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ND builds on Ugandan partnership

Marcela Berrios | Friday, January 25, 2008

Last January, a group of Notre Dame delegates led by University President Father John Jenkins traveled to Nindye, Uganda, to visit the village that would become Notre Dame’s partner in the Millennium Development Initiative.

One year later, the ties between the University and the village of 5,000 have strengthened with the research and findings of the project’s staff and Notre Dame students, as well as the enthusiasm among the Ugandans, according to the project’s assistant director, Tim Lyden.

“We’ve done a lot of listening and learning over the last year, in order to really understand the people of Nindye and their needs. That was the first thing we needed to do,” Lyden said Thursday. “We didn’t want to just jump into this partnership without taking a breath to figure out what our next step would be and how we were going to do it.”

After the 2006 Notre Dame Forum on global health, Jenkins announced the University’s involvement in the United Nations’ Millennium Villages Project. Notre Dame, he said, would partner with a sub-Saharan village to help it tackle the challenges of disease, hunger, poverty, illiteracy and environmental degradation through the empowerment of its people and institutions.

This meant that rather than impose a solution to these problems, Notre Dame would collaborate with and give the villagers the tools and resources they might need to improve the standard of life.

Lyden said that during the first half of 2007, Notre Dame and its partner school, Uganda Martyrs University, worked together to conduct research on the village and comprehensive interviews with its residents. The two schools also studied Ruhiira, a more advanced Millennium Village in the Isingiro district of Uganda.

“We looked at some of Ruhiira’s strategies, timelines and budgets and hope to adapt those to Nindye’s needs,” Lyden said.

One of those strategies was hiring a consultant from the Ugandan capital, Kampala, to conduct a participatory mapping exercise in Nindye. Lyden said the project’s staff called on the same consultant used in Ruhiira to “map out existing infrastructure, water sources, topography and population density, among other things, so that we could gain a better understanding of the region and take those things into consideration in the future.”

The mapping exercise, he said, involved the villagers by inviting them to three open meetings where they could offer their input and knowledge of the region. More than 100 people attended each of the sessions, Lyden said.

“Word was getting out among the people about the way in which we wanted to build the partnership – an inclusive one,” he said. “And they were also willing to cooperate with us and talk to us because they knew we were working with Uganda Martyrs.”

When five Notre Dame undergraduates arrived to spend the summer in Nindye, the villagers were open and receptive.

“People were extremely willing to spend one or two hours talking to our students,” Lyden said.

Two students were there through the Student International Business Council (SIBC), identifying and interviewing local entrepreneurs while the other three were doing academic research on different areas, including the education system and the economic and political conditions in Nindye, Lyden said. Their findings and conclusions will become the basis for a more tailored systematic survey that the project staff hopes to get out to the villagers in 2008.

This baseline survey, he said, will yield more information about Nindye’s demographics, the level of education of its residents, their religion, mortality rates, measures of maternal health and incidence rates for HIV/AIDS and other diseases like tuberculosis and malaria, among other key attributes.

“We hope the results from this baseline survey will tell the people of Nindye what to tackle first: Do they work on purifying water sources or on building new schools? Although ultimately, the hope is to be able to start working on a variety of different initiatives at the same time and in that way, ‘jumpstart’ the entire village,” Lyden said.

He said it’s likely the survey will not be conducted until mid-2008, when Uganda Martyrs students in need of a summer job and who can speak the local language – Luganda – can distribute it to the villagers, compile the results and communicate them to the people of Nindye.

Notre Dame, for its part, will concentrate on raising more capital to back up the project, Lyden said. This might include extending an invitation to the alumni to become more involved in the efforts to help Nindye, but those plans aren’t finalized yet.

“We do know that sometime this fall, we hope to be able to gather the villagers, tell them what our findings are, work with them to prioritize their needs and come up with specific actions to address those needs, so that when resources become available, they know exactly where to distribute them,” Lyden said.