GIVING BACK TO COMMUNITY EARNED ME A JOB AND I RETURNED TO UGANDA


Monique M. Sognigbe, MSc. Food Security & Community Nutrition

Throughout our study journey at Gulu University, giving back to community was something my colleagues (from Liberia, Namibia, Kenya and Uganda) and I were passionate about. Our commitment led us to participate in the Geneva challenge 2020 International competition, the challenge of social inclusion. We were selected to represent Africa at the final phase of the contest, we were fortunate to emerge the third prize winners. Our project “Vertical Farming in Refugees Setting (VEFIRS Project)” targeted refugees in northern Uganda. Most of us in the project team were international students enrolled at Gulu University under the Mastercard@RUFORUM Scholarship.

Through the course of this project, it became imperative to explore partnership with other actors working in the refugee settings in northern Uganda. Accordingly, in early 2021 our partnership with Andre Foods International (AFI), an organization that has been operating in refugee settings countrywide came into force. In particular, the partnership was focused on how to ensure sustainability of our project’s interventions after our study period completion and when we have returned to our respective home countries. We received additional funding support from RUFORUM through the TAGDev project and with this, we implemented our project. We worked with 103 beneficiaries. We provided training and inputs such as dam liner, vegetable seeds and watering cans whilst allowing them the opportunity to apply these skills immediately in their households.

A group of 10 members trained and supported with agricultural inputs

Our engagement with Andre Foods International  (AFI) started expanding opportunities by exploring other possible intervention areas. During one of the partnership meetings, the Executive Director of AFI indicated his organization’s fish farming project. Of particular interest was his plan to source an external consultant from west Africa to train staff on fish feed formulation using locally available materials. It further became apparent that the organization needed an individual with practical experience in the field. It is at this point that I seized the opportunity to share my resume with the Director, which spark his interest. Previously, I had had practical hands-on experience in local fish feed production at the Laboratory of Research on Wetlands at the University of Abomey-Calavi, and the National Institute of Agricultural Research of Benin.

Following the completion of my studies, I returned to Benin but kept close communication with the AFI Director. Three months later, I received an extended opportunity to join AFI as the Regional Nutrition-Sensitive and Livelihood Programme Officer for Karamoja sub-region. With the strong motivation and commitment to community transformation, I returned back to Uganda to serve the rural community in Karamoja. My current role involves the provision of technical support to the overall design and implementation of nutrition-sensitive and livelihood programmes along with innovations, evidence building and program impact evaluation. I have spearheaded many innovations and trials including local fish feed formulations, and dry season smart plastic watering technique which has already been taken up by the vegetable farming groups. I have also developed capacity building materials and trained livelihood assistants on strong community group formation and vegetable production practices among others. These initiatives are undertaken to address persistent household food and nutrition insecurity in the Karamoja sub-region.

 Explaining to visitors how local fish feeds were formulated and the performance of fish fed on them

It has been a journey seeing the impact and power of giving back to the community payoff in such a short time. The TAGDev training model delivered at Gulu University has been inspirational and transformational to me as an individual and now my family and the wider community is benefiting from the skills I obtained. I extend my appreciation to RUFORUM and the Mastercard Foundation that made it possible for me to pursue my master’s degree in Uganda and participate in a number of  soft skills trainings.

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