When Martin Hewill visited Uganda seven years ago, the tales of the families living in mud huts and struggling to survive inspired him to set up a charity - The Zuri Project.
The 25-year-old, from Euxton, travelled to the East African country in 2009 and one of the first people he met was Herbert Niwagaba who told him what life was like there and introduced him to Kanyashande, a rural village close to the Southwestern Uganda-Congo border, where his family lived
He said: “The village is made up of mud huts, dusty trees, and parched fields with farmers hoeing corn and beans. Children play nearby and men make their own bricks from clay for their homes. In the village I was introduced to Kishunju Nursery and Primary School. The majority of the village were in awe at the sight of a ‘white man’ – such a rarity, being so far from tourism.
“Over the course of my stay I learnt and understand more about the villagers’ lives, traditions and challenges. They had no water, no electricity, no shops nor any health services. My love for the community and the welcoming families made me want to help them anyway I could. From this, Herbert and I worked with the residents to start organising projects to better the community. This was the beginning of The Zuri Project Uganda.”
Following three years of small-scale fund-raising and project development, 25-year-old Ross Young, of Solihull, initiated the next steps for the locally led projects.
Martin and Ross then registered The Zuri Project Uganda with the Charity Commission in February 2015. Herbert became in-country project manager and the charity has a team of ambassadors, including Chris Hogan, 25, of Eccleston.
He said: “Through a basic model of co-production, we engage with local people, through local organisations, to learn about what development projects they would like to design. We then empower local people to get involved in every stage of the project cycle by providing financial support and resources, before ensuring that the projects enrich the lives of the local community by monitoring and evaluating their sustainability.”
So far, Zuri Project Uganda has implemented:
An Agricultural and Nutritional Project at Kishunju Primary School, which has seen the school cultivate some of their unused land and turn it into vegetable gardens and crop fields. Prior to its inception, children had to walk long distances to cook at home or go all day without eating, meaning either missing lessons and/or pupils dramatically losing concentration resulting in a classroom environment unsuitable for learning. Presently, each child now receives breakfast in the morning, as a result of the crops that has been planted and grown on the school land.
OPADS Female Sensitisation Programme - Hygienic and affordable sanitary protection is often not available to girls in many developing regions. Instead, these young women commonly resort to the use of unsafe methods such as rags, grass, mud and soil. The risk of infection becomes incredibly high. In order to support young girls to have access to safe and affordable sanitary products, have partnered with OPADS International, which makes reusable cloth sanitary pads designed to offer effective and hygienic menstrual protection to young girls.
The Zuri All Stars Sports Project, creating a mini football league, with weekly matches. The project is also co-designing an extra-curricular educational programme to run alongside the league, through which the players will learn key life skills through their football which they can apply to their own lives, ranging from safe sex behaviours in relation to HIV/AIDS, to the importance of basic health and hygiene.
School Cultural Exchange Programme, developing a partnership between St Joseph’s Primary School, in Chorley, Parbold Douglas Primary School and Kishunju Primary School.
The pupils from each school exchange termly letters and photographs in order to share what information about what it’s like to attend school in the UK and Uganda. They have also created a buddy programme, where teachers from each school communicate in order to discuss any challenges that they may face and can problem solve together.
For more information on Zuri Project Uganda visit www.zuriprojectuganda.org/