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October 28, 2014
When you tell Ugandans you work in the Kamuli District, one of the country's most rural and impoverished areas, they look at you wonderingly. Why would anyone go there? Can anything good come from Kamuli?
The answer is "yes". Something good is coming from Kamuli, and it has implications for other parts of the world gripped by hunger and poverty.
For the past decade, the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods at Iowa State University has worked with numerous local partners in Uganda to train an army of change agents in Kamuli. We have been equipping the young and old with the skills to improve their lives through agriculture, nutrition, education and sanitation.
It is capacity building at its most fundamental, with agriculture as the driver for rural households to work toward food security, improved nutrition, economic development and opportunity.
The Center's programs, funded primarily by private gifts, have touched 10,000 lives in more than 1,200 households. Farmers have improved crop and livestock practices, increasing food-secure families in some sub-counties by over 50 percent. Six nutrition education centers improve the health of pregnant women and lactating mothers and rescue malnourished children. Meal programs feed an 850-calorie lunch to 1,000 school children daily, with more than a third of the food grown in gardens established by Iowa State and Ugandan university students. Fourteen boreholes provide clean water to more than 5,000 households and 2,800 students at nine schools, halving the number of cases of waterborne disease.
After 10 years, we have a growing number of change agents — farmers, mothers, fathers, college students, children — who've worked together with us and now have the potential to continue to be resources in service of their communities. A good example are the mothers who have been trained to provide nutrition education to other mothers in the community. They experienced firsthand the difference that education and training made in their lives — in many cases, it saved their children. Many of these women have emerged as confident, strong leaders for childhood and maternal nutrition.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to introduce these Kamuli women to Ambassador Kenneth Quinn of the World Food Prize Foundation of Des Moines, who was in Uganda to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Norman Borlaug's birth with the Sasakawa Africa Association. During a visit to one of ISU's nutrition education centers, the ambassador inspired the women by telling them he would not be surprised if one day one of them came to Iowa to accept the World Food Prize.
This week I will join Ambassador Quinn and other leaders in Des Moines at the annual Iowa Hunger Summit to discuss models to fight world hunger. I will share the lessons we've learned in Kamuli and how they may serve as a template adaptable to the conditions and cultures anywhere in the world.
I've worked in development in Africa for 30 years. Over the past 10, I have seen tangible differences. You see farmers not only feeding their families, but producing enough to market and generate an income, that's real change. You see children who were once severely malnourished and now they are chubby-cheeked kids running between your legs.
And we keep creating change agents, both in Uganda and here in the United States. Three years ago, we had an ISU student majoring in global resource systems who did an internship at one of the nutrition education centers. After it was finished, she requested to come back to Kamuli and volunteer, despite having many other opportunities in the United States. Not only that, but she wanted to volunteer for six months. So she returned to Kamuli, helped to establish a new nutrition education center and actually ran it for two months while a staff person was away. I was told that when her six months ended, the mothers of Kamuli cried.
Can anything good come from Kamuli? Emphatically "yes". Transformative change takes time. Many challenges remain. But I know the people there will never be the same, forever.
P.S. If you would like to make a gift to the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods, please contact Ray Klein at 515.294.3303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.