May 30, 2013

In Uganda, "360-Degree Program" Ensures Communities’ Resilience

Karamoja panorama
A panorama of the Karamoja region of northeastern Uganda. Photo: Courtesy of TOGETHER

By Chris Herlinger/CWS

Humanitarian groups talk a lot about collaboration.

But a new program that CWS and three other organizations have launched in the Karamoja region of northeastern Uganda has the potential to make collaboration something more concrete and substantial than usual.

The TOGETHER program has an overarching theme of building resilience among communities. More specifically, it hopes to improve livelihoods and access to food, as well as overall health and environment. A final goal: reduce the damage caused by disasters through disaster risk reduction strategies and disaster mitigation training.

"It's a 360-degree program," said Jeff Barker, the CEO of the St. Mary's United Methodist Foundation, the chief funder of the initial project, noting the program's various components integrating agriculture/food security, medical, education and disaster mitigation elements.

Staff and coordinators
TOGETHER staffers and coordinators. Photo: Courtesy of TOGETHER

Besides CWS and St. Marys UMF, the other partners are MAP International and ECHO, Inc.

A guiding philosophy of the initiative is "mutual respect by each partner for the competencies of the other partners." TOGETHER "is structured as a collaboration where there is mutual submission to the greater good," according to the initiative's memorandum of understanding.

"The partners join together in this project with humility to work together with the poor to improve their lives. That work is done to bring hope and healing in a broken world, but it is also done out of a shared call to bring glory to God," says Barker. 

The five-year project began in mid-2012. As the funding partner, St. Marys has provided start-up money and guidance. The Georgia-based foundation has committed a funding base of $2 million to the project over the initial five years of the project. The three other groups, including CWS, design the project and work closely with communities and their leadership groups on the ground.

"Each of the organizations brings significant strengths to the table and as we put these together the coalition has the cumulative 'synergistic' benefits that can be applied to the needs of the Karamojong people," said Ravi Jayakaran, MAP's international program manager.

Why the Karamoja region? The northeast part of Uganda is the poorest and least developed section of the country and has the worst human development indicators – such as child mortality, levels of malnutrition -- in Uganda. The Karamojong people are agro-pastoralists, and live off land that is becoming increasingly vulnerable to drought and other factors caused by climate change.

They are also the most politically and economically marginalized ethnic group in Uganda, and their vulnerabilities are becoming ever more acute given the changes in climate. They have scarce access to such resources as land, water, pasture. Moreover, they have little access to such basic services as medical care and schools. Finally, they are challenged by ongoing issues of banditry, military conflict and other types of insecurity.

"The Karamoja region is an area making a challenging transition and our 'grand vision' is that people make that shift, going forth, to build a sustainable society and future," Barker said.

Despite the challenges facing the region, Barker believes the Karamojong have much to draw on -- access to natural resources; a "real chance with the youth" of the region; and resources among some of the community that can be built upon and leveraged for the good of the entire community."

Two children in Karamoja
Two children in the Karamoja region of northeastern Uganda. Photo: Courtesy of TOGETHER

To face these problems, TOGETHER partners are implementing a program based in seven of 22 villages in the Kacheri sub-county, with the project "scaled up" later to impact additional villages in later years.

The program is well underway, having begun after a year's planning and assessment. Members of a field implementation team have been hired, as have local staff members.

The essential core of the program is integrating different programs into a holistic approach, said Mary Obiero of the CWS East Africa office. "With a coalition of three implementing agencies, and each with a unique niche and able to compliment each other, the project is focused on 'holistic community development.'"

Together, the agencies have more than 150 years experience promoting health and peace, eradicating hunger, preventing and mitigating disease, and providing agricultural resources to people living in the world’s poorest communities. MAP has extensive experience working in Uganda and ECHO, Inc. in various parts of Africa. CWS has a long history of working in Kenya, Uganda's neighbor.

Among CWS's activities in the program are disaster mitigation and education work, as well as the creation and strengthening of youth groups in each village. As part of these initiatives, the project is helping establish youth training centers teaching such skills as masonry, tailoring, carpentry, catering and animal husbandry.

TOGETHER has special significance for CWS, because it is "strengthening our ability and focus in health and food security programming," Obiero said. The approach of integrating programs and trying to build up assets that already exist in the community "has uncovered, empowered and utilized the strengths within community, working and focusing on all segments of the community population -- youth, children, men and women – to ensure and sustain communities’ resilience."