I have my first international mission trust and infatuation – and I’d like to entice you to partner with me in it. There’s plenty of room for participation and more hands in the field are more than welcome. I refer to a community based development organization in Uganda known as the Neema Mission Center.
Before I go into detail on Neema, I think it would be valuable to outline the setting of Neema and the conditions that exist in this portion of East Central Africa – a troubled region in a troubled continent with it’s own array of problems and challenges.
In this way, Uganda and the village in which Neema is situated, will not be an abstract, because for many of us, Uganda, if it has any frame of reference whatsoever, it is only that Idi Amin, its dictator throughout the 1970s was infamous the world over and some also remember the Israeli Special Forces‘ raid on Entebbe, in July 1976 successfully rescuing Israeli citizens being held hostage there. Below, is a map of the region:
As you can see, Uganda is encircled by other countries that have been in the throws of upheaval in recent decades.
Most notable is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has been wracked with war, claiming up to 6 million casualties in the conflict, including deaths resulting from starvation and disease. But then, there is also South Sudan, where, during the last 4 years, 1.8 million people have died in a grinding war, and whose government, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has issued a draft resolution regarding.
Ms. Haley warned that a peace deal must be effected by South Sudan officials no later than June 30, or sanctions will be imposed, either bi-laterally with the cooperation of the U.N. Security Council or unilaterally, by the United States and its allies.
Given this context, it is critical to note that Uganda faces the most significant refugee crisis on the continent and the fastest growing refugee problem in the world.
Uganda, at last count, is the reluctant host of 1.27 million refugees and asylum seekers, due to the influx of – in large part, women and children fleeing war and genocide in South Sudan and the Congo.
Add to this, the fact that until the war in South Sudan came to a full boil, Uganda was exporting $240 million dollars in agricultural products to that country and now that export market has crashed due to the extended conflict.
Uganda is not economically stable enough, in and of itself, to effectively handle the hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing carnage, rape and ethnic cleansing in their neighboring countries.
Summing up the catastrophe, is Ms. Delphine Pinault, CARE’s Country Director for Uganda, who recently stated, “Last week people were arriving in their 100s, now we’re seeing thousands arrive every day. People arrive exhausted, dehydrated, hungry and emotionally devastated. They are running for their lives.”
Uganda, with a population of over 38 million, has primarily an agrarian based economy; principally involving the farming of such food staples as Millet, Sorghum, Maize, Beans, Rice, Bananas, Cassava root and Peas.
Roughly 82 percent of workers are involved with crop production, and only about 3 percent employed in manufacturing of any kind.
Exports include Coffee, Citrus, Cocoa, Tomatoes, Cabbage, Spices, Tea and Cotton.
Uganda shares nearly half of Africa’s largest of her Great Lakes, Lake Victoria, with neighbors, Tanzania and Kenya. Victoria, the second largest fresh water lake in the world, after Lake Superior, provides an additional resource of fishing to the Ugandan economy, with Nile Perch that can range in size from 20, to an incredible 180 pounds.
Agriculture, for the most part, is not conducted on a rational system. Most crops are annual crops and when harvested, hit the market simultaneously causing the growers and their produce to compete for buyers, thus hampering profits and income.
The industrial side of matters, tells an even more dysfunctional story. A bill passed during the Clinton administration, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), held the promise of jump starting, for example, the manufacturing of apparel. The initiative, as it applied to Uganda, lacked the sort of management, accountability and mentoring to produce success and never lived up to expectations.
A key part of that failure can be attributed to the fact that would be investors were turned off by the widespread government corruption in the country.
Uganda – aside from an anemic economy, has its own set of sociological factors that make it a bad candidate to cope with the stresses of hordes of refugees and asylum seekers. Consider these statistics (courtesy of Musana Community Development Organization) – Uganda:
• Possesses the 2nd highest fertility rate in the world after Niger with 6.53 children per woman.
• Holds the 9th highest growth rate in population for the world, growing 3.24% per year.
• Reached an all time high in population with 37.5 million in the 2013 census, up from 34.5 million in 2011 (Note: Uganda is the size of Oregon).
• Expects to increase its population fivefold, pushing Uganda to the top 10 most populated nations in the world by 2100.
• Experiences about 700,000 unplanned pregnancies every year. Cultural tradition has emphasized large families equating to social status – despite the obvious consequences of poverty and malnutrition.
• Comprises the world’s second youngest population after Niger.
• 79.9% of homes are child-headed households in rural areas
• 67% of Ugandans are living in poverty ($1.20-2.40 per day).
• 27% of adults are illiterate, most of whom are women.
• Has a primary school drop out rate of 68.2%.
• 12% of marriages occur before the age 15, 46% of marriages occur before the age of 18. These statistics are accountable to the factors of the common practice of polygamy and arranged marriages.
Needless to say, that set of statistics is staggering when viewed in totality. So, that brings me to the subject of my chosen mission charity.
Neema Mission Centre is in the sub-county of Bulange Parish (boo-lah-ngeh) in Bulange Village within the Iganga district of South Eastern Uganda. Compounding the general dilemma of Uganda, Iganga has the additional problems of diseases that are preventable, but common in Iganga, such as Malaria, URTI internal worms and an HIV / AIDS rate of 14.7 percent – more than double the national rate.
Because Iganga is situated along the main highway between Kenya and Uganda, the prevalence of prostitution is an increased factor of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
As is true throughout Uganda and in the surrounding countries, there is a vicious cycle of destruction of the environment (deforestation, soil erosion, bush farming, over-grazing) and persistent poverty in Iganga district. Only 58 percent of Iganga’s population has consistent access to safe water sources. Establishing and standardizing large and small scale sanitation projects is critically important, but not well organized.
There is no getting around the fact that we’ve painted a rather dismal picture here. Reality based? Yes – but it is not the entire picture. There is a new generation of leaders emerging, with dedication, courage and enthusiasm for the betterment of their community.
From the Neema Mission Centre’s statement of purpose:
Neema Mission Centre is dedicated to providing nutrition, education, support and protection for the impoverished and unfortunate of the Iganga area of Uganda, especially the widows and orphans of AIDS/HIV.
I became acquainted with the Neema Mission Centre through a Facebook friend who is a teacher at Neema’s school, Ms. Nakisita Sarah.
The better I got to know Nakisita and the Director of Neema, Pastor Stephen Dhairawa the clearer it became that Neema is exactly the sort of organic and transformative solution that needs to be supported in Iganga, and replicated elsewhere in Uganda and the entire region.
Neema Mission Centre – agents of change
Make no mistake – the displaced children and widows that Neema is caring for and mentoring, are at risk if adequate support is not forthcoming. When powerful storms smash into the Mission and community – semi-permanent structures, including the educational facilities are leveled to the ground. The Director faces a daily concern about obtaining food for the children.
There is no more powerful long term plan for improvement in Uganda and in East Central Africa than education. Poverty and disease are unsustainable in the face of young men and women free from illiteracy and ignorance. The children at Neema receive education in the core subjects of math and language studies (English) as well as grounding in Christian moral and ethical principals.
The Mission also has specific plans for food sustainability. Sometimes they are as simple and basic as obtaining a cultivation tractor, so that the Mission can expand beyond garden plots (olusuku ggandalyasajja ) and transition towards self-sufficiency in nutrition.
Water management, development and maintenance for the Mission properties is very critical also – for daily needs and crop irrigation.
There is no municipal or county water authority supplying water to this village.
Neema has already commenced the formation of a Community Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO), called Neema Missions SACCO, which will enable them to petition regional officials for assistance.
The NGO (Non-Government Organization) that I have been channeling donations through is Betterplace.org, which has taken on Neema, in the role of fund-raising and management of assistance efforts. Like many such relief efforts, Betterplace situates undergraduate and grad students as on site interns at the projects they are sponsoring..
NGO’s like Betterplace, perform best in a support and advisory role, because improvement in a village must be mainly informed by the insight of indigenous leaders who have a deep understanding of the cultural context of their social environment and its psychological dynamics.
Neema’s on site coordinator / project manager, is Matthias Poerting from Studenteninitiative Weitblick Berlin e.V. Betterplace is based in Berlin, Germany. Below, is a picture of Matthias and his wife, next to Director Dhairawa, addressing the community at Neema:
I am a stickler for research into organizations I donate to and those that I ask others to donate to. Betterplace passes the test in terms of reputation, effectiveness and accountability. Here is a link to the landing page for Betterplace’s Neema project.
You can donate there and they have a PayPal option, which is my favorite and most secure way to fund charities of all sorts. Since Betterplace is based in Germany, donations are counted in Euros. Some approximate examples of equivalents ($1 US / .85 EU) between the currencies, are as follows:
$5 (US) = 4.27 (EU); $10 (US) = 8.50 (EU); $25 (US) = 21.37 (EU)
The point is to contribute whatever amount you are able to, not a specific amount. Many small contributions add up quickly and add a spiritual energy to the endeavor. I hope you will join me and I thank you in advance. If you have any additional questions about Neema or Betterplace – please don’t hesitate to ask.
Here are some other gallery images of the people, the staff and supporters of Neema, that I think will be of interest: