The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



ND puts Africa project in motion

Marcela Berrios | Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Editor’s note: This is the first story in a two-part series examining the goals of the Notre Dame Millennium Development Initiative in Uganda, the involvement of the University’s administration, faculty and student body and the international organizations that will contribute to the project.

“God, Planet, Notre Dame” could become the University’s new oath as it expands the sphere of its Catholic mission beyond national borders to Africa. Notre Dame will soon partner with a Ugandan village to contribute to its development and help the community meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

These goals include the reduction of poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women – all before the beginning of 2015.

At the Notre Dame Forum on global health earlier this semester, University President Father John Jenkins announced the University’s decision to participate in the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) in Uganda, where the Congregation of the Holy Cross has established a strong presence.

The project aims to “empower individual African villages to achieve the MDGs through the implementation of comprehensive, community-based, low-cost, integrated rural development strategies,” according to Millennium Promise’s overview of the initiative.

Millennium Promise (MP) is a separate non-profit organization dedicated to the eradication of extreme poverty before 2025. It was founded by UN Millennium Project director and Notre Dame Forum participant Jeffrey Sachs and University trustee and philanthropist Ray Chambers.

With more than 313 million Sub-Saharan people surviving on less than one dollar a day in 2001, this region of the continent is said to have the “highest rate of malnourishment in the world,” according to the MP release.

In response, the University created the Notre Dame Millennium Development Initiative (NDMDI), headed by political science professor Father Robert Dowd.

He and Tim Lyden, a 2002 Notre Dame graduate and assistant director of the NDMDI, recently returned from a month-long visit to Uganda, during which they identified villages where Notre Dame might concentrate its efforts and collected knowledge from their conversations with the villagers.

“Without imposing ourselves, it is vitally important to build relationships and a sense of solidarity with those living in the community where Notre Dame will be involved,” he wrote in a letter from Kampala during his excursion.

The MVP – a partnership between MP, Columbia University’s Earth Institute, the UN Millennium Project and the African national governments – will also “establish a foundation of evidence that rural Africa can be on the path towards achieving the MDGs using science-based, proven and practical interventions over a five-year timeframe,” the MP release said.

Dowd said the University expected to join forces with local institutions and villagers to increase agricultural productivity, combat preventable diseases, build channels between the community and the exterior markets and improve the healthcare and education systems.

To achieve this, he emphasized the importance of communicating and collaborating with the Ugandans.

“We must listen to the real development experts, the people who struggle for survival each and every day in rural Uganda,” Dowd said.

Upon their return to Notre Dame, Dowd and Lyden said they were pleased with the groundwork they laid in Uganda, having forged relationships with villagers, local scholars and MP representatives.

One such representative is Johnson Nkuuhe, the UN country coordinator overseeing the MVP.

Lyden said Nkuuhe assembled and is heading a team of UN development consultants, professors from Uganda Martyrs University, local government officials and representatives from the Catholic diocese of Kampala, who will interact with local village leaders during the process of selecting Notre Dame’s partner village.

Though the official announcement will not be made until the end of December at the latest, Lyden said he knew the village would be composed of 5,000 to 7,000 people and would be located in the Mpigi district of Uganda, west of capital city Kampala.

Like the rest of Uganda, this area – located along the banks of Lake Victoria – has experienced a decrease in HIV/AIDS prevalence rates, according to the country’s AIDS commission.

A notable exception among Sub-Saharan countries, Uganda mounted a strong, swift response to the first outbreaks in the mid 1980s, which resulted in a decline in the prevalence rates from 18.3 percent in 1992 to approximately 6 percent in 2000. The decrease is attributed to favorable prevention policies, said the commission’s Web site. Those past successes, Lyden said, make it a good place for the MVP to start.

He also said he is collecting information about the region, to become familiar with the area’s health, agricultural and service needs.

The University’s efforts would mark the beginning of a new phase in the Millennium Villages Project in Uganda, Lyden said. A partnership like that of Notre Dame and its partner village will replicate intervention models flourishing in other Ugandan villages – modifying them to suit the conditions of any given village elsewhere, according to the MP Web site.

The 12 initial projects were launched in 10 different countries across the African continent in the last two years, including Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda – and the Ugandan village of Ruhiira, in the southwest corner of the country.

“[New] villages present different challenges than the ones you might have had [before], as the geography, topography, climate, government constraints and many other factors will change – and the intervention model will have to revisited and tailored to the new region,” Lyden said. “Notre Dame’s partnership in Uganda will be both challenging because it’s an untested project, but also exciting for the same reasons.”

The University will utilize the research and the models tested in Ruhiira before it begins its work with a village in the Mpigi district, near the town of Nkozi, home of Uganda Martyrs University.

Chambers will finance the NDMDI’s initial undertaking, but to sustain and possibly expand the project beyond the initial five-year timeline, Dowd and Lyden hope new sources of financing emerge.

The second story in this series will examine the role that Notre Dame faculty and students will play in the University’s research in Uganda, and its partnership with the region’s local institutions to conduct this research.