Busense. Matooke. Kizza. Those are the names of my new village, staple food, and family here in the Masaka district of Uganda. Luganda is the language of the Buganda people, and my newest challenge. So far I’ve barely mastered traditional greetings and the environmental terms for work, but Masaka’s community is warm and encouraging, so I practice daily with flashcards because I want to be a good Mzungu.
Mzungu is a Luganda term that refers to all foreigners, though it loosely translates to “white man running around.” Apparently, when the first European settlers arrived, Ugandans were quite amused by all their rushing about. On my walk to work, schoolchildren will yell out “how are you auntie Mzungu” and sometimes accompany me, wanting to hear all about my life in America and asking me to teach them Spanish words. To get to work, I walk about 2 kilometers from home through hilly pastures to my make-shift office. The walk is refreshing and, even when it’s not, the view from my office makes it worth it every time. It’s nothing short of breathtaking.
I am the latest intern for St. Jude Family Projects, an impressive NGO that focuses on integrated organic agriculture. St. Jude began small in 1997 but, as need for training became more apparent and the successes of previous trainees became more evident, they expanded their capacity. In 2011 the agricultural training center, St. Jude College of Agro Ecology (SCOA), was completed. Now St. Jude can train 100-200 students at a time in classrooms and on 15 acres of agro-ecology demonstration area. Most students travel far to reach the college, and some training sessions last several days, so the College has housing accommodations and a dining area on site that sleep and serve up to 100. Room 24 has become my quasi-office because the Wi-Fi is stronger in here than in the actual offices, and I’m an impatient Mzungu.
SCOA empowers people of all ages and educational backgrounds to become self-sufficient, but greater emphasis is placed on rural women as they are most often the primary food producers in their families. St. Jude also emphasizes working with schools, children, and the youth to combat malnutrition. Through in-class and hands-on experiences with agro-ecological projects and animals, farmers learn to boost soil fertility, increase crop productivity, and create healthy micro climates. As a result, families and schools increase income and nutrition while preserving the integrity in the land.
The last two paragraphs of this blog flowed seamlessly from my fingers because most of my time has been spent learning about and writing concept notes for St. Jude. Grantwriting is, however, only one of my duties. I’m also tasked with reworking our website, improving our record keeping, and working the land. I can use ‘our’ because everyone here is family and they’ve adopted me as the new baby. In addition to my regular duties, I’ve also begun my own project working with a local teachers group.
Uganda is home to some of the happiest people in the world, but also ranks fairly high in poor payment of educators. Not only are resources for schools minimal, but Ugandan teachers barely make enough to send their own children to decent schools. Sometimes months pass without pay, and yet they stay dedicated to their cause. These teachers believe education is every Ugandan child’s birthright and they are intent on delivering it. In order to help supplement their incomes, I will be teaching them agro-ecology and financial literacy. The hope is to have them implement what they learn at their schools so not only can their students learn these skills, but the schools themselves can help supplement students’ diets. It’s hard to keep the attention of a hungry child.
While Uganda has made immense progress in the past few decades with the help of its citizens’ hard work and optimism, food security and education remain hard-pressing issues. I’m primarily here to learn, but I hope to make a difference, even if small, while I’m at it.