Northern Uganda: The Real PictureMarch 3, 2011
If you Google ‘Northern Uganda’, what do you find? You will most likely stumble upon words such as conflict, abduction, brutality, violence and extreme poverty.
When I read an article from the BBC (Bitter legacy of Uganda’s civil war) towards the end of last year I was very disappointed – not because I felt sadness towards the ‘devastation’ that was described in the place that I call home – but because the article was another piece of negative coverage of the current situation here in Northern Uganda.
Western and even National media often portray the Acholi region and its people as helpless and pathetic, unable to cope with the devastating effects of war. This will explain the numbers of organisations and individuals from the West ‘coming to the rescue’! An international journalist recently contacted me looking for a story on domestic violence in the North and asked me if I could connect her with people. After travelling around looking for a story she told me that her editor would not be happy as the stories ‘were just not disturbing enough’. It left me wondering when the conflict would cease being ‘sexy’ and if it would ever be possible to acknowledge people for their courage and strength.
As you can imagine, any conflict lasting over 20 years is going to have damaging effects on its people, particularly when it comes to education and livelihoods. And yes, from a fundraising perspective, devastation does sell but I am certain that instilling confidence in people makes projects actually work by empowering communities to take ownership of their own projects and futures. That’s what makes our work at African Revival so different. We don’t “rescue”, w work in genuine partnership with people who want to shape their own futures and the future of their children.
I have a lot of confidence in the people that I work with. It is exciting – YES you heard correctly – Gulu is an exciting place, and not just Gulu but rural villages and trading centres all around the 4 Districts that I have got to know over the two and a half years I have spent living here and working with African Revival. Many communities have moved back home to their villages which marks a new beginning for every generation. Teaching resources are scarce and buildings aren’t even there in some cases. But the foundations are all there because people are determined to get their lives back for their children’s sake.
So what am I really trying to say? Simply that it is important, in the field of charity and development, not to underestimate people, especially people that we do not really know. The amazing people that I work with would much rather receive our money out of confidence in their abilities to develop their own communities than out of pity for them as victims.