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.