Ella McNab is Restless Development’s Partnerships Manager and recently visited our projects in Karamoja, Uganda. The experience brought the daily work she does to life and reaffirmed her belief in Restless Development’s youth-led approach.
When I found out I would be accompanying a Restless Development supporter to visit our projects in Karamoja, Uganda, I was both excited and apprehensive. Excited because the work Restless Development deliver in Karamoja is viewed as one of our flagship programmes. Apprehensive because the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office warns against all travel to the ‘lawless’ region which is recovering from decades of civil war.
The statistics on Karamoja are stark. Over 80 per cent of the population live below the poverty line and the region lags behind the rest of the country on all socio-economic indicators. Literacy levels are as low as 12%, and malnutrition levels are regularly higher than 10% (UNICEF Nutrition Surveys), in part due to the harsh climatic conditions in the region.
As a result, the development landscape in Karamoja is saturated and the main street in Moroto, the largest town in the area, is lined with INGOs. So what value does Restless Development add in such a crowded market? After a day with the team I felt confident in my answer, and proud of where our value lies:
Jonathan is 22 years old and grew up in Napak, Karamoja. He attended school until grade 4 (16 years old) but couldn’t afford to continue his education from there. Last year Jonathan became a Restless Development community volunteer.
I met Jonathan during a session he was facilitating with the women in his group. He’s been working with them for months to teach them basic business skills and today he was handing over six goats to the women as start-up capital for the business they will be setting up together.
Being a Restless Development volunteer is important for Jonathan’s professional development but what really motivates him to walk 1.5 hours each day to work is the changes he’s seen as a result of his work. He explained that alcoholism is a real problem across Karamoja, but since he started volunteering he has seen a marked change in the number of people drinking in his community. As alcoholism decreases so does gender based violence, HIV transmission and unemployment rates, so this is a real achievement.
Restless Development work closely with local government to ensure our projects are effective, sustainable, and that they reach those most in need. In Karamoja, we met with the Sub County Chief who told us: “To be effective you must provide long-term support.” Referring to Jonathan’s work he explained: “If you hand over the goats and then leave, the community are likely to sell them on. If, like Restless Development you give the community ownership of the project, and you continue to support them to look after the goats, then the impact is great.”
John Mark lives in one of the villages we visited. He told me how Restless Development’s programme has changed his life.
Having completed primary education, and two years at agricultural collage, John Mark got married and had children at a young age. He has two wives – one wife had three children in quick succession and the other four. With seven children, John Mark and his family struggled to survive. The village they live in is 3km from a local waterhole, and as crops failed two of his children became severely malnourished.
When Restless Development volunteers started working in John Mark’s village, one of the first topics they covered was family planning. John Mark realised he had a choice about family planning and that by avoiding having more children he could build a better, sustainable life for his family. It has now been two years since the family had a child. Although he says, with a smile, that the “feeling is there” he knows that he cannot yet afford to have another baby.
John Mark also talked about the livelihoods and business skills he’s developed from the Restless volunteers. He’s now knows how to rotate his crops to provide food for his family and plans to use the business skills he’s learned to set up a business selling household items. He’s determined to secure a better future for his family – one of his children is already at school and he plans to send the others as soon as he can afford the school fees.
As a UK based fundraiser it’s easy to become disconnected from our work on the ground. I spend my days promoting sustainable, youth-led, behavioural change, and I believe passionately in the work we do. Visiting Karamoja brought our work to life and re-confirmed in my mind what makes Restless Development unique. I returned feeling inspired to shout about the fantastic work we do, and proud to be part of The Youth-led Development Agency.