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Nindye selected as project partner village

Kate Antonacci | Wednesday, January 17, 2007

After driving west from Uganda’s capital city of Kampala for an hour and a half, Notre Dame leaders – including University President Father John Jenkins – arrived in the small village of Nindye on Jan. 9 to meet with local leaders and villagers about their participation in the Millennium Village Project.

Nestled in the Nkozi sub-county and Mpigi District of the small east African country, Nindye and its 5,000 villagers will serve as the geographic area that Notre Dame and Uganda Martyrs University will work with to “fight extreme poverty and to learn the lessons that help us promote human development more widely,” Father Bob Dowd and Assistant Director of NDMDI Tim Lyden wrote in a journal entry from Uganda.

“We went to learn about how the Millennium Village Project works, to visit villagers, to talk to the team,” Dowd, a Holy Cross priest, said Tuesday. “We have to adopt the posture of learners. That’s what learning lessons are all about. To promote human solidarity, it’s important to listen and to learn.”

To learn “what Millennium Village Project is all about,” Dowd said delegates visited a clinic, a primary school and attended a community meeting of more than 300 villagers under a tree in Nindye.

“This gathering was certainly the highlight of our visit,” Dowd wrote in a journal entry online. “We were warmly welcomed with smiling faces and rhythmic clapping.”

At the gathering, the project’s goals were discussed and members of the organizing committee “tried to make it very, very clear that this project is not about us swooping in and about us achieving goals,” he said.

“It’s about the villages achieving goals. It’s about empowerment and allowing them to be in control of the project,” Dowd said. “The Millennium Village Project team will be facilitating and the villagers need to be driving.”

Nindye was chosen to be the village Notre Dame supports in its Millennium Village Project by Ugandans and faculty at the Uganda Martyrs University, where much of the leadership team is based.

“They chose the village, they formed a selection team,” Dowd said. “We wouldn’t know where to begin. Ugandans would know where to begin.”

Before visiting Nindye, Dowd and the rest of the Notre Dame group visited Ruhiira, a village in the Isingiro district of Uganda where a Millennium Village Project was launched in March.

Dowd described Nindye villagers as “very hardworking people,” 20 percent of whom are involved in fishing. The remaining 80 percent work in agriculture, growing bananas, maize and corn.

The village, located 15 kilometers from Lake Victoria, has a mix of religions present, with “probably more than 50 percent being Catholic,” Dowd said.

“I just saw a lot of rosaries out there,” Dowd said about the group of villagers gathered under the tree. “But I think it is important that we be involved in an area that includes more than just Catholics. We do our best to serve all people. We are serving the Church and this is good for the Church.”

While to an extent, Notre Dame is serving the people of Nindye, Dowd said the idea that villagers will just be recipients should be dispelled.

“They will be more than recipients – they will be setting priorities,” he said.

The people, Dowd said, will participate both physically and financially.

“They pledge to contribute – the villagers contribute in any way they can,” he said. “At least 10 percent of the cost of a project is to be provided by the villagers themselves. It was as high as 20 to 25 percent in Ruhiira and that shows how enthusiastic they are.”

Notre Dame will help facilitate and support progress by “providing expertise when requested if possible” and by providing students and faculty with the opportunity to do research in the village that promotes the goals of the project.

The work that takes place in Nindye depends on the needs of the villagers and the priorities set by them.

In Ruhiira, villagers decided the school needed repair, additional classrooms, new latrines and a school lunch program. They also said the clinic needed better stocking, and better ways of accessing and purifying water needed to be developed.

“In Nindye, I imagine that the priorities will not be all that different – the challenges will be different,” Dowd said.

“The idea is to empower people, to give them the ability to sustain themselves,” Dowd said.

The saying “to pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” he said, is hard to apply people who do not have bootstraps – the basic tools to succeed. Since many of the people in Nindye are experiencing extreme poverty, Dowd said it becomes the mission of Millennium Village Project and Notre Dame to help get those people onto the first step.

At the five-year mark, there will be an assessment, at which point – ideally – the resources from the outside will be scaled back, Dowd said.

“What we are part of here is a real learning experience,” he said. “It is really important for us to monitor the change that takes place.”

Such indicators would be if children are staying in school, if incomes are increasing and if fewer people are suffering from malaria and AIDS/HIV related deaths.

“And if not, why not?” Dowd said. “Hopefully we can help to monitor change and point to the explanations for change or lack of change.”

Notre Dame has given money to the Millennium Village Promise Corporation, which will go into the implementation of other projects. Today, there are 11 Millennium Village Projects, The oldest is in western Kenya.

To keep the Notre Dame community active and aware of issues related to human development, a student advisory council has been formed, Dowd said. Members will be sent out in pairs beginning in February to facilitate discussions in dorms.

Additionally, in late March, Dr. Johnson Nkuuhe, the Uganda country coordinator of Millennium Village Project, and David Siriri, the science coordinator at Ruhiira, will visit Notre Dame for about a week.

“It’s important to give students ways to engage this topic of human development without going to Uganda,” he said.

Lyden will also head back to Uganda in February for about a month, Dowd said, to help “iron out any of the details with Uganda Martyrs University … and to be a part of the baseline survey work that needs to go on in Nindye.”