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Ugandan student to discuss non-profits

Sara Felsenstein | Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Francis Tuhaise knows from first-hand experience that non-profit organizations can make a difference in the lives of Ugandan citizens.

Tuhaise, a student in the Kroc Institute’s Masters Program of Peace and Conflict, will speak Wednesday about the challenges, justifications and opportunities for the non-profit sector in Uganda.

He is currently the co-director of the Kyembogo Farmer’s Association (KYEFA), a non-profit organization in Uganda that works with farmers in the region. He received a bachelor’s degree in adult and community education from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. Tuhaise also worked for the Ugandan government as a community development officer, mobilizing communities for government-funded programs.

Fr. George Muganyizi, a Holy Cross priest, founded KYEFA in Western Uganda in 1998. Tuhaise was involved in the initial planning stages of the organization and became co-director after two years.

KYEFA works to improve farmers’ access to education and medical care by increasing their incomes, Tuhaise said. The organization focuses its resources on agriculture because it makes up more than 70 percent of the Ugandan economy. The primary crops in Uganda are pineapples, coffee and tea.

“We give [the farmers] improved seeds, we assist them in forming groups, and by forming groups, they are able to market their crops more effectively,” Tuhaise said.

He said these collective marketing groups are essential to building income.

Tuhaise said the people of Uganda are generally more willing to embrace help from non-profit organizations than government, because they trust the non-profits more.

“The nonprofit sector provides a very good opportunity for development in developing countries,” he said. “People have a lot of trust in them, and they are less bureaucratic … They are very transparent as opposed to government, which is seen as very corrupt.”

When KYEFA was first founded, 15 families were willing to invest. Now, it has grown into a network of 36 associations serving 936 families in 64 village communities.

These families live on isolated farms scattered throughout the Kyembogo region of Uganda.

KYEFA also assists farmers by providing a tractor to share between several farms. Farmers may borrow the tractor but must pay for their own gas.

Tuhaise also said KYEFA offers support to farmers beyond the monetary realm.

“Not all the support is just financially related,” he said. “We also offer technical advice.”

The organization also works on two other projects: one focusing on water distribution and another on orphans.

The water project helps to sufficiently hydrate families, their animals and their crops, Tuhaise said. The orphan project assists children in buying basic materials for school, like pencils, paper and proper clothing.

“In Uganda, we have free primary education, but these orphans do not have the basic [resources] they need to attend school. We help over 1,000 orphans,” he said. “We have 3,000 orphans [in total] but we cannot provide for them all. We select the ones with the most need.”

Tuhaise said KYEFA’s goals for the future include increasing funding and expanding its network of associated organizations.

“Over 36 groups are associated with us, [but] we want as many groups as we can associated with us,” he said. “We want each group to be independent, have a strategic plan, have its own programs, and sustain its own activities.”

Uganda Farmers, Inc., a tax exempt, non-profit group, was formed in solidarity with KYEFA in 2007. Tuhaise said this organization, founded in Connecticut, is key to KYEFA’s programs.

Founding KYEFA was not very difficult, Tuhaise said, because it had a wide support base from the beginning. He said the idea for KYEFA actually came from the farmers themselves.

“There was already the support, [the farmers] just needed someone to organize and put the papers together,” he said. “The government values non-profits in Uganda.”

He said in Uganda, the non-profit sector is able to grow faster and with fewer resources than governmental initiatives.

“From experience, I have seen non-profits grow more with less compared to government. Something very small can create a very big impact,” he said. “You are near people, and you don’t need to spend on the big structure. This gives a lot hope.”

Tuhaise will speak Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Geddes Hall.