This summer Derek Bargatze (International Director of Students Living A Mission), Cameron Kagay (Regional Director for East Africa), Gregg Garner (President and CEO of G.O.D. Int’l) and myself (photojournalist and webmaster for G.O.D. Int'l) visited the G.O.D. Int'l East Africa Hub in central Uganda. The first building on our land, "the triplex" functions as a transitional housing for development workers in the region.
The main objectives of our trip were to evaluate and document our efforts in food production, primary education, and theological education, and to strategize for the upcoming year. This is a view of our land from the entrance. Francis Lubega, G.O.D. Int'l cooperative and master builder, walks home from our outdoor meeting structure.
The area is predominately agrarian and comprised of small farms, a few schools, a handful of churches and mosques, and a small strip of shops like this one.
This is one of the shops along the main road running through the town. The attendant was preparing to open it for the day. It's common to see shops like this in Uganda -- one after the other -- all selling very similar, if not the exact same products.
Women and children can be seen walking the roads at all hours of the day, often carrying large jugs of water, food, or other various farm or household supplies.
Ugandan schools were on holiday while we were there, so many children spent the time off assisting parents with chores at work or on the farm. These children, up and about early in the morning, were eager to pose for the camera.
It's rare to see any vehicles in the area. Transportation instead takes place either by paying the fare for a local motorcycle taxi or, most often, by walking -- even if the destination is miles away.
On our 7-acre plot, our days were filled with garden and construction work in the morning, and meetings in the afternoon. We assessed the quality, efficiency, and sustainability of the progress being made with our community there. This is a traditional thatched-roof pavilion, where most of those meetings were facilitated.
Sustainable food production is one of our primary activities in the region, and on our land. Here, Derek (left), Henry (middle) and Andrew (right) are collecting grass-clippings to be used as compost in the garden.
Composting is an integral part of maintaining the quantity and quality of food being produced in the garden, as well as providing a means of waste management for the entire property. In one day, our team constructed 12 large compost piles--a feat made possible through Derek's combination of good management and positivity.
Cameron Kagay, Regional Director of G.O.D. East Africa, helped introduce our cooperatives to utilizing scythes to trim their grass last summer. The tool allows for quicker grass trimmings with less wear on one's body. Our African friends love the new technology, and are looking for ways to replicate it with their materials in Uganda.
Because scythes aren't a traditional tool in Uganda, Cameron ensured that our cooperatives understood how to properly handle and care for them, along with all of their other tools. A handyman by trade, Cameron was able to teach them the importance of properly maintaining supplies.
Our food production efforts include animal husbandry projects. Our newest project--"the piggery"--is a collaborative effort between our team in Uganda and our team in Tennessee, with the goal of producing a more sustainable income for Peter and Cissy Kimbugwe.
Andrew, Henry and Tom, students at the Institute for G.O.D. East Africa, are constructing the floor in our piggery. It is an organic method that introduces indigenous microorganisms for odor control and increased sanitation.
Our ecology focus in East Africa has three main concerns: sustainable agriculture, building, and water accessibility--all immediate and pressing needs for the health of families in Uganda.
In Uganda, only 4.8% of the population has clean water piped to their property. Most people rely on gathering water for their daily needs from wells and other contaminated water sources, sometimes requiring them to walk multiple kilometers, multiple times a day, in order to get it.
The first and most economical solution to water shortage is water catchment. Our cooperatives have learned how to build water-catchment tanks in order to harvest rain water, which is then purified. This is the main source of water on our land and at St. John's Primary school.
By training our cooperatives to maintain and repair wells, we have increased the area's access to well repairmen by 500%. In the last few years, we've repaired eight local hand-pump wells, each of which supply water for hundreds of people. Francis Lubega, one of our cooperatives, took me around to each of the repaired pump locations for a routine "checkup."
Another one of our undertakings in East Africa is education, from primary to college-level. This is St. John's Primary School, a local government-run school that touches one end of our land in Kabonge. When introduced to St. John's, it was lacking severely, both structurally and administratively.
Before we were involved, the roof was blowing off of the building due to heavy storms. We responded by installing a new roof and gutter system, attaching it to the already existing cistern. What was exciting was the community's involvement in the roof repair--parents and teachers came together to help with the construction, showing a new level of collaboration to improve the children's place of learning.
We also more than doubled the previously understaffed faculty with teachers of our own, including Lawrence Ssemakula, a seasoned teacher, administrator, and community leader. Lawrence has been working with us for nearly a decade, and his role at St. John's is pivotal. He has taken on the majority of the educational responsibilities, including the implementation of enhanced, appropriate curriculum, and the development of the school's teachers.
The Institute for G.O.D. Int'l East Africa is our college that trains young people in theology and community development. When we were on the land, the students were performing their final oral presentations on a class called Christian Development. This school is taking applications for the fall.
These are some of the students who have finished their first year at the Institute, having completed a Genesis class and Christian Development, a course that explores concepts on the stages of maturation in human psychology and faith.
An overarching objective with everything we're involved in is to model for surrounding people alternative, replicable ways of living - from the domiciliary work to the educational endeavors - that elevate people from a place of just existing, or surviving, to a place where they are thriving. It's a privilege to be a part of this work.