Tue, Oct 23, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Bringing an African village into the 21st century

A newspaper; a bank and an NGO have launched an experiment to help a Ugandan community battle civil war; plague and ignorance

By Alan Rusbridger  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

beyond christmas

Would it be possible to find a way of dramatizing an issue so that it held attention beyond Christmas, even for as long as three years? Of connecting the ideas, good will, resources and expert knowledge of millions of readers around the world and focusing them on one problem? Would it be possible to do all this in a way that avoided the trap of creating a temporary oasis in a desert? Of doing something both sustainable and replicable?

Could there be a model for using Web-based technologies -- and the power to link and harness people -- that could be developed by other Western communities, whether businesses, schools or towns? Why twin your village with one in Belgium if you could twin it with one in Uganda?

Such were our thoughts as we sought partners who could translate our ambitions into practical realities. Assorted NGOs came in and pitched their ideas for how such a project might work. It was AMREF (the African Medical & Research Foundation) -- a charity that specializes in Africa and began life in 1957 as the Flying Doctor service -- that came up with the most persuasive ideas.

AMREF, whose staff is 97 percent African, nominated Katine, in the Soroti district of north Uganda, as the community it would most like to work with. The foundation emphasized that the project would only take root if it could be the catalyst for change rather than something imposed from outside. It would take advantage of -- and build on -- existing social and economic networks as well as traditional and indigenous knowledge.

We have been joined by Farm Africa, a vastly experienced NGO accustomed to working with poor African farmers, and Barclays Bank, which has promised more than US$3 million in support (US$2 million of which will match readers' donations) as well as helping out with micro-finance and general economic development.

on the scene

As for the Guardian and the Observer, we have sent a number of writers and photographers to Katine to map and record the area and its people, including health editor Sarah Boseley, environmental editor John Vidal, and Dan Chung, one of the world's leading photojournalists.

Boseley and Chung's detailed report appears in a separate supplement and on the Guardian Web site (www.guardian.co.uk/katine).

It seems to me that a newspaper (and Web operation) can do three things as part of this partnership.

First, it can report, record, explain, contextualize, illuminate and analyze -- all the day-to-day business of journalism. It can explore the complexities of trying to help communities such as Katine in a sustainable way. It should be able to get beyond the sloganeering and occasionally stultifying politics of the development debate.

Second, it can involve a huge community of readers and Web users around the world and find ways of linking them in to what we're doing. We'll need money, obviously. But just as importantly, we'll need advice and involvement. Among our readers are water engineers, doctors, solar energy experts, businesspeople, teachers, nurses and farmers. We don't need a stampede of volunteers, but we would like a bank of people with technical know-how who are prepared to offer time and advice.

This story has been viewed 3984 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top