CFTC interviews Mueni Udeozor, Program Officer, on her return from her first monitoring trip to that country in late June, 2011.
CFTC: Can you describe your position at CFTC and the dates you travelled to Uganda?
MU: As Program Officer, my role includes working closely with the Uganda Country Representative to manage community-focused programs through our local partners in the areas of nutrition and health, livelihoods, education and social development. Other responsibilities include planning, budgeting and financial monitoring and analysis, report writing and program evaluation. I travelled to Uganda Jun 17-30. It was a monitoring trip and I was there to engage our partners in the work they are implementing in specific communities, and to meet the children, women and men in these communities who are at the centre of this partnership.
CFTC: Was this your first time travelling to Uganda, and if so what was your first impression?
MU: While this was not my first trip to an African country, it was my first time in Uganda in the role of Program Officer for Canadian Feed The Children. Following seemingly endless hours in the air, filled with lots of reading and film-watching and a brief stopover in Kigali, Rwanda, we finally landed in Entebbe, Uganda. We arrived just before midnight, and as we drove into the capital city I was shocked to see most shops open, and people carrying on transactions like they would during the day. I found the noise and traffic astounding for the time of night. It felt like a city that never sleeps.
As not all roads in Kampala are paved, I often tasted residual dust as it floated in the air as motorcycles zipped by, weaving through traffic and as people made their way between slow-moving and stopped vehicles. My eyes did not tire of interesting sights to take in, and I found this to be the case with the unusually large billboards at intersections throughout the city. There was never a dull moment navigating through Kampala’s packed matrix of roads!
CFTC: What was the purpose of your trip?
MU: The purpose of the monitoring trip was to meet and engage with our Field Office staff and partners, and thereby get a firsthand look at some of the projects our partners are implementing. Following a two-day CFTC partners’ workshop in Kampala, where partners shared their organizational work, successes and challenges with great transparency, we travelled some four hours east of Kampala to Bugiri District, where our partner, Uganda Community Based Association for Child Welfare (UCOBAC) is implementing child sponsorship and home-based care programs.
Next we travelled to Masindi in the western region to meet with Child Rights Empowerment and Development Organization (CEDO) and evaluate their work with children in Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers. Meeting these children and the community that supports them to prepare for future integration into the educational system was rewarding, as it clearly demonstrated the impact our partnership has on the community.
As the other two partners are located in central Uganda, we visited Huys Link Initiatives’ (HUYSLINCI) work and participated in distribution of sweaters to children, as well as handed out baby chicks and piglets to trained beneficiaries in Wakiso District. I was deeply impressed with the good work this partner is doing to enable the community to find sustainable solutions to its unique challenges. Families are able to take back the responsibility of raising their children as they should.
Our fourth partner, Baylor College of Medicine Uganda (BCM-U) is based in Kampala at Mulago Hospital and is doing great work bridging a nutrition gap among families and children affected by HIV/AIDS. This partner is reaching out to the slums in the city to provide nutritional supplements and food rations to families suffering from food insecurity, as well as working with beneficiaries to create kitchen gardens and ideas for income generation.
It was awe-inspiring and humbling to visit programs that our partners are implementing. Seeing the passion of partners and the vital role they play within the communities, and the growth of those communities as a result of partner interventions was a profound experience.
Over and over again I was approached by women, men and children, thanking me for the work that CFTC does, and asking for continued partnership and support. Each individual story moved me, and it was while I listened to their words of joy and thanks that I was able to envisage in small part, what their lives could look like without our shared partnership.
CFTC: What was something that surprised you on the trip?
MU: The abundance of food in the country is astounding, and it was heartbreaking to see malnourished children and adults barely surviving on the streets and in slums, their lives devastated by hunger and compounded by the lack of access to food, which is plentiful in other parts of the country. There was no shortage of fresh food like plantains, yams, maize, fruits and seeds in markets driving through Kampala. But what I learned is that this food is only available to people with purchasing power, which means the urban poor cannot afford to buy it. And the limited amount of space, compounded by a lack of access to seeds and farming equipment, prohibits these families from growing their own food.
CFTC: Can you describe some of the reasons why people are suffering from hunger when there is food available?
MU: Food insecurity is a major challenge in Uganda. There is limited access to food, due to inflation, rising food costs and associated rising fuel costs, which ultimately means preparation and transportation of food to the market is incredibly expensive. Families are selling their livestock and rural farms to move into urban centres, where they believe jobs are more plentiful. Growing crops has become too expensive, as many families do not have the money needed to transport goods to market or means to store and sell out of season. So the influx of people migrating to urban centres continues, meaning that increasingly, there are more people than there are jobs available.
CFTC: What partner impressed you the most?
MU: For me, meeting the UCOBAC volunteers was an amazing experience. Of course I was pleasantly surprised by the selfless work each of our partners is carrying out, but one program that especially touched me was the home-based care program through our partner UCOBAC.
Under this model, UCOBAC mobilizes willing community volunteers, prepares and equips them to spend time working with families that are affected by HIV/AIDS. Volunteers have now become an integral part of helping reintegrate these ostracized families as a result of their HIV status back into the community. They spend hours helping them to rebuild a sense of trust, self-worth and pride through counselling, home upgrades, child sponsorship, family planning, hygiene and through first aid as needed.
Through UCOBAC’s implementation of this program, families also receive training in income generating activities and are equipped with tangible tools (such as goats and skills of how to begin and run a kitchen garden) to improve their livelihoods. The work these volunteers, both men and women, are doing on the front lines fills me with renewed passion and excitement for the work CFTC is engaged in, knowing that the end goal is not only healthy and educated children, but enabled communities as well, strong enough to sustain their improved quality of life.
CFTC: How will this trip affect the way you go about your duties in Toronto as Program Officer for Uganda?
MU: This trip has continued to have a great impact in the way I carry out my work because I see my responsibilities as part of a greater goal than myself. I have learned to see myself as a representative of the children and communities I met and engaged with, and when I review reports from the field, I picture the woman in the slum with six children in her care, able to provide only one meal a day for them, but thanks to one of our partners, her children are no longer malnourished. I see the grandparents who are left to take care of their orphaned grandchildren, and thanks to our local partner, the children are able to go to school, receive uniforms and have a cup of porridge at lunch. These enriching experiences are at the forefront as I work to enhance our programs in Uganda.