Slow and Steady Wins the Race (#3)


Uganda’s culture is one of hope and thanks. In fact, the first words of Luganda I learned were the many ways to show appreciation. No matter the person, or circumstance in which you meet them in, it is always appropriate to thank them for their work—even if you aren’t sure of what that work may be. It’s been wonderful to work in a culture of appreciation and praise but, for the oblivious foreigner, this work culture can pose an issue of accurate self-assessment.  

During my training with the Foundation for Sustainable Development, the San Francisco based nonprofit that placed me with St. Jude, I was warned against waiting until the last moment to discover and address obstacles to successful project completion. Critical assessment at every phase of research is imperative to attaining reliable and complete results. As such, I decided to distribute an assessment to my teachers group to ascertain whether my teaching style was appropriate and if each trainee was grasping the concepts thus far. Unfortunately, the results were a bit disheartening. Of those assessed, only about a fourth scored well, another quarter average, while the remainder struggled critically.  

Although the results were not what I expected or hoped for, they did give me some insight on which concepts needed to be retaught. The insight, however, also posed a larger issue—having to spend a class session (or three) more focused on financial literacy would delay agro-ecology training which would in turn delay the start of individual agriculture ventures that would serve as the results I planned to observe for my research. So I was faced with a dilemma. Should I go ahead as planned, knowing the results I would yield would likely be unfavorable, but complete? Or should I take the time necessary to ensure each student had the financial skills to manage their projects effectively?   

I want my time in Uganda to mean something, both to me and to the people I work with, not just enable me to complete a research paper.   

I chose the latter. The research paper needs to be completed nonetheless, so I had to find an alternative observation method. Luckily, I had been working with a local women’s group that uses a similar group loan scheme that I encouraged Together We Can, my teachers group, to use. I’ll be collecting stories of success and setbacks from individual women as well as visiting their land. I hope to glean an idea of the effectiveness of the collective savings/ loan program compared to traditional bank loans for agriculture ventures. Not only will this provide observations for my paper, but it will likely yield practical advice for my pupils. 

My lesson plans were able to be adapted as well. My financial literacy training and agro-ecology training are no longer mutually exclusive. For example, while reteaching budgeting, we developed a real budget for a project involving poultry, so they were not only learning to budget, but also understanding the financial commitment of that particular agro-ecology venture (both the start up and the long term maintenance). Any agriculture training I am unable to complete with TWC during my time here can be taught by St. Jude in my absence, so I’m comfortable making financial literacy my focus. These skills are severely lacking in the community and, as we know, there can’t be true sustainability without economic sustainability on both the individual and community level. In the end, I’m certain my community will show thanks for a job well done rather than a job done quickly. 

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