Joel Odongo first contacted me over a year ago, asking my help to support him to make a Community Centre with bamboo and recycled plastic in his hometown Soroti in Uganda. Joel is a fighter, and strong leadership figure and has done so much work to help his community. Having been orphaned as a child, sponsored to go to school by an AID organisation and then studying IT in university, he chooses to help his community at a practical level. In 2015 he created the Community Organisation TANU (TRANSFORMATION ADVOCACY NETWORK UGANDA) for Youth and Women’s Development in his home town of Soroti – for them to have a Community Centre to meet together and create programs, to become entrepreneurs and escape the cycle of poverty that plagues his community. He has been supporting TANU to gain resources and education and has secured an area of land (donated by a Korean business owner) on which to build a Community Centre and Farming project. He was holding meetings in a room rented in the town of Soroti – but is no longer able to pay the rent there (since mid-way through Covid) though the community have been able to engage in some small farming activities and training on the land that was donated. For a sustainable enterprise to be developed and gain traction, additional funding is needed to enable infrastructure (for the Community Center building and water tanks and basic farming operations set-up costs) and further training in Syntropic Systems Agriculture.
The 2.5 acres of land for the project will be able to support 20-30 families and Joel has asked me to help support TANU to raise a Community Centre building on the land donated to them and to grow bamboo which can be used for both construction and as a firewood/fuel, a nursery to grow trees to revegetate areas around the village, vegetable crops and to establish ponds for freshwater fish aquaculture. Jackson Buzingo from Tanzania, a Syntropic Agroforestry Trainer, is on board to assist in the training of local youth and women in creating a syntropic farming systems.
During our conversations, and I found out more and more about local life in his home town, things came to mind about how I had lived and what I experienced living in the Philippines. I asked What they are using in Uganda to cook on – gas? charcoal? or firewood? And as to where cooking is done… and helped to start activities for making smokeless stoves and charcoal briquettes from agricultural/organic waste to support sustainable practices which Joel started with his group straight away.
Joel has recently recovered from Malaria and Typhoid and he looks quite different now in this video – his passion and dedication is mind-blowing.
Joel and his community group (TANU) plan to develop a learning program for bamboo building: First bamboo needs to be grown on the community land once the community centre is built, animal/livestock manure and organic waste will be collected to start a composting project to provide nutrients for creating a nursery where bamboo and other plants will be raised. (We have the support of a Kenyan Community Group who are already growing bamboo and helping farmers to establish bamboo on their lands – and have had conversations about them joining TANU to learn Syntropic Farming techniques with Jackson Buzingo if we can get support to do that which they say are desperately needed in their area due to increased flooding and subsequent destruction of farms).
Areas of the project have been planned out in stages – with water supply being in the first stage to access water from a nearby well (already present) through a solar pump that will provide water supply for the nursery and plants as they are planted.
The group currently has nowhere suitable to meet and times are difficult in Uganda… with funds to build this building, the group can contribute their time and labour to build the building and start projects to help raise income for the community and create livelihood businesses to alleviate poverty and sustain people. Times are even more difficult at present with very low rainfall this season and people are unable to get their crops growing sufficiently to produce food. Joel has reported to me that people in his village have taken their own lives in the past 2 months as they are not able to feed themselves!
Supporting this project will enable Joel and his community to make a Community Centre building that will provide a hub for the Women’s Group and the Youth Group to base their projects from and enable the community group to utilise the 2.5 acres of land that has been gifted to this project by local Korean business owner. Together the group have made and fired the bricks for the building (over 20,000 bricks!)
So far we have made some zero-cost initiatives such as smokeless stoves in houses (wood is still the main source of cooking fuel in this village) and are traditionally placed inside the house dwelling which creates respiration-health problems. I shared about the smokeless stove model to Joel during one of our chats and he promptly got together with his community and built some of these stoves in people’s homes. I then shared with him the method for making briquettes for cooking fuel (a charcoal made from organic waste) as he mentioned that there is by-product from maize, peanut and rice available from commercial farms in their surrounding area – and this was tried out as a trial product that could be made by his community group. Equipment is limited but some progress has been made and this project is still in development – in need of infrastructure/equipment.
Pictured below: Smokeless stove made in Joel’s Community and the making of Briquettes with organic waste and cassava “glue”.
We request assistance to fund the building infrastructure for this community project: The total amount needed is approximately US$6,000 and this is to buy materials for building the infrastructure for this project as labour is being contributed in-kind. Raising the building, purchase of solar pump, establishment of a nursery and watering system (vegetables, bamboo, agroforestry, re-afforestation). The group has members of the youth who are skilled concrete workers, carpenters and mechanics and your financial assistance is invaluable to enable the work to be done that will create life-changing opportunities for the people of this village in Uganda.
Uganda is a primary supplier for Shea Butter and we are planning for how we could make a beauty product with local honey and shea butter that could reach the international market… that is locally owned by Ugandan People through this community group project.
In the next 3-5 years following the establishment of this project, TANU will host education programs for local people from Uganda and Kenya – and plan to develop an Eco-centre with programs for visitors to experience traditional building from clay using brick and the traditional firing process for making bricks, as well as traditional weaving crafts alongside the amazing music of Uganda – which I think is going to be the highlight for Freyr when we can come to Uganda and help make a bamboo-building course project !! 🙂
I am inspired by Joel’s passion and commitment to his community and have met several of the community members by video call. It is incredibly difficult right now in Uganda with the Covid-19 situation and helping to develop this project could give a lot of people hope for the future – and I hope to help raise awareness about his project and to assist in raising the funds needed to get it off the ground! We have talked about making a tour to his village next year in November so my daughter can experience the culture and music of Uganda – and I’m pretty keen to learn about their basketry and weaving…
If you would like to assist /get involved in this campaign, advise in a professional capacity or help in other ways, please contact us through firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s where it gets interesting… So I’ve been talking to Joel about creating a community currency so that we can keep track of people’s individual contribution also so they can be recognised in the outcome and overall process of things that later stem from the Community Centre. When you’re operating in an environment where there’s little “money” but lots of “time”, I think it’s wise to see our time as a currency also – and with the youth group having skills in mechanics, concreting and carpentry – and those who will be doing work in the building of greenhouses and maintenance of the plants – it would be helpful that there is a visual of what they’ve “put in” and can have some share of the community outputs. So it is vital to inspire the uptake of a community currency system and recognise people’s contribution… I have been interested in the Community Currency concept for some time and I feel it’s important to develop such systems for future village communities to develop with a mixture of skills, finance and labour at an equitable and agreed value-contribution… not just where “the people with the money are the bosses”. What are your thoughts on this? Ready for a philosophical rave? Too bad – it’s coming:
Since “Western Culture” or those behind the current financial system and valuation of currency came to power/dominated, workers in “Post-Colonised” countries have been payed in very low salary/means – Uganda even still has its currency in “Shillings” – which is like something out of Oliver Twist… We may not see it – coming from our “privileged” upbringing and are certainly not educated/informed about such things during our “schooling” but just take it that the western financial system has always existed and always will – and that it is a “fair” way of valuing various cultures’ labour and products in relativity to each other. Ba-Baw!! (Wrong!!)… It’s been deliberately set up by those in power so that “western” countries have and continue to have dominance over “others”/the rest/those who have been colonised. As Mr Rothschild himself said –
The poverty we see around the world at present… is “manufactured”… and is a direct result of the Colonial take-over of other countries’ resources AND financial systems… What is Third World Debt? It is the Colonialists’ way of keeping post-colonised nations perpetually indebted/enslaved to the dominant economic “owners”… and a product of the politics of wars which have dominated our history: Used to generate wealth for the “few”… (including 20% of earth’s population who live in developed countries i.e. probably You)… and It’s not “natural”. If we look back further than what our western history books teach us in school, to places such as the aptly named “Spice Islands”/Indonesia (named according to what Colonialists and Conquistadors wanted to invade them to acquire/control them for) and delve deeper into pre-colonial history, we will see wealth and a society which sustained it’s own needs with its own trading methods/currencies and independent wealth which “vanished” once it was invaded. India had wealth and riches as a society at many levels – from academic (mathematics), scientific and medical (rhinoplasty) to exquisite garments/textiles and ceramics: Far further advanced than the “society” they were invaded by… which in turn destroyed and dismantled these sophisticated systems and/or stole/acquired/claimed them as their own. If you saw the animated story “Watership Down”, it, for me, conveys the sadness, destruction and blatant murder and desecration our forefathers inflicted on other cultures/families/societies in the name of ….. ” ? ” Why aren’t we taught “the story of Tea”?
Going to a “poor/developing country” and spending “our money” there – thinking we are doing those people a favour is an ignorant/arrogant attitude totally obscuring the reality that our economic system/the current world economic system is responsible for the poverty in these countries… Or for “westerners” with a “white-saviour” complex and try to “save” people from the situation our very presence have put them in. Colonial countries (England, Netherlands, Spain, France & Portugal) have disenfranchised people world-wide of their resources – even after supposed “Independence” the currency value is dictated by the dominant world trading system AND usually all the natural resources and wealth have been sold/already owned by companies/the Colonisers still – such as the mineral wealth in African countries still being owned by the French, Mining and Oil companies…. Let’s take a look at what royalties actually are paid to the People of those countries… and is it any wonder that people like Imelda Marcos exist? The political system left behind by Colonists is set up to enable the corruption and imposed poverty stay in place indefinitely… until now, that is.
During this time of Capitalistic Colonialism (not saying Capitalism is bad – but when it operates with hugely skewed disadvantages towards some/the majority of its participants and the environment – and where only “profit” is valued…, you could call it destructive) we have had the privilege to develop quite amazing technologies… some of which could make a big impact to and benefit the lives of people, commonly called the Rural Poor (who have had the short end of the stick and the Worst deal out of the current economic system for an extended period of time) – and still even the simplest technologies are quite unaffordable due to the combination of international exchange rates devaluing their currencies (the Ugandan Shilling??!!!!) and the already low-paid rates of labour which are somehow considered “acceptable” in a supposedly “modern” society.
If we hope to live in this world from our heart and make a globally sustainable culture, then we need to empower people to uplift the “rural poor” and to enable access to technologies and resources which can give the basic infrastructure to step out of the cycle of poverty… even with the “simplest” things (simple to us who have grown up taking our refrigerator for granted) to reinstate the basic human rights of fairness, and equitable sharing and the right to live as an equal in our global society… taking into account the resource-pillaging combined with corruption which has left lost rural people poor.
We have the opportunity through modern Communications to develop Real connections with people – and not to see them as Poor but as Equals. I may be biased towards wanting to be able to eat in the future – and I think it’s a good idea also to hang out with and learn from people who still have the connection to land and soil and the skills to Actually produce food crops (not a pwetty permaculture gardens which may yield a few tomatoes).
In my opinion, we are at the point of sharing the knowledge of sustainable systems (not cash-cropping and monoculture) and the technology to make life easier and more efficient = not to get people into debt and make money from them as in the traditional Capitalist system and stock market sense – but but Real systems of fairness and practicality which can enable us to live as a Global Family.
Perhaps we need to think of it as is referred to in the Bible – that we let go of everything we “think” we have and give away what we don’t need – and bring ourselves and what we have together and contribute as one of God’s people… and find our place in the bigger picture. Having faith and re-attuning with natural law and harmonious systems as we wake up to evolve “new” laws and systems to ensure the sovereignty and life of the Living Planet and beings who all have an interest and stake in the well-being of our collective future.
Back to building…
So Joel and his community are seeing their project as a Revivement Village Project – which in other words – a place to welcome and educate and share experiences with others who are called to help build a thriving community-village from the ground-up. .. Also the idea of Community Currency has an opportunity to enable a co-investment at later stages – beyond our human willingness to help those in need… in building a shared place… without the thought of “ownership” but through the idea of “co-contribution”.