One of our first grants in Uganda, was a man named John Kaganga, who wanted to start a computer lab for his community, Kikandwa. The nearest computer lab is nearly 40 kilometers away and he wanted his village/ district to have access to the outside world without having to commute over an hour to get there. His project was easy enough to fund. It came highly recommended by one of our ambassadors, Heather Box, and her recommendation carried a lot of weight on our final decision.
Upon arriving there, they showed us the computer lab, which had still not been hooked up to the Internet due to some unforeseen expenses from being located in such a remote area. However, they already started computer literacy classes to educate the youth and farmers. While the computer lab we funded was great, the immense project that Mr. Kaganga and his peers have developed over the past 10 years was more astonishing.
Mr. Kaganga’s passion started when he returned to his village, after years of being away, and saw all the trees had been cut down. John Kaganga’s childhood education, from the moment he was a young child, was either self taught or paid for by himself. He literally educated himself underneath the shades of these trees that had been cut down and when he saw them withering away, he decided to come back and help the very community that had cut them down by starting Kikandwa Environment Association (KEA).
Mr.Kaganga’s life story, like many Ugandans, is entrenched in deep suffering and hardship. However, what makes his story unique is the extraordinary feats this man has accomplished with such little resources. He went from being an illiterate child, to having a profitable business in the capital of Uganda. But his true success is seen in the extensive collaboration that he and his community members have accomplished and it cannot be outlined in a blog post, nor could I have believed it- unless I saw it for myself.
After being shown the computer lab, I was taken to the resource center- a small library that offers resources and printed information relative to women, youth and farmers. A space held to educate the public and encourage cross-project collaboration. We then went a few kilometers up the bumpy dusty road to a school surrounded by trees, trees that had not been cut down thanks to KEA’s community education. They taught preschool through 6th grade. The children sat on rustic wooden benches. Some had something to write on and others used their laps. Some had uniforms while others wore regular clothes. Unlike most schools that deny access to schooling if the child cannot afford a uniform, this school allows them to attend however they can. The classes were small, about 6-20 per class. Some classrooms had a roof, and others used the shade of a tree, but none resembled a school the way we know it. The school was another project under KEA.
After visiting the classrooms, I was taken from tree to tree where community members had set up demonstrations of their projects underneath the shade. Each demonstration was carefully displayed and labeled, like science experiments. These were all projects that KEA was helping to organize and encourage. A man was preserving native seeds and educating the community on the importance of using native seeds vs. those sold by others. Another elder was using local wild herbs and roots to care for animals. A young man demonstrated his art skills and taught youth how to make art from recycled material. It was project after project all under the umbrella of KEA. All inspired to go above and beyond, to fuel their community economy and provide sustainable local solutions to every day problems in the community. Above the school lay a large garden that fed most of the school and village below.
The Pollination Project grant, while it came after 10 years of Mr. Kaganaga’s efforts started, was pivotal to their growth. Since receiving funding, Mr. Kaganga said that other grants have been easier to get. “They see you trust us, so others trust,” he said after explaining his recent $50,000 grant from UNDP to help with sustainable agriculture.
The entire system, from the school to the computer lab, was volunteer run. This is something nice for us to hear in our countries, not so nice for people who have no monetary income and are living way below the poverty line. Yet, despite the lack of monetary funds, they are doing what they can with what they have; and they are doing it with the spirit of progress and love in the forefront. “He wants to make this a model village for all to see,” explained one of Mr. Kaganga’s mentorees. While it is not currently a model village, it is definitely an example of community efforts and collaboration.
It seems Uganda has presented a long line of “I had no idea this existed” revelations. John Kaganga’s project is an example of this. I knew we funded a computer lab in a remote district of Uganda, I had no idea we were funding an agricultural/ environmental revolution that was intending to uplift and entire district and even the most humblest of farmers and youngest of community members.
In the USA, we hear of inspirational stories all the time. We love people coming out of nothing and becoming rich and successful. Mr. Kaganga’s strength, intelligence and persistence could very well be one of those that we hear so often in our culture. But it’s not. It’s a story of man who came from nothing, made a name for himself, and decided to throw it all away in his mid 40’s to start all over and make sure that he was taking his entire district with him on the way up. And so far, he is well on his way to uplifting every man, woman, child, plant and animal in his community. He truly is an example of someone who continues to Seed The Change.