Interview: Joram Ndagga
In 2013 Milou van Mulken began the "Lunch for a Child' project on the Bussi Island Primary School. In the summer of the previous year she met Joram Ndagga, through the student platform AIESEC, in Kampala. After this collaboration a new adventure followed. To improve the school performance of children at Bussi Island, a garden had to be developed at the school, where the parents of the children could grow food. This food would serve as lunch for their own kids. Investing in the future of your child, that's called. And the project happend. At present, there is a 2-acre garden, the children can have lunch three days a week. Milou and Joram would like the project to grow as quickly as possible to a lunch each school day. But there are a lot of issues and challenges. The parents are a tough nut to crack sometimes, with everyone on the island and having their own agenda, it appears. Moreover Milou and Joram also become heavily involved in the welfare of the school itself. The problems that go along with a school on a small Island, also more and more involved in the 'lunch for a child "project. A shortage of teachers and a declining number of students and parents who can participate in the garden. We speak with Joram about his personal motivation, about the role of the media in the Western perception and the disruptive role that big NGOs can play sometimes.
An interview with Joram Ndagga:
I General Information
a. Can you shortly describe the genesis / history of the Lunch for a Child-project?
First contact with the school we had when Milou participated in AIESEC in Kampala, in the summer of 2012. I was working there at that time. The project that we had linked her was not optimal, so she stopped this. I tried to reinstate Milou thereafter. On a subsequent internship Milou met an American doctor. This doctor was working on a idea where she gave medicine to rural areas. She wanted to Bussi-Island to see if this would be an added value there. Milou would go along with a number of other AIESEC students, especially to help the hospital on the island. On the island they had some good conversations at Bussi-Island Primary with some people from the school. As this happened, Milou became very interested and inspired.
Milou then returned to Kampala and told me (as AIESEC-contact) about her interest in the school. She even began with some fundraising from Kampala, to buy shoes for the children in the school. Within 2 weeks, the money was there and the shoes could be bought! Then she left AIESEC and wanted to focus fully on the school. I quickly went in this with her, now outside my role as AIESEC contact, my contract there had ended.
After the shoes-action, Milou wanted more. She wanted to continue with the school, but her time in Uganda would expire soon (August 2012). She asked me to arrange things on the island, at times when she would return to the Netherlands. There were more shoes (February 2013) and more feedback on this action. But soon the shoes didn't seem to be a sustainable project. Together we went looking for something that was so. So we came up with the "Lunch for a child 'project. In summer 2013 Milou came back to Bussi, with this idea in her head.
Then a start was made with the current project. We went to talk to the parents, talked with the head-teachers' and with other stakeholders. A major factor was the involvement of the parents in the plans, for they would ultimately have to be the supporting factor in cultivating the land. The parents were obviously very curious about who this Muzungo (white person) who had arranged shoes for their children. The first meeting was very busy. We introduced the idea of growing food for their children. The idea was well received and we were able to start working. In mainland Kampala we bought all that was needed to start the project. Everything was donated to the parents. Agreements were made that on Wednesdays and Fridays the parents would be working in the garden. So they began clearing the land for the Bussi Island Primary garden.
At that time everything went very fast. In the three weeks that Milou was here in the summer of 2013, all the land was, the parents received training for working the land and we started very quickly even with planting! This had to be, because in August the first rain comes! Milou then returned to the Netherlands, but I continued the work here. Cassava, sweet potato and beans were planted. So we started in a real momentum with the project.
b. What has the impact of the project since then, on the target group and local community and surroundings?
Up to this point we have reached the point where we can provide lunch for the kids 3 days a week. For children this is an extra motivation. Come to school, but also putting more time and energy in education itself! They actually get the energy to study harder and to participate in more than just school: competitions, extracurricular activities.
But besides serving lunches for the kids, a large part of the impact also been that the involvement of parents in the school has greatly increased .. The former head teacher made abuse of our shoes project. He sold the shoes that were left, for his own benefits. The parents took matters into their own hands and made sure that the man was replaced. Through the project, the parents became so even more involved, did not want to take the risk that the lunch project would go wrong by such a selfish act again.
However, the project now stands at a difficult point. The parents are not as interested and involved as before. In addition, the school now has other things on her mind, such as maintaining the teachingstaff and the declining number of students. For the parents, this is of course a priority. There can be lunch, but Bussi-Primary is in the first place a school. Without teachers, lunch is not important. This make it very hard to work on the project at times.
c. What has motivated you, personally, to start your development project?
I tried for a while to apply for jobs in Kampala, but this not always ended well. I did not find what I wanted, never really felt that ultimate commitment. When Milou asked me to help out with this project, I saw to it as a real possibility to make a difference. Instead of looking back and be negative about the jobs I did not get or were unsatisfactory, I wanted to look ahead and be involved in a project that really would make a real difference to people. And to see what we have achieved now, is really a great inspiration for me. Gives real strength to carry on.
d. What is, according to you, the strongest point of the project?
The strongest point is perhaps that we are so self-sustainable. W do not look at the short term, but always keep sustainability in mind. Moreover, it is of course ultimately durable that the parents of the children who get lunch, are the people that grow the lunch too. What is a stronger motivation than that ?! The participation of the parents also contributes to this sustainability.
e. What is, according to you, the biggest challenge / point of improvement for the project?
1. Enough and good teachers for the school
2. Motivation of parents
3. Efficiency of the harvest
And then really in that order. So really the practical matters are challenges right now. Pitfall might be that the lunch for a child of course ultimately depends on the welfare of the school. Matters within the school are not in our portfolio, but it does have a big impact on the project. We get involved in these very heavily. That is a big challenge.
II. Development (aid) - north / south relations
a. What is your idea on development?
Development is obviously very wide. But for me it always starts with something small. Giving people an idea how to get one step further. It is mainly about giving a little hope for the future. A small idea could create that hope, and so build that development. With one meal a day, we create a better position for the kids to do so much more at school. That is development.
b. There is a lot of Western organizations starting development projects in Africa. What is your general vision on this development-aid?
I would not say that it does more harm than good. So it is absolutely not a bad initiative. For a lot of people the Western development here will attach a huge difference, I suppose.
But what I do see is that foreign aid is always accompanied with terms and conditions. By this I mean that development often only happens on the condition of Western organization. The worst thing you can do is go to a development-country, only with your own ideas about life there and how to improve it. Then you work totally wrong. Help must come with the idea to understand the community which you want to improve. Be open to input from the community itself! So do not assume that you know how it works somewhere. Be modest.
c. What, according to you, are the main pitfalls / challenges for Western organizations that want to develop other / foreign communities?
As I said, they come with terms and conditions. For example, political considerations play a big role. It is suggested that many Western development has stopped because the president of Uganda has not adopted a law on gay rights. I do not think it is good that the two are linked. It's just their culture, which causes this law to be refused. Of course this is not a good thing. But development should not be something that is done only under certain conditions. It should be about building bridges, not to get the other party to your side.
d. The In2Afrika Foundation takes the civil society as main principles, in which small scale and local practice are the two most important principles. What is your opinion on our startingpoint?
I think this is about right. When a result does not cause development in the area, or do not provide development for several people, it is no development for me. Development is never individually. Small scale is for us the beginning, but you must be able to grow! And where the concept of 'small scale' exactly starts or stops, that's relative. The snowball effect, spillover is very important.
III. Image of Africa
a. What is, according to you, the current prevailing Western image of the African continent?
I think a lot of people in the West, their image of Africa purely is determined by what they get from the media. And I have the feeling that people in the West really extreme unilateral follow the media. What is on the news, that's the truth.
People do not bother to experience something for themselves, so you have your own story. I think it's incredibly important that you at least experience a couple of things first hand. Otherwise you stay absolutely ignorant.
b. What's your opinion on these images?
It's all very exaggerated and very enlarged. In addition, I must say that which images are not negative, are heavily exaggerated as well. ' Everywhere in Africa you'll find elephants '! That is not true. Not necessarily bad news, of course, but it is not the truth. That's weird.
But that magnification is perhaps a point that Africans abroad use to earn money for charities. Enlarging the suffering is used to raise money. Also a bad thing, because in the short term this might make money, but in the long term, this means the negative image only stays in position!
c. How should this image be changed?
Not everyone can afford to come to Africa of course. So there must be a source that shows the opposite side, especially in the media! So make sure you visit our beautiful continent.
Or if this is not possible, make sure you bring yourself in contact with people who have been there. Close that gap between yourself and those people.
d. What does the Lunch for a Child-project do to create an image of the project and of the African continent in general?
We try to show the real picture, at least of Bussi Island. Not exaggerated, but show the difficulties that a development project experiences in Africa.