Friday, October 23, 2009

Dust Your Average Day

Don’t you just love that red African soil? I know I do. I love it thinly coating my entire body, gathering greater density in the crevice between my nose and sunglasses, clinging to my Burts Beeswax-covered lips.

But how do you achieve this ‘look?’ (You’re clearly asking yourself right now). The answer is simple- you hop on the back of a ‘boda-boda’ motorcycle for a 40-minute ride from Gulu town to Paicho Primary School, in Paicho internally displaced persons (IDP) camp.

You may have gathered through conversations with me over the past few months, or maybe just from pulling up this blog, that Holly and I are here in Gulu to develop and eventually implement peace education curricula. As the first phase of our project, we’ve been meeting with local experts in the fields of education, youth leadership, and human rights. Most importantly, we’ve started to get to know the primary level 5 and 6 students from the two pilot schools we’re working with- Police Primary in Gulu town, and Paicho Primary in one of Gulu district’s countless IDP camps.

Police Primary is a beautifully maintained ‘urban’ school (urban for Gulu), recognized in the district as a ‘model’ school, with the some of the top teachers, highest examination scores, access to resources, etc. Paicho Primary is at the other extreme- a ‘rural’ school, with a larger population of directly war-affected children, and a scarcity of resources.

Today, Holly and I slathered our pasty selves with sunscreen, filled up our water bottles, and mounted a couple boda-bodas with boxes of needs-assessment surveys in tow. We rode up to Paicho Primary, where we were greeted with the typical stares, giggles, and shrieks of ‘munu’ (whitey). We carried out the surveys with the P5 and P6 students- the upcoming P6 and P7 students with whom we’ll be implementing our curriculum come February.

While we haven’t yet had a chance to read through the hundreds of surveys (combined with those from Police Primary, we have about 450), we hope that the children’s responses will help us to understand their knowledge, attitudes and skills around peace and conflict resolution.



Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rebranding Aid

Reporting last week on President Obama's recently won Nobel Peace Prize, celebrity artist-turned-anti-poverty-activist Bono writes in a New York Times Op-ed that this is the beginning of the rebranding of America. He says this year's Prize is a signal that Obama is a leader who will bring us into the global peace building fold rather than one whose initiatives consistently undermine it. Of the new administration, Bono excites, "From a development perspective, you couldn’t dream up a better dream team to pursue peace in this way, to rebrand America." A sea change for the US, to be sure. 

But what about a change for the direct beneficiaries of peace building and poverty eradication efforts, regardless of whose flag those efforts are under? The problems with international aid go far beyond the US's recent absence. As a global community, we need to look at what has happened to and due to status quo aid work. In our very small way, this initiative aims to confront those questions and attempt a change of tack. This blog will keep you posted on what comes of it. 

Some background: Northern Uganda recently emerged from an armed conflict between government and rebel armies that lasted from 1986 - 2006. The war's architects conscripted tens of thousands of child soldiers and led campaigns of ethnically-based violence, widescale sex slavery and the displacement of 2 million people. 

In the immediate post-war setting, Uganda was a magnet for emergency humanitarian aid programs. Our program base is littered with UN compounds and European government-funded projects. At the height of the war, in their well-oiled way, they came in, set up shop, and saved lives by the thousands. Now they've moved to post-war reconstruction, handing out the last of the food aid, resurrecting demolished buildings and doling out micro loans to entrepreneur hopefuls. These are necessary activities, but there is a significant lack of two things here as in many peace building efforts elsewhere the world: preventative approaches and intellectual development.

This year, we are bringing attention to the war-afflicted population of Northern Uganda in a way that hasn't been done before. Our beneficiaries: youth and the future they influence. Our method: build democratic classrooms and give children the tools to promote the survival of peace in their society.

With this project, we want to participate in rebranding post-conflict and poverty-eradication efforts toward paying as much attention to the minds of future leaders as is paid to the roof and four walls that we call a classroom.

Blogging from our base in Gulu, Uganda, we'll keep you updated on project progress, informed on issues relevant to the region, and entertained with daily reflections and photography. For more on the overall project plan, philosophy and parent organization (Insight Collaborative) visit our program website.

Finally, let our experience be a call to action - there is a lot to be done to rebrand aid and the trajectory of the next generation. As Bono points out, "The Nobel Peace Prize is the rest of the world saying, ‘Don’t blow it.’ But that’s not just directed at Mr. Obama. It’s directed at all of us."

Enjoy the blog and please send comments—we’re excited about the year ahead and love feedback as much as the next novice fieldworker.