I recently went on a volunteer trip with the Big Beyond – a part of Happy Africa foundation. Our ethos is based on building and maintaining strong partnerships with the communities we work in. We work to enrich people’s lives through implementing improved health and nutrition infrastructures, building opportunities for better education, creating safe places for children and helping to generate sustainable sources of income for families.
The Big Beyond in Uganda Africa community project area is geographically defined as Nteko, Rubuguri and Remera Parishes of Kisoro District in South Western Uganda, following the boundary of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (BINP) and a maximum distance of 8km away from the forest boundary. The language spoken there is RuKiga and the local people are the Bakiga, the Bahororo, the Banyarwanda, the Batwa and the Bafumbira.
Key Initiatives on my trip:
- Micro loan program through Seed Bank and Seedling Bank
- Cultural and Heritage interviews of local elders Seed Bank Through micro loans of seeds the seed bank allows local farmers access to new crops and a way to evolve from subsistence only farming to farming for profit providing income. It provides Market Research insights to what crops make the most sense to sell in local markets and lodges. The goal is to have these farmers participate in and help spread the word and enlist more participants in The Big Beyond Seed Bank for long term change within the region. The Big Beyond intends to support each farmer throughout the entire life cycle from planting seeds through harvesting crops. We enable this through teaching better farming techniques, natural fertilizers and land management. Our aim is for 90% of the seed bank crops to be sold and 10% used for subsistence – and these new crops used for subsistence will provide diversified nutrients and better health for the local community. I received the attached letters Africa letter 2 and 3 from new seed bank participants I enlisted while I was there with Big Beyond.
Seedling Bank I helped start a new program where we also offer seedling trees to plant. The program involves collecting indigenous tree seedlings and seeds in a regulated manner from BINP once every two-weeks and nurturing those seedlings within their nursery beds to ensure an appropriate re-planting stage, planting the seedlings within the community strategically for environmental and educational benefits and educating the community around non-consumptive values of indigenous trees to local people and the importance of conserving trees in and around BINP. And finally providing data to Uganda Wildlife Authority with regards to species and numbers collected and planted. Although the seed bank program has been going on for a long time we launched the seedling program while I was there on site in Uganda. We had a big community awareness kick off about the program and after the community launch we planted 53 trees for my 50th birthday and for the 53 people that donated. The trees are more than just a tree that looks good and reforests the area. The trees are an incentive for farmers to join the Seed Bank project and grow new crops that are beneficial for the land fertility, for their family’s nutrition and for crops they can sell for money which enables them to pay school tuition for their children. After the locals have been in the Seedbank for 6 months they can get trees. In a group of 10 trees we give them trees that they can eat (Ongo giant yellow mulberry , papaya, avocado etc.) we also give them some trees they can harvest for wood and we give them 2 trees that must remain forever like Mahogany which is native to the area. This map location -1.110130,29.670533 marks the first tree at the center of a roundabout we built and the letter Africa Letter 1 is from the Chairman, Garubanda Kerementi of Nyabaremura village where we planted this tree. My friends and I now have donated a grove of trees in Nyabaremura, Uganda the south sector of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest! Attached are pictures of the tree planting day and another picture with me and Amy Scarth who is the founder of the Big Beyond.
Cultural and Heritage Interviews I also did interviews with the elders of the community where we talked about the rich and diverse history of the forest and the farmlands that developed around the forest. In every community there are people who have knowledge and skills to share – ways of knowing and doing that often come from years of experience and have been preserved and passed down across generations. In this part of Uganda these bearers of tradition are the primary sources of culture and history. They are living links in the historical chain, eye witnesses to history, and shapers of a vital and indigenous way of life. They are unparalleled in the vividness and authenticity they can bring to the study of local history and culture. On our team we had 4 community managers that helped me in these interviews which lasted 12-15 minutes in length. I would ask the questions in English and the community member would translate to RuKiga and the elder would ponder the answer, and then speak the answer in RuKiga which was translated back to English for me. These are recorded because there is so much information that is shared that it is impossible to get it all so it is listened to again later by a local historian and detailed notes are taken about the exchange. To be part of this documentation of history really changes the way you view your own world. It was so exhilarating to do these interviews and to be part of a movement to preserve the history of the people in this area. This two week trip to Uganda was a gift that I cannot ever even try to repay. It was really the trip of a lifetime and I am very grateful to be able to do such a thing in this modern hectic world – I feel like the luckiest person on earth to be able to have done this.
I am a founding member and board member of Project Elf Dallas, a local DFW charity that helps a homeless family move out of the shelter system in December and furnishes their house and provides a Christmas tree, presents and all of the trimmings. I enjoy this work and will continue on each year but this trip to Africa is my 3rd volunteer trip and has inspired me to do more. Since my return home I have a dream to create a new charity organization that helps senior citizens find productive ways to volunteer here in the USA and abroad. I think it would be a very meaningful next step for me. It make take me 10 years to figure out how to do that but I think it would be a great way for me to try and payback this huge connection with my fellow mankind that I have gotten from this great experience in Africa.
With much love and what is most probably the last post to this particular trip,