Putting People First Improving Lives In Uganda With Clean Water, Education, Farming

Messages received in the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods often can be read like testimonials to the center’s work in Uganda over the past decade.

“Thank you to the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods for being the engine of the transformation story that has blossomed on the lips of hundreds and thousands of beneficiaries in Uganda,” wrote a student at Makerere University in Uganda. “I am grateful for being part of the service learning teams who were on the ground in rural Kamuli to witness this story. We have never remained the same.”

“Having participated in the efforts and works of CSRL in Kamuli, I write with gratitude on behalf of all those who have shared in the realized fruits so far,” wrote a former staff member with Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns, the nongovernmental organization the center has worked with in Uganda for years. “I am touched by your sincere dedication to improve the quality of life of rural dwellers in our country. The programs run by the center have been and continue to be an inspiration to us all.”

In 2014, the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods marked its 10th year of a people-first approach that has helped Ugandan farmers achieve food security, improved household nutrition and stabilized income through sustainable crop and livestock production and access to marketing opportunities.

The center’s programs have worked with more than 1,200 families in the Kamuli District and impacted the lives of over 10,000 people. The center and its partners have made substantial progress in combating hunger, malnutrition and poverty. The approaches have laid the groundwork for a higher quality of life for rural Ugandans, while teaching Iowa State and Makerere students what it takes to be change agents in improving the lives of others around the world.

Uganda is blessed with a magnificent landscape and a rich culture, but its challenges include nearly 25 percent of the population living below the poverty line.

“That’s why agriculture has been the foundation of the center’s work,” says David Acker, associate dean for academic and global programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Improving agriculture is a stepping stone to help lift people out of poverty. Through efforts like farmer-to-farmer training and other agricultural programs, the center has seen the percentage of families able to meet their daily nutritional needs jump from less than 10 percent five years ago to more than 60 percent now.”

The thread of food security begins but does not end in crop fields and livestock pens. It’s a thread that must weave in education, nutrition and health, rural employment and incomes, access to markets, clean water, sanitation and sustainable natural resources. The center has addressed many of those areas as an educational resource for Ugandans of all ages, teaching them the skills and knowledge to help them sustain healthy, fulfilling lives.

Saving lives has been one result. The center’s six Nutrition Education Centers have helped ensure proper nutrition for pregnant women and for their young children. “They’ve saved the lives of malnourished children,” says Dorothy Masinde, associate director of nutrition programs and a lecturer in the global resource systems program. “Several mothers who completed the training now lead the centers.”

Each year, Iowa State students work together with students from Uganda’s Makerere University on service learning projects to establish and maintain school gardens at primary schools, educate students on agriculture, nutrition and hygiene. More than 150 Iowa State and Makerere students have participated since 2006.

“We want them to have an international experience that transforms their perspective about what it means to be global citizens,” says Gail Nonnecke, associate director for education for the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods.

“The program challenged me in so many ways and seeing how it has really made an impact has reignited the passion I have for helping people,” says Trisha Nielsen, a senior in horticulture and global resource systems.

The center’s work has been made possible by ongoing support from benefactors committed to helping the poorest of the poor. Thanks to the generosity of founding benefactors Gerald A. Kolschowsky and Karen A. Kolschowsky, and a rising number of other donors, the center began working in the Kamuli District a decade ago, always with a broader goal in mind.

“We wanted the center to be a role model for how to work closely with rural communities and cultures to alleviate hunger and poverty,” says Jerry Kolschowsky (’62 Agricultural Business). “Its approach and process has proven itself as one that could be reproduced anywhere in the world. I sincerely hope its results stimulate new kinds of thinking and partnerships among leaders in government, communities, universities and philanthropy.”

Iowa State University President Steven Leath, who visited the Kamuli District in 2013, says, “Thanks to the donors, the programs in rural Uganda are some of the greatest examples of the commitment our faculty, staff and students have in helping society. Donor-supported programs like the center help showcase how Iowa State truly cares about people in the world and improving their lives.”

“Transformational” is the only word to describe the results the center has achieved, said Wendy Wintersteen, endowed dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“Severe malnutrition has been addressed,” Wintersteen says. “Access to clean water has increased. Improved farming practices have been implemented. Education is preparing the next generation to become future leaders in their communities. Peoples’ lives have been changed. You can see it in their faces.”