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Nkuuhe, Siriri discuss project

Kate Antonacci | Tuesday, March 27, 2007

For Johnson Nkuuhe, the words beneath the photograph of Father Theodore Hesburgh and Martin Luther King Jr. in LaFortune encapsulate his message and that of the Millennium Villages Project (MVP).

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools,” Nkuuhe, the Uganda country coordinator of MVP, said to a crowd of over 50 students in the Coleman-Morse Center Monday. “This is the same sort of thing we are trying to do … to be very good disciples, intermediaries. The road ahead may not be paved, but we know where we are headed. I hope we are together.”

Such was the theme of “MVP in Uganda: Empowering or Imposing?” – an event that focused on the role of the community, the government and the MVP organization in helping try to pull African nations and people out of poverty.

“If you provide linkage then you are empowering,” Nkuuhe said. “A man or woman who can feed a family is empowered. … If we can help with the healthcare, then these people are empowered.”

In hopes of convincing the Notre Dame community to “take the message further” and to see the importance of empowerment, Nkuuhe discussed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). He was joined by David Siriri, the science coordinator in Ruhiira, a village in the Isingiro district of Uganda where an MVP was launched in March 2006.

The eight MDGs deal with different dimensions of poverty, including hunger, maternal health, environment sustainability, education, HIV/AIDS, gender issues, water and technology.

“We don’t come with a predetermined action plan. We sit down with the communities and develop an action plan,” Siriri said.

Of those goals, the toughest to promote in Uganda include achieving gender equality, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health, Nkuuhe said.

“Those are very, very bad,” he said.

Nkuuhe said the MDGs are on target for HIV/AIDS, citing a decrease from an 18 percent prevalence rate in 1992 to seven percent in 2002.

While Nkuuhe said there is the potential to achieve the goals focusing on hunger, gender equality and environmental sustainability, the goals of decreasing child and maternal mortality are more unlikely, he said.

“Child mortality is off target. 140 children die before age five per 1,000 deliveries,” he said. “In Ruhiira, I think [David Siriri] and his team will be able to accomplish [the goal of decreasing child mortality], but for Uganda as a whole it’s very difficult.”

Reasons for the high mortality rates include lack of good health facilities, early marriage and frequent births, Nkuuhe said.

“This is the reason we go as a team into these villages – because of all of these contributing factors,” he said.

There are currently 12 MVP sites in 10 African countries, including Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.

“These are not chosen randomly,” Nkuuhe said. “The answers you get from these villages can then be applied to … sub-Saharan Africa.”

Though the UN Millennium Project had budget recommendations for the projects – 40 percent on health, six percent on community, six percent on education, 10 percent on agriculture, eight percent on nutrition, 10 percent on water and 14 percent on infrastructure – some of the numbers have to be tailored depending on the village.

“The people of Ruhiira are going to measure the success of the project based on how successful we are in water,” Siriri said. “Thus changes were made to the budget allocation from UN recommendations.”

While Nkuuhe serves as more of an intermediary, Siriri works directly on the project in Ruhiira.

“I live in the village in the middle of nowhere surrounded by banana plantations,” Siriri said.

And for Siriri, little is more important to the success of the project than community involvement.

“We sit down with the communities … and we started with what we call quick-impact intervention,” Siriri said, citing the distribution of 40,500 malaria bed nets to benefit more than 80,000 individuals as an important change.

But on the local level, such diseases are not the only health problems Ruhiira’s citizens face. Siriri said that one of the biggest challenges is malnutrition.

“Banana is the main crop. Banana is the main food,” Siriri said. “People depend mainly on banana, but it is a fruit with not a lot of carbohydrates. And because of disease and poor soil, banana production has been declining.”

Siriri also cited water and sanitation, environment, energy, poor marketing structures, education and health as some of the biggest challenges in the area.

“We have the highest [tuberculosis] prevalence in the western region,” Siriri said.

The area also has a 10 percent prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS, 30 percent prevalence rate of malaria, 5 percent prevalence rate of premature deliveries and 8 percent prevalence rate of mortality of children under one year of age, Siriri said. He said 30 to 40 percent of children are underweight and the nearest hospital is 30 miles away.

All of the MDGs emphasize community empowerment and involvement, Siriri said. Each member of the community is supposed to contribute $10 per year, though because of the labor and hard work by the villages, that number has been far surpassed, Siriri said.

“Everything that we needed for construction was contributed by the community,” he said. “That’s the kind of involvement we’re talking about. … We see ourselves not as drivers of this process, but as facilitators.”

Nkuuhe and Siriri’s combined visit to campus was intended to show community members what can be accomplished through the Notre Dame Millennium Development Initiative in Nindye, a village in the Nkozi sub-county and Mpigi District of Uganda.

“Notre Dame’s efforts will focus in a very special way on Nindye,” Notre Dame Millennium Development Initiative Director Father Bob Dowd said. “We are partners. Notre Dame is a partner in the Millennium Villages Project. … Notre Dame is committed to being a partner and to learn the lessons of human development.”