iDev: American Students and iDev

Huge amounts of people in sub-Saharan Africa are needlessly suffering from the effects of conflict, famine and disease. Many young African leaders care deeply about and have the passion to solve their communities’ problems, but they often lack the support networks and resources necessary for effective practitioners.

In the United States, there are young leaders equally passionate about ending needless suffering, who have networks and resources, but often lack an effective vehicle for making change. Giving up their careers and families to live a Paul Farmeresque life in a remote village seems impractical. Writing a $20 check to UNICEF and forgetting about the problem seems ineffective. What to do?

I spent the last two weeks leading the Global Youth Partnership for Africa Student Global Ambassadors: Uganda Immersion. The two-week Immersion brought 16 American undergraduate and graduate students to Uganda who are interested in working alongside Ugandan 'social entrepreneurs' in the areas of HIV/AIDS, Income Generating Activities (IGA's) and Peace/Conflict Issues. In Kampala, Ft. Portal (western Uganda) and Gulu (northern Uganda) we met with a wide array of accomplished Ugandan leaders who both cared deeply about their communities and had the skills to make smart, practical decisions.

GYPA's Uganda Immersion programs are designed to bridge the dichotomy I described in the first paragraph. As I repeatedly told the students throughout the Immersion, GYPA measures the success of Immersion programs not by the number of airline seats filled, but by the number of Ambassadors who stay engaged in various projects after the completion of the trip. GYPA supports this engagement in two forms: educational programs at their universities that challenge conventional views of Africa, and direct partnerships between American and Ugandan entrepreneurs.

While it's too early to measure our success on the Immersion that ended this weekend, I'll share one of the many amazing stories of practical, intelligent action that several of the students took even before they left. For over three years, GYPA has been working with the Namuwongo Women's Group, a group of women living in extreme poverty on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda.

Poverty has caused the usual cocktail of health problems, and lack of access to education and sanitation. Despite these difficulties, these women leaders have come together to create necklaces, bracelets baskets, and more. The leader of the group, Immaculate Alaso, came to speak to the Immersion group about her work.

After speaking and showcasing some of her work, she talked briefly about her business plan and the importance of having a few more sewing machines to significantly increase their production capacity. The next day, several of the students decided that wanted to pool some money to buy a sewing machine for the Women's Group. So many people were interested, and sewing machines cost so little, that the next day they presented Immaculate with five new sewing machines.

This was a simple, strategic investment that allowed the Women's Group to fill more orders, while still having time to take care of their family.
Perhaps what is most extraordinary is that contributions need not be monetary. In a country with a GDP of less than $1,800 per person, Ugandans who create community projects are often acting alone under very difficult circumstances.

Therefore, the connections and excitement shared about their work provides needed inspiration. Also, since the American participants are left free to take part in the projects they find most exciting, a natural competitive environment in created amongst the over two dozen Ugandan led community projects showcased during the Immersion. Thus, the most innovative projects get the most support.

Now I get to take an African Minute to recharge before the August Immersion arrives to challenge Africa is viewed in the media.

Click here for a link to a pre-Immersion podcast about the June Immersion I did with EchoDitto.

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