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Ugandan Initiative to provide aid, research

Marcela Berrios | Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Editor’s note: This is the second 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.

The Notre Dame community will soon be turning its talents in the classroom toward a cause that calls for real world, global application.

The Notre Dame Millennium Development Initiative (NDMDI) partners the University with a Ugandan village in an initial five-year venture that will attempt to build up every institution in the region – ranging from the healthcare and education systems to the HIV/AIDS prevention programs, to the water supply systems and the village’s infrastructure.

The effort, say those involved, will require the work of the entire Notre Dame community.

“We will work with local institutions and villagers to increase agricultural productivity, connect [the Ugandan] people to information and markets, eradicate preventable diseases and expand access to basic healthcare and education,” NDMDI director Father Robert Dowd said.

Funded by the contributions of University Trustee Ray Chambers, the NDMDI will work with constructive intervention strategies previously used in the Ugandan village of Ruhiira, southwest of the capital city Kampala.

NDMDI assistant director Tim Lyden, a 2002 Notre Dame graduate, said he expected Notre Dame to be assigned to an exact village later this month, as the selection committee of Ugandan representatives and United Nations consultants was still in the process of choosing the University’s partner village.

He said he knew the village would be located in the Mpigi district of the country, west of Kampala and close to the city of Nkozi, home of Uganda Martyrs University – the nation’s premier Catholic university.

Lyden said Notre Dame contacted Uganda Martyrs to establish a relationship of cooperation and solidarity that will allow NDMDI participants to utilize the local university’s resources and knowledge of the region’s community development needs.

“Uganda Martyrs University has strong programs in agriculture, public health, development studies and business, and Notre Dame has strengths in civil engineering, the biological sciences, the social sciences and business as well,” Lyden said. “Together, the strengths of our two universities align with the key spheres of investment of the Millennium Villages Project.”

Lyden said he thought the assets of both institutions would facilitate collaborative research projects and the study of the results of the project, as observed in the village once the partnership and the intervention model are determined and implemented.

“It is the goal of this initiative to provide faculty and students, both graduate and undergraduate, with research and internship opportunities that contribute to human development,” Dowd said.

“We have been contacted by dozens of students that have not only expressed interest and enthusiasm for the project but want to get involved and furthermore have proposed concrete ideas for fundraising, campus activities, independent research study projects and advocacy options,” he added.

One of the students that contacted Dowd and Lyden – and did become involved in the NDMDI – was sophomore Tess Bone, whose independent research project will examine the organization, mobilization and implementation of the NDMDI in Uganda.

“As this is the first time a university has undertaken such a responsibility, I think it is essential to understand the process,” she said. “I hope to better understand [the steps of this process] and to study them to produce a thoughtful analysis that could be helpful as it applies to this project, but may also serve as a reference for other universities considering a similar endeavor.”

Bone said Dowd and Lyden allowed her to observe the activities and organizational meetings of the NDMDI’s Student Advisory Council, which contributed considerably to her understanding of the project’s progression on campus.

She also said the University has supported her desire to research African development and poverty alleviation, offering research grants, encouragement and academic avenues that provided the opportunity to pursue these interests – and to travel to the selected partner village in January with Dowd, Lyden and University President Father John Jenkins, among other Notre Dame representatives.

“I’m very grateful for this opportunity, and I think that Notre Dame students need to make Africa a priority as well because of the real ability to help that we have as a university,” Bone said. “Our financial, intellectual and numerical base has great potential.”

She said students should keep their eyes open next semester for the various opportunities to help Africa that will be available though different campus organizations, including Amnesty International, the Africa Faith and Justice Network and the MDG Task Force, among many other organizations.

The task force recently collected money for bed nets to prevent malaria mosquito bites in Africa.

If not through active involvement in these organizations or donations, Dowd said students could still join the NDMDI project simply by “attending discussion groups, learning more about the situation and informing others about it.”

He encouraged representatives on the Student Advisory Council to inform their electorates of the NDMDI’s goals through presentations and discussions across campus and in the residence halls.

“Notre Dame can only be the Catholic university it strives to be if it devotes its time, talent and treasure to solving real world problems, problems that are dehumanizing and that prevent people from realizing their God-given potential, problems that are essentially the result of ignorance, indifference and injustice,” Dowd said.

He and Lyden are working on the official NDMDI proposals that will be submitted to Jenkins and Chambers, and finalizing the details of the January excursion to the University’s partner village.