Mobilising participants for the Uganda national writeshop on the sourcebook on Water Smart Agriculture was one of the most challenging experiences. I imagined disorder and confusion in the meeting room as accomplished authors, field level implementers and journalists interacted. I worried about the participants’ perception of added value from the process. Perhaps more terrifying, was the fact that facilitation fees for participants was a paltry sum for five working days! Would they stick it out or would they walk out on the process?
My fears soon dissipated as positive feedback trickled in from the participants who were enthusiastic to be a part of this noble cause. Even the intermittent wifi connectivity and humble hotel in Iganga, in eastern Uganda, did not dampen the mood.
Sixteen of the anticipated 18 participants turned up! On the first day, facilitators explained the purpose and process of the writeshop. Within two hours, everyone was on board and the ball had been set rolling, thanks to my colleague, Liz, for whom engaging people flows naturally. Dr. Onesmus Semalulu started the team off with the first presentation and for 10 minutes, you could have tried, unsuccessfully, to distract anyone. Everyone was attentive and focused on the presentation. The discussions thereafter were a storm! The rich diversity of perspectives was motivating, the openness of every one encouraging and, most importantly, the positive outlook of the writers to improve their pieces was not only humbling, but also rewarding. While I convinced myself that this was so because of day one, I was deceived, the team maintained their energy levels throughout; by the end of the second day we were begging them to break off for tea or food and this went on until the last day. Never before had I worked with a team so dedicated. It was a huge learning experience for me.
The power of the ‘second eye’ was so strong and well meaning. Each one of us will remember this lesson. Articles were transformed, field level experiences profiled to a level that anyone can relate with, scholarly work balanced and toned down for the public’s consumption and finally the prize achieved, nine articles produced by the Uganda team. All said and done, each one of us went home different, with broadened perspectives, new friends and definitely better writing skills.
Some participants shared their thoughts on the process.
Eriah Byaruhanga, a staff from Joint Efforts to Save the Environment, said, “I’m impressed with the level of organisation and planning. I have learnt that organisations can produce better products using the writeshop approach. I will encourage my colleagues at office to adopt the approach when writing annual reports.”
Dr. Basil Mugonola, a lecturer at Gulu University noted, “This is a great opportunity for me; my paper was previously produced in a journal in Europe, now it is being repackaged for home consumption. I’m glad to have been part of this process.”
Juliet Katusiime, from Ecological Christian Organisation said, “It is very difficult to self critic; it is easier to see mistakes in other people’s work. This process has enabled me appreciate the importance of the ‘other eye’, I’m more analytical and it has been an experience worth the time.”
Henry Kaweesi said: “Good articles come at a cost; the other eye has been the most important lesson for me.”
GWI EA, Uganda