Monday, March 23, 2009

“Deep in the village”

Kate Parry writes from Uganda:

Late in January, a conference was held by one of UgCLA’s members, the Uganda Adult Literacy and Community Development Association, or URLCODA. The Association is based in Arua District, in the extreme north west of the country, and the conference was held “deep in the village” as they put it here, at a church in a place called Agobia in Aroi sub-county. The core participants were URLCODA’s members from various parts of the District – children and adults, ranging in age from three to more than seventy , who attend literacy classes together. But other conference participants came from much further afield: there was a team from Kamuli District in the eastern region, a whole busload from Kampala, a person from Kabale in the south west, and even a couple of people from Congo.

My role was to deliver the keynote, on “Forms of Literacy”. So I spoke of the different kinds of literacy and emphasized how they were all related to talking. It fitted well with the speech of the guest of honour, who was the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Arua. He spoke brilliantly, with lots of funny stories, but also a serious message about how people couldn’t just sit back and be sorry for themselves because they were poor; they needed to take action, do things for themselves and hold the government accountable for what it was supposed to do (the particular issue was tractors, badly needed in this area because the soil is too hard to cultivate with hoes in the dry season, and when people wait for the rains to begin cultivating, the wet season is over before they have time to plant the crops). There was also a presentation by a representative from the Ministry of Education’s Directorate for Educational Standards, and a very practical talk by a woman from the National Council (Conference?) of Women Living with AIDS (NACWOLA) about the importance of writing a will. There were lively responses to all the talks, especially to the last one.

Of course, we were well fed, and there was lots of singing and dancing. At the moment when we arrived we were greeted with ululations and women jumping up and down and waving tree branches. In short, it was an occasion for great excitement, which I am sure continued after I left. Unfortunately, I had to return to Kampala, but the conference continued, and at the end they formally opened URLCODA’s Community Library. The library was made possible, in part, by UgCLA’s Small Grants Scheme, which provided money for books; and the opening was attended by the Public Affairs Officer from the American Embassy, which provided the funds for the Small Grants Scheme.

A final outcome of this event may be the foundation of yet another community library in Uganda. The man who drove me around in Arua, Mr. Yassin Amandu, is the Director of the Islamic University in Uganda’s campus in Arua. He told me as he saw me off that he hopes to set up a library in his own village of Maracha, also in Arua District. It is a good example of how UgCLA can leverage the goodwill of Uganda’s professionals, offering them an opportunity to contribute to the development of the villages where they were born.

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