This summer I had the privilege of working with GWI EA in Otuke District, Uganda, as part of my Master’s in Development Practice programme at Emory University. I was doing an evaluation of the Learning and Practice Alliance (LPA) model being implemented there in order for CARE to better understand the model’s strengths, weaknesses, and ability to be adapted to new situations.
It was really quite wonderful to arrive in Otuke, after months of reading and preparation, to finally put faces to the names I had seen in project reports, and to finally start understanding this place called Otuke. Otuke, like any place you have never been to, can be difficult to conceptualise without being there. Yes, Otuke is a very rural area (almost the entire population participates in smallholder agriculture), but it isn’t an isolated community without interaction with the outside world, which I find is a common misconception when I’m asked about my stay this summer.
Otuke District is divided into sub counties, and those sub counties are further divided into parishes. Within the parishes people live on their farms and interact closely with their neighbours, sharing labour and friendship with one another. On Saturdays many farmers bike or walk to the central area of the district (similar to a downtown area) to sell their produce and livestock. Vendors commute from Lira, the nearest city, to Otuke to sell packaged goods, electronics, and plastic items. The market was always a lot of fun to attend; it is a very social event and people stay all day.
This central area is where the district and NGO offices reside, and this is also where I lived, in a building with rooms that are rented out. There is no electricity or running water in Otuke, so there was a learning curve for me, but two interns working for GWI, Doreen and Vicky, are from Uganda and lived in the same building, so they taught me all of the tricks and we became good friends. To move from this central area to the Champion Farmers, I rode on a motorbike with Geoffrey, another GWI intern and new friend, who would drive and translate for me. Riding on a motorbike was also a new experience for me (it’s not common in the United States like it is in Uganda), but I absolutely loved it; it’s a great way to take in the surroundings.
The evaluation I conducted required interviews with Champion Farmers, district government officials, researchers, and GWI EA staff. My scope of work was fairly broad; I was gathering information about the progress of the LPA, trust and relationships between the farmers and government, gender equity within the LPA, enabling and disabling factors for the LPA and stories of change from the Champion Farmers. Visiting the Champion Farmers was absolutely the highlight of my practicum. On the farms I had the chance to sit down and get to know the farmers a little better, usually meeting their families and getting a tour of their farms as well.
I knew before I arrived in Otuke that a lot of work had been done through the LPA with the Champion Farmers, but it was surprising to see exactly how much in person. The farmers had learned about mulching, pruning, composting, spacing, and other water and soil management techniques. They have been applying these new techniques to grow tomatoes, onions, bananas, and pineapples, and while I was there the new crops were doing very well overall. Additionally, most of the farmers I spoke with have dug massive water-retention pits by hand to collect rainwater that can be distributed over their crops during dry periods.
As impressive as the physical impacts of the LPA were, I was struck even more by the LPA’s impact on relationships and interactions within Otuke. Otuke was the target of violent cattle rustling in the 80s and 90s, and the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in the 00s, during which time much of the population was displaced. Otuke District was only created after resettlement in 2010. My interviewees reflected that this period of time created mistrust and strained relationships between local citizens and the government. However, Champion Farmers and district government officials that I interviewed agreed almost unanimously that the LPA has changed their relationship for the better.
For example, through the LPA, district officials visit the Champion Farmers regularly and Champion Farmers are encouraged to voice their opinions and participate in meetings. This is creating interactions that were previously absent in the community, and the Champion Farmers expressed that the physical presence of district officials on their farms had improved their perception of the local government. Champion Farmers told me that they now feel like they are valued by the community, and the importance of their work is being taken seriously by the district.
For me, this social change is one of the greatest outcomes of the LPA and a true testament to the LPA’s ability to be sustained after GWI EA. From my own experiences, I’ve seen that it’s relatively easy to bring a community physical inputs or new methodologies, but what’s difficult is getting government and citizen buy-in to make sure those projects don’t disappear when it is time for NGOs to leave. What I witnessed in Otuke was true relationship building and the creation of a new foundation for change in the community. My time in Otuke was truly insightful, and an opportunity for which I am very grateful.
Master’s in Development Practice
Emory University 2015
More field experiences from Emory University students who have worked with GWI EA here.