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Uganda methods set example

Staff Editorial | Friday, January 19, 2007

The importance of service is ingrained in the Notre Dame culture. Large numbers of students volunteer on a regular basis and regularly devote a year or two of their post-graduate lives to programs like ACE and Teach for America.

So it’s not that surprising that the University has chosen to affiliate itself with a group of people in Uganda, vowing to support Nindye village in its quest to raise the quality of life.

What’s notable about this project, however, is the way it’s being done.

Notre Dame’s approach to the Millennium Village Project appears to be a smart one. The goal is not to just pour money into Nindye every time the villagers need it – it’s to lift people up. The University community needs to recognize that the project is not just intended to make “do-good Notre Dame” look generous. Rather, Notre Dame is entering the partnership. It is one of many participants, one of two universities and 5,000 hardworking villagers aiming to create change and dialogue.

Most importantly, the project is a promising alternative to what could have simply been a lump-sum charitable gift – generous, absolutely, but probably not as enriching for both communities. If the relationship progresses like those behind the project believe it will – a partnership on a slower scale, gradually building to self-sufficiency – the Ugandans will receive the basic tools they need to succeed. Furthermore, a long-term relationship will be created that should benefit both Nindye and Notre Dame.

Now, it’s a matter of spreading the word.

It is important that those who went to Africa continue the initiative. This isn’t the only focus for University President Father John Jenkins, and he knows it won’t be everybody else’s. But this can’t be a worthy initiative that falls off the radar or gets lost in a mess of played out awareness weeks. It’s the job of Jenkins and the others who have been to Nindye to prioritize.

It is equally important that those who go in the future keep the bigger picture in mind. Nindye cannot be a place used simply to conduct personal research and write for academic journals. To appropriately support the project, people need to understand why it’s important – and no one can better transmit that information than those who have been to Nindye and develop relationships with villagers