The Akola Project in Uganda
By focusing on the politics of representation and dynamics of race across cultural boundaries months before my arrival, it was rewarding to see development work in its most raw form. During the Summer of 2016 I worked with the Akola Project in northern Uganda. My main focus of work was with the Empowerment and Operations teams, which extends the mission of the organization to go beyond the creation of jewelry. The Empowerment team provides soft-skill services for full-time employees in Jinja and part-time paper bead rollers in five neighboring villages through a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) and practical skill curriculums through Akola Academy. For the Operations team, I was often organizing receipts and payday envelopes, and achieved proficiency in Quickbooks accounting software. I gained an interest in the gap of technological proficiency between employees from the U.S. and Uganda. During my time in Uganda, a UNC intern and I backpacked to Northern Uganda to a rural town named Pajule where we met the workers in the Akola cotton-spinning program. We got to see the aftermath of the turmoil involving Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army and how the Akola Project was working to help this area.
Lack of transparency behind relationships caused for an important learning experience within my personal and academic life, especially when friends asked for money and resources I have limited access to. My friends, David and Elijah, create paintings and instruments with children marginalized by the expensive education system while their sister Rita, teaches widowed women how to sew. Together, they own a shop of their products on Main Street, and my role in my friendship with them was to promote their items online and create a website to broaden their market. Within my last four days in Jinja, I created five websites for local vendors and organizations as a favor to friends who helped me dive deeper in understanding Ugandan culture. Overall, Akola provided strategies on how to look at work and personal lives with an asset based approach, not problem based.. I hope to maintain my work and personal relationships in Jinja in the coming years, and return to Uganda with the open arms that got me there in the first place. I also hope to share what I have learned throughout my experience with a larger audience complied of friends, professors, and like-minded academics.