Saturday, 28 March 2020

Let's go digital!

From 24.02 to 28.02.2020 the Uganda Pioneers went all digital.
With a one week training, we aimed to increase the level of digital competences. This will allow participants to improve their ability to use digital tools and online information.

On the first day, before we started with the training, we asked the participants why they actually want to participate in the training. One answer we got was the following: "I am interested to learn digital tools because I want to be on the same level as others. I don't want to stay behind".

It is this kind of answer that touches my heart and makes me put a lot of effort into what I do. People here in Uganda don't easily have access to computers, let alone computer training. What is taught in school is basic and not very profound.
People realize that they miss out when not having the necessary IT skills.

As a volunteer, we always wonder about the impact we can have in this short amount of time. But this training felt meaningful.

So I was glad to be able to dedicate a full week of teaching to the members of UPA. Altogether we had 15 participants joining the 6 different modules. The training was financed by SudHAV 2 and the EU Aid Volunteer Program.

Motivated Participants, right from the start!

The content was based on Mondos Digital Competences, which I got to know during my stay in the refugee settlement in Rwamwanja. But in Rwamwanja my task was to evaluate. This time I got to teach!

Hanna, another EU Aid Volunteer from Adice and Siisi a local Mondo employe helped with the training and we split the sessions between the three of us.

Monday started with a little introduction, a pre-assessment, and the first module: Digital Safety and Hygiene. Hanna gave important safety tips to remember when using digital tools and explained possible physical threats when using digital technology. All participants created a Gmail account and learned to sent correctly formated emails.
Hanna helping to create Gmail accounts

Tuesday was all about Google tools and it was my turn to teach. We checked out Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Translate and of course how to do a proper Google Search. Furthermore, I explained how to use Google Drive and I loved the moment when they shared documents between each other realized how easy it can be to share data. "It's magic," they said when suddenly a shared photo appeared in their Google Drive and they could access it from the laptop and the phone!
Let's talk Google!

On Wednesday, Siisi took over and taught the ABC of Smartphone Photography. In this module, the participants learned the to differentiate between good and bad quality photos and how to edit photos with the free app Snapseed. They had so much fun taking pictures of each other :-)
They had so much fun taking pictures of each other.

Thursday was my turn again. It was the module ABC of Design. This module was a mix of digital skills and life skills. In an attempt to give an idea about design thinking, I showed the participants how to ask questions for design, how to define a problem and how to offer solutions. Participants actually had to come up with their own business idea in this module. And in the end, we had a cultural dancing group, a community library, and a continental restaurant. We then had a look at together and everyone had to create a logo and a business card for the business idea they had.
Groupwork: creating a business case!

was packed. In the morning we continued working on that business idea and participants had 4 hours to create a website with Google Sites. In the afternoon we went through the ABC of Social Media. The last task I gave my diligent students was to create a social media post about the training. We made a little competition out of it and had a proud winner in the end.
Click here >> to see the post.
Obed, proud winner of our social media competition

It's been a great week and we had a lot of fun together with the participants. Every module was evaluated and it was great to read their comments, thoughts, and suggestions for improvement.

One week later I was happy to hand over their certificates, which will be a great plus for everyone's CV.
Kisses and hugs for our smart students
Proud certificate holders

It comes with nice logos and a watermark! Fancy!

I cordially thank everyone who supported and made this training possible. We act, we care!

Friday, 27 March 2020

Communication is not for everyone!

"The definition of an expert is someone who knows what not to do" [Charles Willson].
I have been working in communication for more than 10 years. Communicating is something we do on a daily basis. We talk, we use our body language, we write, we use social media, we sing, we draw to transmit messages to family members, business partners, and friends.

A cobbler should stick to his last

But just because we communicate in our private life, doesn't mean we are qualified to do so in a professional context.
Unfortunately, I have met many people in my career that felt qualified to do social media marketing, just because they have a Facebook Account or build a Newsletter just because they know how to send emails.
But like Charles Willson said: it is not always about knowing what to do, but also what not to do.

There are a lot of stumbling blocks in communication. In the worst-case, there can be severe legal consequences. GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), Privacy Policies, Imprint, Consent Forms for the use of pictures, etc. are things that need to be taken into consideration

Organizations don't own their communication

While in Uganda, I noticed that many organizations don't have the necessary knowledge in Marketing/ Communication and leave it many times to inexperienced volunteers.

As a result, many organizations have multiple websites, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and other social media channels, they are not even aware of. Of course, hardly anything is maintained properly. Volunteers come, create and leave. They neither share their knowledge nor passwords.

Let's fix it!

Defining target groups
When I started working, I spend a good amount of time closing accounts, deleting websites, trying to regain passwords. Unfortunately, I did not manage in every case. For some pages, it was impossible to find out who set things up and there was no way to go.

But it was not only about cleaning. Organizations need to be able to manage their own communication and not depend on volunteers.
Therefore we built a proper communication strategy to communicate in a target-oriented way. We spent a lot of time identifying and describing target groups. The result of the 5-month work was a budget sheet and a clear action plan with systematic communication measures for each month.

I also spent afternoons training staff to maintain the website, use canva to create designs and explained Facebook to be able to regularly publish on social media.

It was small steps we did, but the biggest goal was to make everyone understand how important ownership is. I left the organizations with a good feeling and am now curious to see everyone communicating, even from the distance.

Braining storming about communication objectives

Everybody was involved

It has been a great teamwork

New website was launched

First marketing material was created together (condom packaging)

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

When volunteers promote volunteering

A world without volunteers would be a sad world

Every day, millions of individuals across the planet engage in development initiatives through volunteer actions – both large and small – in order to improve conditions for others and for themselves, their families and communities.

Personally I gain a lot from working for free

I have always been involved in some sort of volunteering and dedicated free time to be involved with some kind of social service; supporting a family of immigrants in Germany, working with refugee women and children in Greece, feeding homeless people in Portugal, etc.
Amongst other things, volunteering makes me feel more connected to others, and I become less absorbed in the normal stresses of daily life.

For me the advantages of volunteering are obvious, but what about the organizations I have worked for, e.g. like KIFAD?

Volunteers allow organizations to cover their specific staff needs

KIFAD - Kiyita Family Alliance for Development is an organization based in Wakiso, supporting people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Since 2008 they are regularly hosting international volunteers. 

Volunteers had a huge impact on the work of KIFAD in the past. They have brought valuable skills, enhanced capacities in all kinds of areas, delivered basic services, made their expertise available to members of the team and helped to collect donations and funds.

Without volunteers, KIFAD probably would not be where they are today and program manager Bob is well aware of this fact.

But not for all team members the benefits of having a volunteer within the organization are so obvious.

Therefore we organized a workshop on volunteering during my deployment, together with Uganda Pioneers Association and EU Aid Volunteer Hanna (Adice).
In a three hour session we discussed different aspects of volunteering and clarified: 
  • what it means to be a volunteer,
  • why it is important to volunteer and to receive volunteers and
  • how everyone can make the most out of it?

At the end of the day, KIFADs' staff had a much clearer picture on volunteering, its benefits and potentials. 

We certainly have created a few more volunteering ambassadors

Sam and me, ready to go!

Sam is giving the definition of a volunteer

Little game in between: making sculping emotions

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Life in a refugee settlement

Two weeks of my deployment I spend in the refugee settlement Rwamwanja in Western Uganda.

Welcome to Rwamanja (photo credit Janika Tamm)
Rwamwanja settlement was established in 1964 to host refugees from Rwanda but closed in 1995 when many repatriated. The settlement was reopened in 2012 to host refugees fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo due to violence in North and South Kivu. The settlement is hosting 71.707 refugees at the moment but is not receiving new arrivals.

Dusty town center of Rwamwanja
At first glance, Rwamanja looks like any other town in Uganda. Hairdresser, mechanics and hardware stores offer their services and products along the road. Food stalls sell Rolex, beans, pocho and chapati.
People look the same. They wear jeans and shorts, skirts, dresses and jackets like any other person from Uganda.
I notice a difference in the languages spoken, but cannot differentiate if it is the local language Runyankole, one of the Congolese languages Kinyabwisha or Swahili.

It is dusty and hot. But Rwamwanja is 1.288 m above sea level and the nights are nice and cool.

In the center of attention

The first week I stay at the Kiyombo"Resort", at the far end of Rwamwanja. It is okay, but the nights sometimes are loud, electricity is scarce, and the rooms could see a brush more often. The bathroom is improvised. By accident, I find a secret condom reservoir and I don't want to know the true purpose of the resort.
Food is every day the same and after the third day, I am getting tired of rolex breakfast already.

View from LWF guesthouse
But I am lucky. After 5 days I get to move closer to the main offices into a nice guesthouse run by LWF.
Here it is quieter, I have two lovely Japanese ladies living next to me. We are the only white people staying inside the settlement. Western officials normally prefer to stay in distant Kyenjojo or Kamwenge and use nice air-conditioned 4x4 cars to do the one hour commute to the settlement.

I like to be close to the people, however, I do feel intimidated by all the attention I get here in the settlement. But the Japanese, who have been here already for a while, take me by the hand and show me where to eat, shop and how to get around. And I feel more comfortable sharing the attention.

The downside: Getting food here is a bit more complicated. In contrast to the resort, breakfast isn't provided here and the guesthouse does not have a restaurant attached. There are only a few shops around and hence my diet mainly consists of bananas, warm coca cola and mandasi.

Piloting digital competencies 

I am in the settlement on behalf of Mondo, working with Finn Church Aid who is responsible for the education cluster within the settlement. 

Vocational Training Center run by FCA (photo credit Janika Tamm)
Mondo has developed a Digital Competencies Program which is currently piloted in Jordan, Syria, and Uganda. It targets refugees and aims to provide applicable digital skills to solve everyday problems.  Given this is the 21st century and technology is driving the future of work, digital literacy is a necessary criterion for participation in the 4th industrial revolution.

My task is to do a brief evaluation and get some feedback about the program from students and teachers.

The pilot started in August 2019 and roughly 250 students of a vocational training center were meant to learn everything about google tools, smartphone photography, building websites as well as data privacy and internet security in a very interactive way.

Early morning in the training center (photo credit Janika Tamm)
Teaching IT skills is generally not an easy undertaking in Uganda, which is still backward in terms of technology. (Read my article "Working with ICT in Uganda" to learn more about the challenges). And it does not get any easier in a remote refugee settlement.

  • Students speak many different languages such as French, Runyankole, Kinyabwisha, Swahili and sometimes a little English. Teachers have to make sure, every single student is able to follow and translators are needed to cover the various languages.
  • As a principle, the vocational training center does not exclude illiterate people, to give even those a chance who have failed academic education. But it requires additional time and sure instinct of the teachers.
  • Thanks to a solid solar system power is stable, but internet is rare. In a program that requires access to google and several online services, the lack of internet is a real drawback.
  • Education in Uganda is rather confrontational. It is a challenge for teachers to adapt to a more interactive style and it needs a lot of discipline not to revert to old methods and material.
In the two weeks in Rwamwanja I hear and see a lot. Things don't run smoothly, but that's why we do pilots. With some adaptions, the program has great potential. The teachers are motivated and the students eager to know everything about the world wide web and its possibilities. The findings will help to improve the performance of a full-scale project.

If we teach today what we taught yesterday, we rob the children of tomorrow.

Personally, I also learn a lot here during these two weeks: about refugee policies, the power of education, refugee settlements, resilience, development aid, living with very limited resources and the rural side of Uganda.

Rwamwanja in Western Uganda. (photo credit UNHCR)

The first day in Rwamwanja. Assistant ICT-Teacher Grace is giving a tour at the vocational training center.
Fellow EUAV Volunteer Ana joined for two days. (photo credit Janika Tamm)
In Uganda, you can't walk far without being surrounded by children

Well in the settlement 
4 days without running water. The jerry can provides water to shower, drink and flush the toilet
Beautiful setting 

To learn more about the refugee situation in Uganda, please follow below links:

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Living in a mud hut

Saying from North Uganda:
 "If you refuse to eat the first food you are given you go the whole day hungry"

Pakwach is one of the towns next to the highway from Kampala to South Sudan and Congo throughout the country. According to 2014 national counting, its population is about 23000 people. Electricity came to town in 2015 and is still on and off in the dry season. Pakwach itself is also a new district just 3 years old with a new district office just about a kilometer away from town. The main street is full of permanent one-floor buildings and the street down are the village huts with grass roofs. Maine business for people is selling fish to tracks passing by on the highway.
I am living in a local family about a half of a kilometer away from the town center. I have my own grass-roofed mud hut.  There is no permanent electricity or running water. There is a small solar that gives dim outside light at nights so people sitting together in the evening can see what they are eating also it powers the cd reader so that it possible to watch Nigerian soap operas before and after the dinner is served.  Water is collected to jerrycans at night time from a neighbor's tap.  Jeri cans are heavy. It is the work of the two daughters in the family to prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Clean the parent's hut and fill the jerrycans with water and lift them to the shed where is a place for cooking and storing things. Girls also have to bring the water for washing hands before every meal and as a respect to men and older women, they kneel down while pouring water for washing. It is the most embarrassing for me seeing someone kneeling in front of me and though it happens every single day I never get used to it. The women in the North have little self-confidence. Just about ten years ago they were not allowed to eat good food like chicken or eggs to keep them in a lower position. Also, women could not own any land and until now it is still the custom in more traditional families. As men could have many wives or lovers for a woman having a lover outside the marriage would be the death penalty by the community. Mostly men cant cook and it is considered even embarrassing for a guy to go to the kitchen since it is a woman’s job. So it is necessary to get a wife because otherwise, one would struggle with getting food.
The day starts early around 6.30 everyone is up and my host father is putting on some loud gospel music or just news from the radio. Everyone has a task. Children run to school before seven without eating. If the host mother is at home she is preparing the charcoal stove lightning it with a piece of plastic bag. My host father is the one for compound cleaning and he is swiping of the leaves fallen from trees during the night and bird shit from pigeons and ducks that freely roam around the compound. Cooking takes time because the charcoal stove is slow. First, it takes about an hour to get it hot and then the water for tea is prepared. Meanwhile, I peel the sweet potatoes or cassava depending on what has been brought the previous evening. Generally, white people are considered to be helpless considering housework. My skill of peeling potatoes gets a lot of attention, but while trying to boil the potatoes I fail, because I don’t know how to do it right. Every potato, cassava or jams is boiled with little water and covered with a transparent plastic bag, to keep the fumes. Plastics bag is the most important tool in the household besides using it for lighting fire, cooking it is also used to tie around chickens wings with a purpose to keep the chickens healthy. There is no logical explanation of how a plastic bag around a chickens wing will keep it in good health but the community, where Christianity was introduced just a century ago, the original beliefs and superstitions are still strong.
My family is very religious. Every Sunday morning they go to Born Again church and every meal is started by a prayer. I find it beautiful to appreciate food with gratitude and sometimes I am asked to pray for food, though i am short as: "Thanks for the food, Amen!" I appreciate the habit and miss it after. Another tradition that comes with serving food is washing hands before eating. It looks like follows: almost always the lady comes kneels in front of the person washing hands and pours water on the hands holding the basin and also the jug. It is almost like in the Bible. I understand the respect that is given to the people served food to and the need to wash hands because of hygiene, but sometimes its 70-year-old ladies who have big trouble kneeling, but still it is the tradition and they do it. Every time I feel embarrassed because I never see men doing it. Another observation is that women, when eating are always seated on the ground and men sit on chairs. This is also happening in all the meetings. Even if I try to tell women to take seats on the chairs it is not going to happen because of this is how things are done here.

The usual breakfast is boiled sweet potato, or a mix of beans and corn fried in oil –, lunch posho, porridge from cornflower, and beans and for dinner fish or meat with calo, porridge from cassava and millet flour.  Fork and spoon are not used, people eat with their hands, taking a little piece of porridge making it into a ball between the fingers and pushing a little hole into it and dipping it into the sauce. The consistency is very strange for me and I can feel pieces of sand in the porridge until after a couple of months I don’t chew the porridge anymore but swallow it straight. It is very healthy food because there is very little processing evolved but no one ever eats anything raw except mangos. Tomatoes are considered a spice inside the food. Though there are delicious avocados I don’t see people eating them. It is because of possible diseases that you can get from food and people don’t have money to go to the doctor, so it is much safer to eat only hot food and this is a rule. There are no sweets. The only sweet thing is tea. For a cup, my host father is adding about three spoonfuls of sugar.  To accompany tea, one can have mandazi - it is a deep-fried piece of bread similar to a donut. But there has to be something called "escort" or the tea won't go down. It can be several things like potatoes or even pasta or just peanuts but has to be something. Mandazi is my favorite and is really a treat as it is the only somehow sweet food available.
Dinner is around ten in the evening and I struggle with the lack of sleep from waking up early in the morning and eating very late.  Ugandans definitely don’t sleep eight hours a day as it is thought in Europe. Sometimes my family goes to sleep one am or later, but always waking up before seven in the morning so estimated sleeping time is about 5 hours.  The endless differences in our life setting and possibilities of living are one of the most amazing things I experience and also it brings understanding why people struggle in poverty, why life is so much slower and how much easier and faster is life in developed countries just because women don’t spend the whole day in the kitchen preparing food, so there is space for other activities. Usually, all the families have some little land to grow crops and to feed on it , there is a lack of money. If there is no money there is no education and the land inherited from father to sons is getting less and less. The climate change is chasing the farmers and the fish is overexploited.  Wood for charcoal is ending up and deforestation is chasing the next generations among many other problems.

Monday, 25 November 2019

Working with ICT in Uganda

Can you remember the time when there were no computers at home? Well, I do :-) I was born in 1983 and learned to type on an old-fashioned typewriter. I was 17 when had my first computer lessons in school and experienced the shift to the so-called Information Age at close quarters: The historic period characterized by the rapid shift to an economy primarily based upon information technology

A couple of years later and I am in Uganda to work as an ICT specialist (ICT = Information, Communication and Technology).
My task is to identify IT and communication gaps and possibly close them.

Everyone needs IT knowledge
Even though I have worked for a big IT company in the past, I don't consider myself an IT expert. I am more into communication and marketing.
And yet, that's how everybody introduces me: Iris (or Maria), the IT specialist. This leads to the fact that people constantly approach me to fix their computer, phone or ask me questions about networks, VPN connections, coding or other computer programs I have never heard of.

But in the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king.

30 years after entering the information-age computers are still not common in Uganda 
The need for IT knowledge in Uganda is huge. According to the Uganda National Household Survey (2016/2017) using a computer is no regular activity of Uganda's population.

I am here now for 11 weeks and I have currently been assigned to work for 3 different projects.
One of them is at the Uprise Foundation | Timeline Vocational Training Center -  A foundation, that aims to improve the lives of vulnerable children and their households by providing quality education, protection, access to good health and sustainable livelihood programs. 

Teaching challenges in Uganda
Once a week I go there and teach IT skills for 3 hours. It is part of their timetable. The students are between 18 and 25 years old and will be tailors, electricians, and mechanics when they have finished their training. We do Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint and despite having done endless basic exercises, they struggle every week to change the color of a font. 
Typing is another issue. They use 2 fingers instead of 10 and we start every lesson with some typing exercises, but since they don't own a computer, they cannot practice at home. It is a very slow learning process.

And then there is the issue with the equipment. We have 2 computers and 2 laptops for 7 students. 
Unfortunately, 1 monitor is half broken and the screen is constantly green. Keyboards have been donated and come with German or Chinese keys. Most of the cables have a defective contact and work only randomly.

Last but not least: powercuts also affect the school and if there is no electricity - there is no IT lesson.

But computer skills can be defined as important skills in today’s world. People who don't develop technological expertise will be left behind in the digital revolution. 

This is one of the messages I keep telling my students. It might not be their favorite subject, but the importance is high and the potential huge.

Provisory IT classroom

Some of my students

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Natural colouring workshop

Women with abilities is the craft group of Kikooba. It's a group of women that have come together to create a space of sharing, supporting and learning from each other.

They are all are little farmers. They grow for food and to make some little money to maintain their houses. But sometimes it's not even enough for that. So, working together in this craft group allows them having some incomes to be able to pay school fees, doctors, medication, milk, oil...
They've been working for a while, and still they are learning and improving, but I could already see their improvement from old baskets they had and the new ones their are doing. They have been working with the EU volunteer for two years, and they are always open to listen to new ideas and suggestions for improvement.

With other volunteer, Kaie, who has been working with them for long, we organised a workshop on natural colouring. It was lead by two ladies who came from another organisation, Open Hands To Serve, which have been working for very long on this kind of crafts with ladies in Uganda.

They brought some leaves and roots from where the ladies in Kikooba learnt how to colour their rafias on yellows, greens and black. Black is a very difficult colour to find in here, so it was really profitable for them learning how to make this colour.


Thank you for sharing your groups with me!