news2014-09

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Practice Trumps Theory

by Agnes Kampire on 10/08/2014 No comments

The current job market in Uganda demands specific skills and expertise in applied fields. To ensure the employability and long-term success of our scholarship students, five of them are now being trained at an excellent vocational institute.

Youth unemployment is a prevalent problem in the 21st century in Uganda. A 2010 International Labor Organization (ILO) report reveals that the share of unemployed youth among the total of unemployed persons is as high as 83% and therefore poses serious political, economic, social challenges to the country and its leadership. The President of Uganda called upon all youth to opt for skill-oriented courses to enable them to compete favorably in the current job market. Such practical courses include plumbing, hotel management or medical laboratory assistant.

Aware of the many challenges young people are facing regarding both educational and employment opportunities, Fontes Foundation is sponsoring 17 students from under-privileged families through student-donor relationships. The majority of the students have yet to complete lower high school, but this spring several of them were confronted with the difficult choice of what path to continue their higher education on. In line with a general trend highlighting the importance of practical skills in Uganda, Fontes Foundation advocated applications for institutions of practical skills. In a capacity building the advantages of joining such an institutions were discussed with the students in an attempt to overcome the perception that only a university degree will ensure a successful career and gainful employment. Letting the students make up their own minds, five decided to join an institution for practical skills, the Young Men Christian Association (YMCA) Comprehensive Institute in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. It was started in 1986 to enable disadvantaged youth to gain skills through vocational training. The courses offered include computer science, hair dressing and salon management, hotel management, business and project management, electrical installation, industrial art and design.

Unlike other institutions and universities in the formal education sector that are theoretical and whose degrees are based on outdated curricula, YMCA Comprehensive Institute trains students to be self-employed by equipping them with life and entrepreneurship skills. The students are encouraged to be creative and innovative and are supported in developing a high self-esteem. YMCA Comprehensive Institute focuses on the promotion of the students’ moral, physical, spiritual and mental development through co-curricular activities such as sports and debating among students. Such activities improve the students’ confidence in speech and appearance.

The other students who joined YMCA Comprehensive Institute in 2014 include Justus, Cleophas, Gloria and Justine. Their training brought the students to Kampala for the very first time – a very exciting moment for all of them. Their first experiences at YMCA Comprehensive Institute have led to important realizations for these students. A university degree is not a guarantee for a secure future. It is far more important to have a skill set, which is in demand and through which one can provide a useful service and make a sustainable living. With the girls becoming computer wizards and the boys future electricians, they have all chosen courses which match their interests and also provide them with valuable expert knowledge and training.

After their first semester, the students were very excited to go back home and share their first experiences. With high hopes for the future, all of the students are certain that they will become job creators rather than job seekers and offer important opportunities to the future generations.

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Agnes KampirePractice Trumps Theory

Graduation Day

by Apiyo Oweka-Laboke on 20/07/2014 No comments

In August the Potentiam Youth Development Centre proudly graduated another cohort of 11 students from the 3rd round of the Core Course. Over 60 students also received certificates in the Short Courses of Basic ICT and Basic English and Literacy. In the two years since conception, the Centre has trained over 200 high-school dropouts in Soft Skills and Business Skills to improve their chances in accessing gainful employment.

The graduation celebration was presided over by Mr. Kiggundu Gonzaga, a Programme Officer at Hunger Free World, who in his inspirational speech emphasized the importance of making the most of professional opportunities. He reminded the graduates that the long-term perspective is very important when starting a career and that working your way to the top will take time and energy but that sincere efforts will be rewarded. This was pertinent advice for our graduates, who are now planning their professional future. The Potentiam Youth Development Centre will continuously follow the students through the mentorship program and different evaluation tools to ensure that they are ideally supported to achieve the final goal: employment and a sustainable career.

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Apiyo Oweka-LabokeGraduation Day

Empowering Single Mothers

by Apiyo Oweka-Laboke on 26/06/2014 No comments

The new Single Mothers Programme established with support from AiM Norway is an important addition to the curriculum of the Youth Centre.

According to an assessment carried out in 2004 by the Single Parents Association of Uganda (SPAU), over 50% of families in Uganda are single parent households. The majority of these households consist of single mothers and their children. The increasing rate of teenage pregnancies in Uganda is one of the key drivers of such single-mother households. Beyond early pregnancy, physical violence and emotional abuse lead to brave women and girls leaving their husbands or partners in search of a better life for themselves and their children. Some single mothers have also lost their spouses to HIV/AIDS, a prevailing challenge in Uganda. Single mothers, especially in the area of Muyenga and Kabalagala where the Potentiam Youth Development Centre operates, are particularly vulnerable to become victims of sex trade.


Objectives

  • Facilitate flexible training for single mothers.
  • Provide social and psychological support to increase their self-esteem.
  • Provide a day-care program in the new Child Corner.
  • Provide support and short workshops to help the young mothers start small-scale businesses.

The Potentiam Youth Development Centre with the help of AiM (Aid in Meeting), a collaboration of Lions Club Students from the Universities of Bergen and Trondheim in Norway, has established the “Single Mothers Programme”. The aim of this programme is to provide support specific to the needs of young mothers studying at the Centre to acquire business skills. In past years, the dropout rate among young mothers in the different courses offered was particularly high because of lack of childcare at home.

Members of the AiM Delegation from Norway in the new Child Corner for the Centre.

Members of the AiM Delegation from Norway in the new Child Corner for the Centre.

The Students from AiM visited the Centre and participated in the designing and setting up of the child corner, the space where the day-care programme will take place. The room has been stocked with toys as well as storybooks, blankets and pillows for entertainment and rest.

During the pilot phase the Centre will conduct several trainings in simple “from-home” businesses such as baking, which will provide them with relevant skills to become more independent and self-sufficient. This exciting new programme is an important expansion of the services offered by the Potentiam Youth Development Centre and will crucially support one of our most vulnerable student groups and will empower young mothers.

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Apiyo Oweka-LabokeEmpowering Single Mothers

Humanitarian Engineering in Practice

by Michael Pletscher on 20/05/2014 No comments

A course in humanitarian engineering organized by Fontes Foundation for Engineers Without Borders Norway was a great success.

The installation of the water intake in Kashaka, Uganda during the field course - a joint effort of Engineers Without Borders and Fontes Foundation.

The installation of the water intake in Kashaka, Uganda during the field course – a joint effort of Engineers Without Borders and Fontes Foundation.

What does it take to carry out a successful engineering project in an African context? This was the key question of the “Humanitarian Engineering in Practice” course carried out by Fontes Foundation in early May this year. A group of eleven engineers from a wide area of fields such as civil engineering, water and wastewater engineering, ICT and marine technology participated in the ten-day field course held in southwestern Uganda. The overall goal of the course was for the participants to gain skill in how to work with engineering projects in emergency aid or development projects. Facilitated by Andreas Koestler, Director of Fontes Foundation, and Luke Dokter, Director of EWB Norway, the team faced the task of installing a solar power system and a new water intake for the safe water supply project in Kashaka fishing village.

The course participants installing the solar panels in Kashaka, Uganda. The panels are important for the sustainability of the water project as it will reduce the running costs.

The course participants installing the solar panels in Kashaka, Uganda. The panels are important for the sustainability of the water project as it will reduce the running costs.

Although the technical solution is not complicated in itself, implementing it under these particular circumstances is not that easy. The real challenges of implementing or improving a water system in rural Africa lie in the adaptation to social and cultural values as well as the rules of the respective society, which differ substantially from European approaches. Already in Kampala while preparing for the field trip the course participants quickly realised the crucial importance of drawing on local knowledge and resources.

In Kashaka, after a cultural briefing from the Fontes Foundation staff, the EWB team was first required to complete both technical and socio-economic assessments to get an overview of the situation in the village. With a view of informing the people of Kashaka about the purpose of the visit and ensuring cooperative collaboration, a community meeting was held to officially introduce the visitors from Norway. The involvement of the local population is crucial to develop a sense of ownership for the project among the beneficiaries. For this reason, the EWB team was actively involving the local community into the entire construction process of both the solar panels and the water intake.

The busy construction site of the new water intake just next to the existing water tanks. When assembled, the water intake tower was lowered into the water and rammed into the lakebed. The submersible pump was suspended from the middle of the tower in order to be protected from debris and animals. Note the PET bottles used for protecting the sharp edges of the tower.

The busy construction site of the new water intake just next to the existing water tanks. When assembled, the water intake tower was lowered into the water and rammed into the lakebed. The submersible pump was suspended from the middle of the tower in order to be protected from debris and animals. Note the PET bottles used for protecting the sharp edges of the tower.

After a week of hard work the water intake and the pump were firmly installed in the lake bed. At the same time the solar panels were installed providing the much-needed power to run the water pump properly. The big benefit of the solar panels is that there is no more need to pay for fuel for the pumping of the clean water. The team also installed a new fence around the pump house and the tanks to protect them from unauthorized people, playing children and animals such as hippos. The successful implementation was largely possible thanks to a very motivated and interested EWB team and the hardworking local population.

The “Humanitarian Engineering in Practice” course was a great success. Not only was all the intended hardware installed, the participants learnt a lot about working in an African setting and gained important insights into Ugandan culture, especially in rural areas. The post-course evaluation revealed that the engineers’ perception and understanding of sustainable, long-term development aid changed substantially during the ten days spent in the field and thus one of the main goals of the entire project was achieved.

The importance of considering the circumstances under which engineering projects take place was one of the main lessons learnt for EWB. The course for “Humanitarian Engineering in Practice” was also an important event for Fontes Foundation and its entire team, with great personal and professional relationships formed. As many of the participants want to work in the field of development assistance in their future careers, Fontes Foundation was able to contribute to the building up of new capacities and the promising professionals in this sector.

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Michael PletscherHumanitarian Engineering in Practice

Sustainable Development – A Personal Perspective

by Andreas Koestler on 27/02/2014 No comments

Visit to the DR Congo in collaboration with UNICEF strengthens Fontes Foundation’s Director’s conviction that sustainable development is key, but it must be done in the right way.

In February 2014 Andreas Koestler, Director of Fontes Foundation visited the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo for UNICEF for a supply chain analysis of hand pumps. The following diary entry of his visit provides important insights into the lack of sustainability in many development projects. But there is hope for the future thanks to committed and hard working local people.

The visit today was to a community more than twenty kilometres from the main road towards Lake Albert. Our focus today was hand pumps because they are still considered a sustainable technical solution to bring groundwater to the surface, making it accessible for the population. In the community we visited, as in many other regions, NGOs and International Organizations have invested millions of dollars to establish water supplies for communities – but the result is frustrating. While visiting a hospital and talking to the doctor we learned that there was a hand pump installed close by. However, it had only worked for two months in 2010 and had been out of service since then. The hospital remained without water. I am still struggling to grasp how health services are provided at this hospital with no water. The only answer the doctor could come up with was a shake of the head and a resigned “this is how it is”. Immediately one though came to my mind: How is it possible that such an admirable project of providing water to this hospital failed after only two months and has since not been revived? Walking in the hot sun, talking to local people and visualizing many of failed hand pumps seen during my field visits, I came to the frustrating conclusion that it is not the technical solution which is wrong nor is it lacking maintenance by the local people. It is the failed starting point taken by us as donors, by us as supporting nations of the UN, by us as implementers of water supply projects.

Totally isolated in a community of 6000 people only one hand pump out of three is working properly, installed in 2013. This hand pump serves around 450 people. What about the other 5550 children, youth and adults? Who made the choice to put in one well with a hand pump in this particular location, using 12’000 US Dollars but forcing the rest of the community to continue to collect partly polluted water at poor springs and seasonal rivers? Following the main stream of development now, a business concept is looked for to maintain this pump. How can you build a business on an isolated asset which requires spare parts every second or third year? This is like establishing a business for providing spare parts for a single car on a Pacific island which only has a diameter of 1 km.

Why are we not starting with a general approach staying in an area to provide safe drinking water for all? This would really be following up the Millennium Development Goals. This could be the starting point of many businesses. Because water supply to everybody means that everybody receives a service and a necessary good. This would also mean that everybody gets involved. Businesses are only started from individual initiatives where there is a demand and a market. Water supplies create many things: jobs, businesses and importantly a common understanding of resource accessibility for everyone leading to a common management of this valuable resource. As seen and experienced within projects, this sows the seeds of a democratic understanding of the management of a common good. It also teaches through specific actions the importance of the contribution of each individual for making necessary means available, the first step for a functioning tax system. Taxes mean sharing and managing a common load for the benefit of all.

Back to the failed hand pump at the hospital… You find a frustrated population, a medical doctor who has given up thinking and working for development. This doctor, like many other people, needs our help in better managing the resources available and importantly he crucially depends on our comprehensive understanding and thinking in supporting channels to consider the big picture instead of spending money on an isolated hand pump, which is lost in the wide landscape of north-western DRC.

There is hope for the future as we were able to see on the following day. As we were told by our guide Roger from Oxfam, about twelve hand pumps had been installed in the settlement of Djegu about two years ago. We picked one to visit some 50 metres beside the road, where women still were filling their yellow jerry cans. A young woman with laughing eyes immediately approached us, speaking to us in French – and there we were conversing about life and her future. She told us how the water committees function, how much money they have already collected, how they manage to maintain the pump, and even how they get help from Uganda just over the border for more difficult repairs. She told us that she attended at High School in Bunia and that she dreamed of going to University or complete a nurse training to become a head nurse. Only 21 years old, she was very focused and determined – and very impressively she even uses her time while preparing for her life’s way for meaningful and socially necessary activities such as supporting her community in keeping the water running.

When I remember her determined, sparkling, eyes I feel humbled and inspired to devote more of my time and energy to support my environment.

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Andreas KoestlerSustainable Development – A Personal Perspective