last graduation. Over the last two years and eight months of my VSO volunteer placement in Gulu, Northern Uganda I have attended many many graduations, open days and cultural events. This last was with a college we have become very close to: Gulu Disabled Persons Union.

I might just have mentioned before that volunteers are warned to expect the unexpected. Working with the disabled is certainly not something either of us has done before, but is certainly something we both want to continue on our return. GDPU was one of the most inspiring institutions on the Youth Development Programme and the instructors amongst the most inspiring for their students. This graduation was a typically warm family celebration with a lively presentation of another great student song; ‘Stand for Hope, (Disability is not Inability) performed by its writer, a welding and metal fabrication student, one BSG Labongo. He is already working with a group of fellow students and their instructor in a new workshop in town, very busy they are too.

I hope this short film captures some of the spirit of the occasion.

 

The instruction part of our vocational training programme, here in Gulu Northern Uganda, begins to wind down. We have started to follow up those who have been trained, those who have started their own businesses, become independent, earning their own living for the first time.

I have been filming those interviews an excerpt from them is here (Warning it is 16 minutes long)

GPDU Electronics Class

GPDU Electronics Class

Today is International Volunteer Day. I have written a piece for VSO Uganda, but thought it might be worth repeating here. It also gives me another excuse to show yet another bit of film.

A Volunteer Experience:

As a vocational specialist volunteer in Northern Uganda who visits many training colleges, I have been offered small gifts before. Live chickens (once even a pregnant goat) are a standard African present of course. Proposals by trainees to service my motorbike, shave my hair or do my nails are frequent and recently I was given a large pink iced cake. I had to balance it on the handlebars as I drove home in a rain storm.

GPDU Sweater Weavers. Madame on the right holds up my gift

GPDU Sweater Weavers. Madame on the right holds up my gift

But the sleeveless jumper I was given today meant the most to me. It was made by sweater weavers at Gulu Persons Disabled Union (GPDU), an institution we have just started working with.

GPDU Motorcycle Maintenance

GPDU Motorcycle Maintenance

Their disabilities can be profound, both physical and mental and their exclusion from society, education and the economy equally debilitating. This jumper was one of the first to be completed by the trainees, turning down gifts can be misinterpreted and there was absolutely no question of doing that today.

GPDU Sweater Weavers

GPDU Sweater Weavers

The young women (and two young men) who had made this garment – lots of room to grow into it too – were justifiably proud of their first steps to economic independence.

GPDU welding students making a seat to fit over a slit latrine, for disabled students

GPDU welding students making a seat to fit over a slit latrine, for disabled students

Receiving such an important statement is an experience I will never forget. We might just be coming into the dry season with temperatures up to forty degrees, but I will be wearing my jumper often.”

PS

This is another brief video that rounds up our student graduation season

Uganda

Uganda

I rejoice in the title of ‘ Monitoring and evaluation and programme support facilitator’. This means in reality that I do a bit of everything all over Northern Uganda which is just how I like it .

The last few weeks have been particularly busy and varied. Here is the timetable:

 

Training can be Fun

Training can be Fun

Week 1 in Soroti ( south east of Gulu ) with Russ, another volunteer , to deliver training to the Principals and Boards of four Vocational Training Institutes that we are working with. We try to make the training as interactive as possible – the case studies we use provoke a lot of really heated discussion. We could have spent at least 3 hours on :-

The board chairs sister has a furniture business; he recommends that you buy the new office furniture from there. Is this a good idea? Agree /Disagree /Not Sure

Russ's Village Vehicle

Russ’s Village Vehicle

Returned to Gulu with Russ in his double cabin pickup which unusually didn’t break down, stopping off to buy 10 kg each of oranges and tangerines for £1 equivalent and then to Lira for an interview with consultant doing an evaluation of VSO in Uganda for DFID.

NB: In Uganda if you go in the field you are expected to buy local produce to take home to your family /staff/ work colleagues.

Richard and Russ on a hill above the Nile

Richard and Russ on a hill above the Nile

Week 2 – A tour of West Nile with a big group

I was doing gender toolkit dissemination , market relevance survey and interview analysis with Arua Tech, and Governance and Strategic Planning with Board members and Principals from the 5 vocational training institutes we work with in that region .

Mark came along to do Curriculum Support, Mentoring and 2 days training at a college that has just joined the programme

Russ was there to do Governance and Strategic Planning training with me and work with the students on market analysis. Yet again the Board Chair’s sisters furniture business provoked lively debate!

Rose was doing Monitoring and Gender Toolkit dissemination

Elizabeth who had only been in Uganda for a week was assessing the quality of information in the databases

Richard drove the big black Prado down some very windy bumpy roads to get to the colleges and took us across the Congo border at one point.

Looking into Congo

Looking into Congo

Our route took us from Gulu to Pakwach, Nebbi then up along the Congo border to Arua and then to Moyo crossing the river at Laropi , through Adjumani and back to Gulu . A big loop. Unfortunately there was no local produce to bring back .

The researchers at GPDU looking at their interviews on video

The researchers at GPDU looking at their interviews on video

Week 3 in Gulu

A quieter week – planning and developing two days training on the projects monitoring and evaluation framework and a new reporting template for the 11 Gulu based Vocational Institutes and visiting Gulu Persons Disabled Unit to introduce a participatory research project to the students and form a research team with them .

Training on reporting can be fun !

Training on reporting can be fun !

Week 4   Training in Gulu

Delivering the training on Reporting and Documentation to 55 vocational training staff in a very small room with Samantha and Elizabeth (fellow volunteers). Oh and spending a whole day updating the access management information system to deliver the new reports .

Assessing their first interviews

Assessing their first interviews

Two half day sessions with the Student Researchers at Gulu Persons Disability Unit, developing the research parameters and questions and agreeing the research plan . They are now going off to carry out the research by conducting surveys( about 60 surveys ) with other students ,staff , their families and communities , local politicians , local business people with disability. The research is looking at how Vocational Training Institutes can improve access and facilities for Persons with Disability (PWD) and support PWD into sustainable livelihoods. The interviews are being conducted in Luo (the local language) so I will have plenty of opportunity to improve my skills.

The Soroti Rock

The Soroti Rock

Week 5 Soroti

Off to Soroti for the Reporting and Documentation Training and to carry out Market Relevance consolidation with the students at Uganda Martyrs Vocational Institute.

Week 6 On leave

To Kampala, Fort Portal and Murchison Falls Park for a rest   !!!!!!

Students at Arua Tech consolidating and analysing their surveys

Students at Arua Tech consolidating and analysing their surveys

The best bits:

o   Facilitating the Disability Participatory Project with the students at Gulu Persons Disability Unit

o   Working with the students on consolidating the market relevance surveys in Arua and Soroti

o   The lively discussion in the governance training on the chairman’s sisters furniture shop and other contentious issues

o   Travelling around Uganda

o   Working with VSO staff and volunteers

The team in Soroti

The team in Soroti

The worst bits:

o   Having to sort out the travelling and subsistence expenses for the delegates at the training sessions

o   Noisy hotels

Ready for your Graduand photograph?

Ready for your Graduand photograph?

This is an article I wrote recently for an online Education magazine. I thought I might post it here as an excuse for showing a few more photographs and snippets of film:

“Acho Maber. Nyinga Mark. Attya VSO. E ya a yom mene no wo”

(Good morning, my name is Mark, I work for VSO, I am pleased to be here)

Apart from saying hello in halting Luo (the local language), what does a vocational training specialist actually do?

My week.

Graduating Hairdressers at GCVS

Graduating Hairdressers at GCVS

Monday: A graduation ceremony for the Youth Development Programme. YDP students are ‘vulnerable’: mostly unschooled; child mothers; HIV sufferers; former abductees during the civil war with Joseph Kony and the Lords Resistance Army; orphans and worse.

The prizewinners show their prize: the goat

The prizewinners show their prize: the goat

The graduating college was outside Gulu, my dusty and noisy home base. All day on a plastic chair is uncomfortable, but these are joyous occasions. With few past successes our ‘graduands’ enjoy this one, astonishing coloured clothing, singing, dancing, ululation and hours of speeches. The bakery students present guests with a cake. I get everywhere by motorbike, how to balance a big pink iced cake on the handlebars?

Flip Chart Paper: Schemes of Work Anyone?

Flip Chart Paper: Schemes of Work Anyone?

Tuesday: curriculum development at colleges a long way down mud roads, elephant grass high above the bike: vivid green against blue sky. Working on the dreaded Schemes of Work. They hold a talismanic fascination, as though a ‘correct’ SoW unlocks a special world.

Dancers DCVI

Dancers DCVI

That is the clue to one aspect of my volunteer life, working with teachers to discover and support what they want to do. As I explained to instructors in Awach, while their children ran outside, goats bleated, chickens pecked our feet and sun burnt the tin roof; there is no special answer. You join together to plan what suits you and your students. NGO’s have been here before, their imposed curriculums lie unused in the Principal’s office. I help staff develop systems that they will actually use. Vocational teachers are practical people; a scheme of work should be a useful tool not a presentation spanner left in the toolbox.

Morning Parade at GPDU

Morning Parade at GPDU

Wednesday: To Gulu Persons Disabled Union. Today’s discussions include: can students get their battered wheelchairs through a small doorway in time for class to start? Developing a small machines course with the Motorcycle instructor. Finding examples of bicycle powered machinery (my growing obsession). Attendance list formatting with the Guidance Counsellor for his life skills classes; another feature of this holistic programme.

Tailoring Students YDP

Tailoring Students YDP

To another Gulu College. All YDP students are taught business skills, literacy and numeracy; most students are illiterate and innumerate on starting. Discussions with the Entrepreneurship Manager about Post Training Support for graduating students.

To the VSO Field office to plan my Kampala trip: from the rural north to the capital mega-city, country mouse goes to town. A big meeting next week with regional NGOs and DIT (the examining body). Can we produce a market relevant vocational syllabus?

Thursday: Chairing a meeting at my placement college: Daniel Comboni Vocational Institute. Senior Management evaluating progress: do teachers need support in course delivery; can we introduce more active teaching methods?

To Keyo, 20 kms north on the road to South Sudan. ‘Gender Mainstreaming’: other VSO volunteers, YDP students and staff have put together a gender and vocational training toolkit, I am introducing it to this college.

Last years DCVI students, all now in employment

Last years DCVI students, all now in employment

Friday: Graduation day at my placement, more singing, speeches and wild celebrations; in my previous educational experience such genuine joy was rare. A great day and the end of a fairly typical week as a vocational training specialist; jaded with UK education? Try volunteering, I recommend it.

The Cultural Event: The Cups

It was my fault for not looking at the timetable he pressed into my hand the night before.

“Tomorrow will be a long day”

Frank (my Vocational Training Centre manager) told me.

Just getting there would be hard enough. The rain started lightly at 4 in the morning and by 8.30 it was torrential; biblical. Noah would have been out rounding up his animal companions and busy measuring gopher wood into cubits. I only had to drive a motorbike through it, apart from a pair of turkeys (looking for the ark?) I saw nothing else on the road.

It is extraordinary how quickly these events come together. One minute I was dripping in front of the locked hall, it seemed as if I had just taken off the soaking waterproofs when my phone rang:

“Where are you Markwhite? They are ready”

“Ready for?”

“Your opening remarks”

“Eh?”

That was when I looked at the timetable for the Cultural Event: Music, Dance and Drama, a competition between four colleges training vocational students under the DFID sponsored Youth Development Programme, competing for the Gold Cup

9.00 pm Opening Remarks by Omona Frank Gateway Centre Manager

9.10- 9.30 Opening Remarks by Mark White, VSO representative

9.30 Traditional Song by each college, followed by Drama on the theme Bridging the Gap, finishing with the climax, the Traditional Dance. All planned to end by 4 ‘o’clock. Although the rain had delayed us a bit we were all ready to go now, just waiting for my rousing speech apparently.

The Cultural Event: an audience keen to hear the words of wisdom

The Cultural Event: an audience keen to hear the words of wisdom

“What do you want me to say Frank?”

“Oh, you know…”

The hall was very busy, it looked like every plastic chair in Gulu had been arranged and was filling up fast with people eager to watch a hard contest, probably not so keen to hear the words of wisdom of a wet white man. I walked to the centre, aware that I had three bands of visible sogginess: around the neck; around the waist and squelching water filled ‘waterproof’ boots.

“Acho maber, Appoyo…”and off I went, probably saying something traditional about it’s not the winning but the taking part I expect. How wrong that was I would find out later.

It is I suppose obvious that vulnerable youth (students on this programme have been out of school for over a year if ever and are selected on obvious need) will find learning difficult. The aim of the programme is to get those youth into ‘meaningful economic activity’; earning a living. The aim of this sort of event is to develop the social and life skills you need to help you learn and get on: self confidence; co-operation; conflict resolution; how to celebrate who you are and where you come from without conflict; how to be equal but different; how to win and lose etc.

The first two sections were intensely didactic and involved spectacular ‘drunk’ acting that caused waves of laughter throughout audience and actors. Alcohol is a serious problem, plastic packets of gin are cheaper than any food, the empties are everywhere along with the effects. Drink ruins lives, families and communities, the four traditional songs and dramas focused on this problem and its resolution: communities and families banding together; building self confidence; skills training leading to work.

I think I have mentioned before the desperation I felt when, taking an exchange party of English students to Southern India, we were asked to present some of our traditional dances, it ended up with a sort of ring of roses hoofing around in embarrassed awkwardness. ‘A national song or two please Mr Mark?’ The only acapella tune the English youth could all carry was, for some unknown reason: ‘Build me up Buttercup’ originally by the Foundations in the Sixties I think; does that count as a national tradition?

But here, the traditional dance is what everyone knows and really wants to watch, it is the most energetic, deeply felt and understood activity of the day. Every member of the audience has opinions on foot positions, the rhyming between the calabash (A huge half gourd) and drum, the skills and interpretations of the dancers; a passionately shared process. Atiak Technical College, from right up by the South Sudan border and the scene of one of the worst LRA massacres, even managed to continue the anti-alcohol theme with the dance from a funeral and ‘drunk’ acting giving way to ‘drunk’ dancing. The other dances were the more familiar traditional courtship.

After a long speech from the adjudicators listened to with great attention, the winners were announced. With home advantage it was Daniel Comboni Vocational Institute and the students erupted, winning really matters, none of that gentle handshake and casual raising of the cup here.

The Cultural Event: and the winner is

The Cultural Event: and the winner is

It was shaken high and at the losers too, the students poured out around the muddy college compound, screaming and ullulating, they ran through the main gates and then charged in a phalanx back to the main entrance landing on their knees in the mud at reception, holding the cup high; football gets in everywhere it seems. The ecstatic celebrations went on for a very long time. As an instructor said to me,

“This is the only thing most of these students have won, or might ever win for some”

We hoped not, through training and events like this, we hoped more opportunities might come their way soon.
By the way, some of you might remember an earlier student, Maurice Bricky and his song: DFID, it has been remade by current students and they gave a lively version of it during the break.

 

 

Stall holder: the little market, Gulu

Stall Holder: The Little Market, Gulu

Whilst our bicycle powered juicer is still in research and development, here at Daniel Comboni Vocational Institute on the DFID (Department for International Development) funded Youth Development Programme in Northern Uganda we have been looking at something else.

The Main Market, Gulu

The Main Market, Gulu

Poverty has long roots, it is a major aim of our programme to support women, many want to train in ‘Tailoring and Garment Cutting’ as the course is called. But there is no Ugandan textile industry at any level, why not? Uganda even grows cotton, early twentieth century colonists came here intending to replace the loss of raw cotton from America. In the early 1970’s cotton made up 40% of Uganda’s exports, it is now below 4%.

The Main Market, Gulu

The Main Market, Gulu

The Ugandan textile industry collapse began with Amin. In 1973 Uganda was producing nearly 50 million square metres of fabric annually, by 1980 only 7.5 million, it has not grown much since. The liberalisation and opening up of Ugandan markets to the West in the 80’s and 90’s, promoted by the World Bank, allowed used clothing to pour in and finished off the industry by substituting a new one dependent on the west. There are still attempts to drive the Ugandan textile industry but it now comes up against western philanthropy; how?

Second Hand Clothes: The Main Market Gulu

Second-Hand Clothes: The Main Market Gulu

The second-hand clothes market:

Clothes come in from the West and USA through dealers, you buy a bale (starting at 15 kg and 300,000 Shillings upwards at the dockside going down in size and price as you move into the country) of unsorted second-hand clothes, which you sort and sell on to other dealers or direct. Second-hand clothes are sold in every market, everywhere, reckoned to be at least a billion dollar plus market across Africa.

Second Hand Clothes: The Little Market, Gulu

Second-Hand Clothes: The Little Market, Gulu

In Northern Uganda clothes are mostly American, many T shirts (A student has just walked past in one reading: ‘Don’t let the skirt fool you; support Minnesotan Ice Hockey’, another is promoting ‘The Lincoln Center’, another says ‘Summer Camp, Maryland 2007’), cheap jeans that sort of thing.

Second Hand Clothes: The Main Market, Gulu

Second-Hand Clothes: The Main Market, Gulu

Philanthropy:

Much of this clothing has been donated by people wanting to help others, every high street in the UK has charity shops dealing in second-hand clothes. Over a third of the clothes in the markets are surplus charity goods sold for money in the very countries the original donors had wanted to help for free. Some are cheap imports from China and Asia, although their quality is lower than Western second-hand. The local joke is that there are 4 grades of goods made in Chinese factories, grade 1 is best quality for Chinese use only, grade 2 are seconds, grade three is thrown away and grade four goes to Africa.

Second Hand Clothes: The Little Market Gulu

Second-Hand Clothes: The Little Market Gulu

Bizarrely, clothes from say, Western charities don’t take a simple route from East Cheam High Street, UK to the small market in Gulu opposite Uchumi supermarket. Many surplus charity clothes are sorted, for example in Poland, sent back to central European countries for export, often via container to a smaller African country eg  Benin or Togo or Rwanda and then exported into Nigeria, Uganda etc. There is even a huge market in smuggling second-hand clothes, it’s so complex I’m surprised John Le Carre hasn’t written a thriller about it.

Clothes Stall: Gulu

Clothes Stall: Gulu

Many people now make good money selling used clothes, it is a big business and the clothes are very cheap for people with even less money. It is estimated that over 80% of the clothes worn in Uganda are second-hand and imported. This is a viable business for the mobile who can work long hours in the markets. For vulnerable young women, like our students with children and family duties it is more difficult. Simple tailoring used to be an income for these women; with a hand sewing machine most things can be made at home. The second-hand clothes market has killed that. Locally produced clothes from local textiles can be found but they are far more expensive than second-hand. Does the constant display of American cultural values via used T shirt slogans ((still very desirable) promote self-reliance and a positive view of your own country?

Second Hand Clothes: the Main Market, Gulu

Second-Hand Clothes: the Main Market, Gulu

Should we be blaming Western charities, western economic process or supporting a new economic model? There is an interesting documentary about Zambia, made a while ago but the principle still holds. An aid worker, Shantha Bloemen traces a T shirt from donation in New Jersey, USA to its sale in a Zambian market. It ends with this:

“Sophi Phiri, a corporate investment banker, says: “We don’t have a political colonialism in Zambia, we have an economic colonialism. “If they [the World Bank] can control the shots that far then are we an independent state?”

http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/tshirttravels/film.html

or view it on You Tube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeCIlgUeYlM

Second Hand Clothes: The Main Market, Gulu

Second-Hand Clothes: The Main Market, Gulu

Like Zambia, tailoring has collapsed in Uganda, but there is income in making school jumpers. All schools demand a jumper as part of the uniform; it is not always blisteringly hot. If you can set up a group making sweaters, can get a working knitting machine or two and can get a couple of school contracts you can make a small living.

Sweater Weavers on their first days training

Sweater Weavers on their first days training

Hence the course provided at Daniel Comboni. There are some 60 sweater weavers in the new intake in this college, there are six knitting machines for them. Knitting machines are expensive and temperamental, parts are difficult to find, only one person can use them at a time.

Helen teaches Madame Monica to knit

Madame Monica Learning to knit

How to make a living? Another VSO volunteers in Gulu  is a keen hand knitter and has already taught several Ugandan women the skill. Recently she came to Comboni to teach the Sweater Weaving instructor, girls are taught crochet at primary level so the concept is there.

Madame Monica and Helen 2

Madame Monica Learning to Knit

The problem has always been finding the knitting needles. The head of carpentry went away with a sample, returning the next day with perfect pairs of needles whittled from bamboo. He will teach his students how to make them, they can supply needles at very low cost to the sweater weavers, making a small income themselves in the process.

While the weavers wait to get on the machines, Madame will show them how to make saleable items like babies hats, at least they will make some sort of supplementary income. It’s a start, maybe?

Madame Monica Leaning to Knit

Madame Monica Leaning to Knit

Mangoes Ripening 1

Mangoes Ripening 1

It is the mango season in Gulu, Northern Uganda, trees drooping with green fruit quickly ripening to yellow. Apparently mangoes all ripen at once and looking at the many, many trees around us, this seems to be the case. What can you do with thousands of ripe mangoes? Some are sold in the market, at the moment half a dozen will fetch up to 500 shillings (about 12 British pence, or 1/8th of a British pound), that price will drop fast. General estimates reckon that between 60-80% of the Ugandan mango crop is wasted. Children eat them constantly; they climb the trees or throw stones at the fruit to get it down.

Dislodging Mangoes With A Long Stick

Dislodging Mangoes With A Long Stick

Adults try to dislodge them with long sticks. Otherwise the fruit just rots. Mango trees grow very tall, commercially perhaps they can be pruned to a suitable height but I have never seen it here.

Mango and Vanilla Jam

Mango and Vanilla Jam

Value added? I make mango jam, but finding new glass jars is impossible. The only second hand source I can buy are bottled olives (an odd supply but often available, who else buys them I wonder?), there is a limit to the number of nasty middle eastern olives anyone can eat. Finding a reasonably sterile environment to make jam at a small scale is even more difficult.

Mangoes Stewing

Mangoes Stewing

Once made, how would you transport it anywhere? There is obviously no reliable source of power or refrigeration and, oddly, drying fruit doesn’t seem to happen at all. You can buy tinned mango jam but it comes from, you guessed it; Dubai. The economics are such that it is cheaper to buy in jam than make it, any local source is quickly outpriced; equally hard to comprehend when you see trees full of the things.

Mangoes Ripening 2

Mangoes Ripening 2

This shows the difficulties people face and maybe the role of development funding. I was talking yesterday to someone representing a bakery youth group. They had been going for about five years, had built up a small business and needed to develop it, to earn more to pay for families etc. The group has business plans, but cannot raise extra finance. They do not have the six months of bank accounts needed before anyone will talk to them, because no one will give them a bank account to begin with. The monies involved are very small, most of the workers are illiterate and have none of the social standing demanded; this is a land of hierarchies. Without six months of bank accounts you can’t of course get a bank account, without the account they can’t get finance to grow the business; it is a familiar problem.

All small incomes are erratic, precarious, liable to collapse at any moment. In the West, those people trying to make a living out bits of poorly paid work have been identified as the ‘precariat; the problems people suffer in the South are coming your way too.

Mangoes Ripening 3

Mangoes Ripening 3

How can the graduates from our DFID (Department for International Development, ie the British Government)sponsored vocational training courses diversify? Where can they find income when their main source dries up; as we have seen above there is not much from the formal economy. Growing food to eat and sell is one solution. Agriculture largely collapsed whilst people were living in the camps, there was no space to grow anything, no tools and no seeds. Much knowledge has been lost, agricultural practices are very inefficient and young people are reluctant to take part. Digging is hard work and associated with punishment (it is a standard school retribution for bad behaviour for example). But, many colleges now teach students the basics, how to grow a few tomatoes and sweet potatoes etc, Uganda is an incredibly fertile place, two maybe three crops a year.

Mangoes Ripening 4

Mangoes Ripening 4

Other forms of value added enterprise and mangoes? For something to be relevant and sustainable for our students, lasting once we have gone, the ideas have to be local, small scale and without complex financial arrangements. Part of that sustainability comes from the employability, financial and soft skills training that students get on the Youth Development Programme, giving them we hope, the confidence and ability to try something new.

With my placement college I have been trying to develop a bicycle powered juicer.

Bicycle Powered Juice Blender, The American Prototype

Bicycle Powered Juice Blender, The American Prototype

The idea came from the American Instructables website, but similar machines exist in Tanzania and our colleague in Agoro has just bought a bicycle powered maize de-huller.

Bicycle Powered Maize de-Huller

Bicycle Powered Maize de-Huller

Sturdy sit up and beg bicycles are commonplace. You occasionally see bicycle powered knife grinders so the principle is established. The plan is to develop a basic juicer that can be placed and powered on the back rack of a bike, then all the operative has to do is fill the jug with mangoes (free from any tree) and pedal like mad, selling the juice to passers-by.

Mangoes Almost Ready

Mangoes Almost Ready

If we can sort out and pilot a prototype, students can make the blender themselves or buy them at cost price during their training; every little helps as the slogan has it.

Mangoes Ripened

Mangoes Ripened

By the way, the price of mangoes at that very supermarket in the UK is currently £1.50 each (about 6000 Ugandan Shillings) but the infrastructure just doesn’t exist to get produce from here to there, let alone negotiating a way through the prohibitive tariffs that favour western business. So, I’ll leave you with pictures of ripe mangoes; just think what you are missing!

Mangoes Ripened 2

Mangoes Ripened 2

Some Background

We were in Gulu, Northern Uganda for two years nine months, working with a huge DFID funded vocational training programme.

Gulu is on the road to South Sudan, it was the centre of the conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan Government. Many of the Internally Displaced Peoples camps were here. The northern region has been peaceful since about 2007-8 and the context has moved from emergency humanitarian aid to development work.

The Vocational Training Institutes provide opportunities for the youth(male and female aged 14-35). Most of them lived in the camps or were abducted by the LRA. They have had very little education, leaving them with few skills. Our purpose was to help these Vocational Training Institutes build up their capacity to equip the youth with what they need to earn a living and live as decent a life as possible.

By the Way
Mark's old art/ history of art website is still active should you want to read more by him or look at his work

Whitemarkarts

From There to Here

Our Old Life, Packed Away in one Twenty Foot Container

Here

A Vocational Training Institute, Assembly under the Mango Tree

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