Our CIDA IYIP in Uganda, Mariah, recently wrote an article about UYONENT in Karamoja. The article appeared in the organization’s 10th anniversary magazine (UYONET @ 10) that was published for their August 9th to 12th regional youth conference. Here is her article.
When I was told that I would be working in Uganda on a project to support Karamajong youth, I didn’t really know what to expect. The Internet revealed horror stories of violence, cattle-raiding, lack of infrastructure and crushing poverty. And yet while I discovered this is all true, Karamoja is so much more than all of that. It is an astoundingly beautiful area with people determined to change their future. It is a place of great potential, of untapped riches and a place in desperate need of real government intervention. Working on the Karamoja project has been a fascinating chance to see a part of Uganda many never get to visit. It is a surprisingly beautiful area surrounded by a mountain range.
As I discovered during my time here, Karamoja is one of the poorest regions in the world and lags far behind the rest of the country in terms of progress with the MDGs. Its literacy rate is less than 20% and the life expectancy is nearly ten years lower than the national rate. Years of drought and violence have eradicated the cattle population, leaving the youth without meaningful livelihood. Breaking the cycle of poverty and developing the region is a serious challenge and many of the issues UYONET deals with in Karamoja stem from these problems: lack of infrastructure, an impoverished population and a struggle to change the situation with minimal resources.
In Moroto, we met with various government officials, NGO representatives and community members. They face many challenges, however, in their quest to develop the region; the electricity is only on for three hours a day; there are no paved roads, making it difficult to access the rest of the country, and the region remains deeply impoverished. With constant drought and loss of cattle, the Karamajong face a very uncertain future. The representatives we met with told us that in order to have a real impact in the region, UYONET must commit to working with the youth long-term. This way, we can provide ongoing support to youth pursuing alternative livelihood activities.
UYONET only has two staff members in the field office but our work plan for this quarter has a lot planned. We will be holding training sessions for retired warriors to give them employable skills. This will help the youth find meaningful employment and prevent them from returning to violence. UYONET is planning a training session for miners to educate them on safe working practices. UYONET is also planning a series of town hall dialogues to discuss key issues regarding youth with local government officials. In Moroto district, for instance, the town hall dialogue will look at the issue of youth in mining. Mining is becoming an increasingly popular alternative livelihood activity among youth as Karamoja is rich in minerals, including gold, copper and cobalt. It is also very dangerous since many youth do not know how to mine safely, educating them on the proper value of their goods and it is having an effect on the environment. By communicating our concerns to local officials, UYONET hopes to lobby for new by-laws that will positively regulate the mining trade.
In Kampala, UYONET is working to distribute our baseline survey conducted in Karamoja to various CSOs and Ministry officials. This will allow us to educate Ugandans on the issues facing Karamoja and what is needed in order to develop the region. There is much work to be done in the region; getting our projects off the ground will be challenging but an excellent opportunity for UYONET to expand its capacity and really make a difference where it’s needed.
– Mariah Griffin-Angus, Governance Project Officer, CIDA International Youth Internship Program, Uganda 2012