I recently talked with Aaron Enyetu, who arrived here from Uganda just a few months ago. Aaron has worked both as a volunteer in the community-building work of the Baha’i community, and as a professional for Kimanya Ngeyo, an organization based in Jinja that promotes the empowerment of rural people to participate meaningfully in the development of their communities, families and themselves. One of the organization’s areas of focus is sustainable organic farming methods. Eager to hear how people in Uganda are learning together, I was intrigued by his account of the transformation experienced by the people living in the villages. Here’s his story.
Listening and Consultation
Ugandans are very open-minded people and they love to listen to everyone’s perspective. For those many tribes to exist in harmony, a lot of people had to listen to one another. Otherwise there would be chaos. So this idea of listening to one another is very important to grow and flourish culturally.
With the Baha’i approach of consultation, you can see how the people actually enjoy that way of thinking, that way of doing things. You can see it even with someone who has a degree and someone in the village who has not studied, sitting together and discussing ways of bettering the community. And they enjoy it. Rather than being afraid of one another because someone has gone to university and has a degree. So a lot of people in the rural areas love the way the program has been introduced because it makes them take ownership of the program. So many people have found that it’s changing their lives.
Agriculture Program of Kimanya Ngeyo
Kimanya Ngeyo is a Baha’i-inspired organization. Kimanya is from the Bantu language and means knowledge, to know. Ngeyo is from Luo, another big ethnic group in Uganda, and also means knowledge. So Kimanya Ngeyo is “knowledge” and “knowledge”; it’s all about generating knowledge.
All over the world now, people are having questions about the foods we eat and the chemicals we use and about our health, generally. In Uganda, because of this concern and the rise of cancer, people want to go back to their old farming systems. So the organization introduced this program of sustainable organic farming methods. We go back into the past, get those ideas that worked and bring them back. It’s not that everything that’s being done now is bad. There are some good things that scientists are doing. So we try to combine them and see how we can move forward.
A group of us was selected in 2010, when we had just finished university. We were all Bahais. They told us there’s this project coming up that has to do with social development and social action. I was excited about it because I like working in rural places.
Connecting the Dots
We went through training for one year and studied the Preparation for Social Action (PSA) books and materials. They look very simple, but the concept is very deep. The materials cover the areas of language capabilities, mathematical capabilities, scientific capabilities, technological capabilities and participants even gain experience in business and specific areas of community development. The whole idea is to integrate your thinking and integrate this knowledge together. The traditional system of education has lots of gaps, which is a very big problem. The school makes you look at these subjects differently, in isolation. You have to integrate them. When you’re studying mathematics, it’s totally different from physics. And yet there’s a connection. Engineering is different from business. And yet when you integrate that knowledge, it helps you deal with life. Because then you have this broad view of the world.
I did computer science, but people asked me, “Why did you go for agriculture?” I told them I like it because then I can integrate the two knowledge systems together. By understanding how agriculture works, you can always integrate. So that process of knowledge integration is what got me excited.
The program is actually very diverse and integrated. The current problem right now in the world, especially in Africa, is growing food. Food is a problem. So they are trying to address that issue first. Like ‘Abdu’l-Baha says, agriculture is the foundation of everything. Without it, all these other things cannot really be sustained. So those books have other areas like business, which they’re trying to combine. If you’re doing agriculture, then you can also do business. So many participants, after studying the program, come up with business ideas and learn how to market their products and their farming systems. The program is very diverse, but the focus is on education and agriculture.
Collaboration Between Organizations
They have similar organizations in different parts in Africa. There is one in Kenya, Zambia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and also in West Africa. They are all involved in agriculture. The organization I worked for was the biggest, they would all come from different areas and learn from it. It was like a learning center. Once a year we would gather and learn from each other because there were different realities and challenges that each organization faced. In some countries they might have a challenge with pests, for example, and they have overcome that whereas in other countries it was still a challenge.
Two years ago there was a challenge with army worms. It was very difficult because we didn’t want to promote and apply inorganic pesticides. The government decided to tell people you have to use chemical pesticides, so farmers used chemicals to spray their corn and other crops were affected. It was very difficult to get rid of the worms organically. But another organization had done some research and they said you can place the soil inside the corn while it’s growing and it blocks the worm from breathing. So we had to go do that in every corn plant and it actually worked. So this sharing of ideas is very important.
Working in the Villages
When we began working in the program, we went to some villages where we invited people to participate in these spaces. Some of those participants, because of the level of education and also not knowing English, found it very tough and challenging. You find that some people didn’t really complete their education and therefore, the program is targeting those people who did not get the chance to continue their education.
I know three people who started off as participants. They didn’t know English very well; they couldn’t even read well. A tutor has to be patient with them otherwise it’s frustrating because it drags the whole program. You have a sequence of about 18 books and it takes very many months for you to finish one book . You can imagine tutors are allocated about three years to finish all those books and projects. Those are some of the frustrations that come with accompanying participants, but with patience and forbearance progress is achieved.
Some of the participants, they really wanted to further their formal education and learn, but they were not given a chance. So they saw this chance, because the program is free and all they had to do was dedicate their time. After finishing the program, they were very good and very committed. So they graduated in the program and they did well. Some became tutors themselves for many years.
Expanding the Program
Now the organization has broadened and they are having conversations and discourses with teachers to try to get the program into schools. It’s no longer about a teacher standing in front of the classroom looking at students like they’re empty vessels. So this way of learning is being introduced to teachers in schools to emulate it. Some of the tutors working with the teachers were some of the first participants of the program who came from the villages. The teachers, when they hear these guys talking, they think they went to university! That’s the power of Baha’u’llah in transforming someone.