Environmental Alert (EA) in collaboration with Arid Land Information Network (ALIN), a Kenya based non governmental organization, came up with an initiative to promote exchange of ideas and experience among local communities in Uganda and Arid lands in Eastern Africa at large. As part of the initiative, in October 2007 a community knowledge centre was set up in Lukwanga parish, Wakiso sub-county, Wakiso district, Uganda. This is community facility where members of the community share information and ideas which is developmental for improvement of livelihoods. Information shared involves district, sub-county, agriculture, educational, markets, local innovations, market, business and any other information that is of value to the community. This is done through community organized meetings at the center; information pinned at the notice board, writing/documenting (drawing, taking photos, documentaries among others). The centre is managed by both the Community Information Volunteer (CIV) assisted by the Community knowledge Facilitator (CKF). The community knowledge center’s operation mandate falls within the empowerment programme of Environmental Alert and are crucial in its programme development.
2. Orientation with ALIN
Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) is a Non-profit organization focused on bolstering the socio-economic status of communities through the application of multi-media tools that facilitate the exchange of information, experiences, and knowledge. ALIN has a variety of projects operating across the East African Region (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) with focal presence in Ethiopia, focused on providing information that will provide sustainable development solutions to the local, national and international community.
The major organizational programs that utilize information communications technology (ICT) applications are the Community Knowledge Centers (CKC) commonly referred to as Maarifa Centers, and the Open Knowledge Network (OKN) Imitative. Further ALIN is committed to networking both locally and internationally to develop and disseminate development based information content, increasing youth involvement in the development process and providing general information support. The CKCs or Maarifa Centers are telecenters established in collaboration with local stakeholders, development agencies and the government departments to facilitate the documentation and sharing of local knowledge. These centers are dispersed throughout Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania targeting various communities and regions addressing their unique needs. The Maarifa Centers compliment the OKN Imitative aimed at using ICTs to link marginalized and poor communities to one another through information sharing with the ultimate aim of socio-economic development and empowerment.
ALIN’s operations were formally established in 2000 East Africa and has an overall membership of about 2,000 spread across the four countries mentioned earlier. The Maarifa centers began operations in various locations over the past nine years throughout the region. The OKN Initiative is operating on a pilot basis and is part of a larger global imitative to link marginalized and impoverished communities around the world.
With such a background ALIN organized an induction workshop for both community information Volunteers and community Knowledge Facilitators in Kitui, Kenya, from 6th – 11th of April 2008. The purpose was to introduce CIVs and CKFs on the different ICTs for easy delivering to their volunteer work. The content covered was relevant to the field challenges and expectations but emphasis is needed in areas such as Capacity building and knowledge on research and reporting skills.
How to improve the orientation workshop
The workshop should be given ample time of at least 1 ½ weeks or two weeks for the CIV’s to effectively understand the different developmental tasks of a volunteer.
3. Orientation at the host organization
Environmental Alert (EA) is a non governmental developmental organization born out of the need to address the alarming low levels of agricultural productivity in the country, high levels of food insecurity and low incomes in both rural and urban poor communities, in addition to protecting against rapid degradation of natural resource on which community livelihood depends.
With more than fifteen years of grassroots level involvement with resource poor communities, capacity building of the intermediary institutions and civil society organization in Environment and natural resources management policies and practices, Environmental Alert has maintained a critical balance of grass root action and policy engagements.
Environmental Alert is also the 1st prize winner of one of the most prestigious award for environmental sustainability in the world, the Energy Globe Award. (Reference - EA brochure)
4. Orientation with the host organization
On Friday 4th April 2008, I joined Environmental Alert as the Community Information Volunteer (CIV) for Lukwanga Community Knowledge Center (CKC) set up in Lukwanga parish, Wakiso sub-county, Wakiso district for a period of one year ending April 2009. The CKC largely targets Lukwanga Parish and Wakiso district at large. The purpose of the orientation is an Environmental Alert requirement in which the CIV is supposed to have an orientation involving interactions with all the programme staff to learn about the programme activities they spearhead. At the same time orientation provides critical insights on how the different programmes interact with the CKC through the CIV.
the CIV was well oriented with the host organization and he has been able to work with at least each and every programme to achieve different objectives of the CKC.
There are various activities the CIV engaged in while at the host organization in relation to ALIN such as:
Organize community meetings to generate information on various topics.
One to one conversation with the members of the community to get personal experiences and verify what is on the ground.
Targeted visits to the Wakiso district headquarters to get information that was disseminated to the community members.
The CIV train communities in generating, documenting and disseminating relevant information.
The CIV participated in meetings organized by Community Based Organizations (CBOs)/groups to guide the members in the documentation of their work generate and disseminate information.
The CIV visited various websites, read news papers and various publications to get information for dissemination among others.
5. Institutional capacity building /services
The following are some of the capacities that the CIV contributed to institutional building:
The CIV Built programmes that take care of the needs of the local situation in different areas of operation including Wakiso District, programmes such as HIV/AIDS and Gender programmes.
Capacity to support Community groups and are able to plan, organize and manage their neighborhoods on their own. Capacity in terms of actions that were directed at helping participants in the development process to increase their knowledge, skills and understandings and to develop the attitudes needed to bring about the desired developmental change.
Community Based Organization (CBOs) establishment such as Nezikokolima group in Gimbo Village, Lukwanga Parish.
Host organization staffs were trained in networking out of the Workshop organized by ALIN members, the workshop enhanced staff’s capacity in networking, it took place at Wakiso sub-county, Wakiso district, Uganda.
6. Capacity building for CDWs especially women
Capacity of women involvement or participation in community development e.g. women like Zzimbe Daisy, Ssebagala Margaret and Namugerwa Sylvia now are able to participate in community development work both at the sub-county and the District level on issues regarding agriculture, Nutrition issues, Gender and HIV/AIDS.
Capacity in equipping individuals with the understanding of computer skills and easy access to developmental information, knowledge and training that enables them to perform effectively in the community.
There about 4 CDWs trained in above mentioned capacity including Katale Fred parish councilor, Mutebi David Defense, Zzimbe Daisy chairman PCC and Namugerwa Sylivia HIV/AIDS focal person in the parish.
7. Capacity building for community members
The liaison work done by the CIV to link community at parish, sub-county and the district levels enabled community members to participate in government forums at the sub-county and the district levels and are able to forward their issues to be taken, to the next level by decision makers.
CKC has built the confidence of community members by taking them to participate in organized forums and today they have learnt and actively participated in taking leadership positions at the sub-county in order to forward their voices to next stage and be had.
Capacity of women to participate in community development programmes such as the NAADS programme and prosperity for all president’s initiative programme.
CKC built and strengthened the capacities of community members with documentation skills especially during farmer led documentation in the community.
CKC has built organizational capacities of grass root communities in the field of information Management informed by information needs of the community such as market and HIV and AIDS information.
CKC falls under the empowerment programme of the host organization and provides evidences for advocacy work.
Over 30 men and 40 women trained in networking skills in Lukwanga including two (male and female) from the host organization.
8. Content generation
Content generation is daily work in and outside the Community Knowledge Center. The community Information Volunteer has documented over 111 articles in number of several categories including Health, Gender, agriculture, Market, Business, education, innovations, ICT and any other that is of value to the community settings. Some of the titles of articles that have been written on and published in Open Knowledge Network include the following;
1. Healthy tip, AIDS disease!
2. CKC hosts Novib grantees sharing experiences on gender integration in development
3. Hatching of local chicks is a blessing to farmers in Lukwanga
4. Piggery technology development a case of AFADEA
5. Proper tree seed handling
6. Market information from Lukwanga community
7. The new marketing tool in the rural, Lukwanga, Uganda
9. Information impacts
Women recognized and now participate in the community development programmes like NAADS Programme
Children learning from their mothers how to apply manure on banana plants.
Information on tree planting to fight climate change but also for income has made people to realize the value of Tree planting (pine and eucalyptus trees)
Enterprise development- as a result of verbal communication and written communication
Exchange visits like farmer to farmer visits for purposes of learning and replication and today farmers like Ssebagala Margaret and Ndugga Evaristo out of exchange visits made they have replicated good practices such as proper piggery construction site and tree fruit tree plant around their homes.
Replication of good practices like Tip Tap and use of information and Communication Technology tools for development e.g. use of phones and Mega phones.
10. Skills and experience gained
Some of the skills gained in period of doing volunteer work include the following:
Skills in working with Others
Communications skills both oral and written,
Computer skills for example Microsoft word, excel, power point among others
Writing skills in report and article writing.
Information and Communication Technology.
Improving own Learning and Performance
Problem Solving especially in ICTs.
Knowledge and experience gained
Basic knowledge and experience in working with community development workers on solving community problems such limited access to information on market, health, and poverty.
Experience in doing organizational work with minimum supervision
Basic knowledge and experience on the way of behaving in the community
Knowledge and experience of group dynamics and a range of intervention techniques
knowledge and experience in working with Governmental and Private Organizations, community resources , laws, and policies which govern programmes, methods, and training at the sub county and the District.
Ability to establish and maintain effective working relationship with communities and other Organizations within the Regions
Carry out any other duties that may be assigned.
11. Operation and management of the CKC
The CKC is an ICT point of presence which is located within the community where ALIN and Environmental Alert interventions are implemented in partnership with the community, Sub-county and the district. The following are some of the ways in which the center is run (Operation and management);
CKC is a community hub
• Meeting place
• Training Centre
• Farmer, farmer to farmer outreach.
• Steering committee
• Community Information Volunteer
• Community Knowledge Facilitator
Information generation and management
• Existing fora, one-to-one sessions with farmers, sourcing from LG departments, community meetings,
• Records place (books/fliers, notice boards, ICT)
• Market place
• Documentations- articles, Market information, ALIN&EA publication, District information etc
• Farmer to farmer sharing
• Farmers sharing with leaders at local and national level (EA interventions
• Links with the outside world (International)
• NGOS (Lottery)
• Exposure/ exchange visits and exhibitions
12. Number of CKC visitors
Since CKC is an initiative that promotes exchange of ideas and experiences among local communities, it has users to and from Lukwanga parish, mostly elders (20yrs – 80yrs) and has diversity of users like Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), re-searchers, Local government, rotary, and international visitors. On average CKC gets 25 users a month (13 males and 12 females) and in 2009 the center has so far received over 126 users.
The CIV disseminated ALIN information using several strategies such as displaying it on the center notice boards (Outside and inside) and Door for readers to read, Hand delivery like brochures, website, events, using phones, workshops, group discussions and community meetings. CKC also has an information dissemination log book where the CIV records the information disseminated to community, schools, Sub County and District.
13. Experience in managing CKC
When the CIV was managing the center relevant information was brought closer to the community (Market, Agriculture, HIV/AIDS. Gender, innovations and ICT information etc)
The CKC is a hub - Meeting place for sharing ideas and experiences among community members as whole.
Training place (ICT- computer training, gender, Agriculture and HIV/AIDS )
The center is a capacity building initiative for the community to be able forward their views on political, social and economic platforms.
The center from experience is a Market place for community people to sale out their commercial goodies such as eggs, goat, and pigs among others.
CKC also targets schools and provides them with educational information such as district year planner for schools, school syllabus and straight talk for students to learn among others
Documentation provides cases and evidence that feeds into the host institutions advocacy work
14. Facilitation of membership recruitment in a focal group
A focal group is a forum for information sharing and also acts as entry point of ALIN to the community. To promote local level networking, ALIN clustered members in the same geographical regions into grassroots networking nodes .The network works through 12 Focal Groups across the eastern Africa region. The Focal group in Lukwanga has 27 members with 3 focal group meetings held, issues discussed include Gender, market and HIV/AIDS.
15. Volunteer capacity building
Participated in the 3 gender workshops organized by Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET) which was aimed at strengthening the mainstreaming of gender through KIC for Oxfam NOVIB (ON) partners in Uganda and Lukwanga Community Knowledge Centre was one of the best practice sites visited on gender issues. The practice enhanced the CIV’s capacity in gender issues.
A best practices exchange visit to Lukwanga parish, Wakiso Sub-county, Wakiso District was organized to orient Oxfam Novib (ON) grantees in gender mainstreaming within Environmental Alert programmes. One of the objectives was; to deliver on the following pilot actions gender audit of ON partner’s organizational structures, gender profiling of partners, and gender capacity needs and assessment of partner organization. In the process the CIV benefited knowledge on gender profiling and what constitutes of gender in the field practices. The CIV was able to write a report on gender best practices exchange to Lukwanga which today has been published on Environmental Alert website and this built the CIV’s confidence in report writing.
The CIV Participated in Environmental Alert celebrations in Mubende/Kyenjojo, the CIV was the rapporteur of which it helped him build his capacity in organizing community events and report writing.
Environmental Alert organized a stake holder’s workshop with the theme ‘proper waste management’ and opportunity for income generation, clean and healthy environment which the CIV participated in and he was able to widen his capacity in waste management depending on how it is handled.
The volunteer’s capacity in Information and communication technology and networking was enhanced by participating in workshop organized by Arid Land Information Network (ALIN) at Wakiso Sub-county headquarters on 12th and 13th February 2009.
The CIV participated in ALIN evaluation of its activities in Wakiso and Mbarara districts on 23 – 27th of March, 2009. The evaluation enhanced the CIV’s capacity in carrying out interviews at community level, organization level and users of the Information and Communication Technology.
16. Job opportunities
In the course of the volunteer work, the volunteer had an opportunity of obtaining the vacancy of volunteering again under ALIN as well as give support for the focus cities project of Environmental Alert and a proposed career of initiating CKCs in EA areas of operation by the Executive Director of EA.
17. Personal experience
Positive personal experience
Most community people need greater attention as they grow old
Mixing with general public adds to self esteem
Always consider peoples expectations as vital and stop assuming!!
Respect of peoples’ cultures and values
Negative personal experience
Agreeing with communities to do something in the given period of time but they let you down.
Communities have high expectations from the centre such as money some still look at the centre as a donor.
Networking at the Local level, More than 11 men and 12 women in the community showed interest in formulating organized groups. The CKC supported by the CIV developed a relationship with Wakiso District technical officers and Sub-county officers like information officer at the District, District Education officer, and District healthy officer among other. This was done by the CIV regularly visiting the District and Sub-county offices to take the information needs of the community and at the same time, the CIV collected existing relevant information for the community which was pinned in the center notice boards for sharing with the community as one way of disseminating information.
The CIV shared Volunteer experiences with other CIV’s from other parts of East Africa such as Kenya and Tanzania thrice on platforms that was organized by ALIN in Kenya. The intention was to inform ALIN programme on the day to day activities done in the Centers across East Africa. The forums also were intended to build the capacities of CIV and CKF in terms of information management.
The CIV Participated in Environmental Alert Programme development of five years to provide support in EA programme development as well as build on existing CKC initiative concept and how EA can expand it to other areas of operation.
CIV participated in Programme implementation meetings (PIM) held every Monday morning at the host organization the meetings informs and brings out what the CIV does in the CKC. PIM also builds the capacity of the CIV in information management such as capturing, processing, storing and communicating of information to the community.
Participated in Environmental Alert three year Evaluation programme of which CKC was used as reference point in terms of informing the empowerment programme of Environmental Alert and PROLINNOVA programme.
Attended three workshops on gender and Development on sharing best practices and experience in imperial royal hotel Kampala on 9th and 25th July and 9th August 2008. The purpose of the visit was to expose member institutions supported by NOVIB to good gender practices so as to enable and enhance effective integration and mainstreaming of gender in programmes particularly at practice level. It brought out results such as, the confirmation that our perceptions on gender are still limited to “women” as illustrated with praise of high female participation in our interventions, EA needed to improve its understanding of gender so that it goes beyond basic inclusion of women and men. Participation of men in programme activities is low at a time when there are money making activities (activity planning could adjust to locations that are of mutual interest to both men and women and outreach programmes taken into homes are useful to accessing literacy to the family members). Some EA activities do not reduce the burden of women in fact in some cases they are labour intensive but with low return for instance agro-enterprises. This brought realization to the CKC about being cautious of gender balance in CKC day to day activities.
On 24 -25 July 2008 the CIV attended a workshop on waste is wealth in Kasubi, Kawaala. The purpose of the workshop was to enhance capacity of selected Zonal representatives skills in advocacy to support lead effective engagements, To develop preliminary engagement plans/frameworks building on what exists (in some areas) for further consensus consultation and consensus building with the wider partnership in the different sites, to share information on policies and laws particularly the garbage ordinance.
19. Lessons learnt
Sharing of information within and among farmers was a gate way to learning more and getting experience.
Registering people in the registration log helped the CIV to identify the interest of different people in the CKC so as to enable find lasting solutions to their problems.
Still there is need to sensitize the masses about the role of the community knowledge centre and how they can benefit after using the knowledge acquired from their.
From the testimonies heard from the centre users there is increased capacity enhancement as well as information access and increased awareness to the community.
The centre notice board is one of the key informers of the centre towards communicating information to the community.
Information sharing and documentation is one way of participation of the community most especially women in development of the community.
The centre is an information hub for Lukwanga community for exchange of information.
Few people are interested in documentation of their details in the log book such as age, information needed, intended use among others.
Not all the information that is documented is granted or accepted which in the long run de-motivates the author.
Some people have a lot of information on their finger tips but cannot write it down
Managing the community knowledge centre as well as doing the assigned tasks from the host organization and Arid Land Information Network was not an easy task but perseverance made it possible for me to under take the activities given.
The centre has got a lot to offer in capacity building for the communities, CIV, and CKF since all are able to learn share and practice that is learnt.
20. Dos and Don’ts in Volunteering
Dos of Volunteerism
As a volunteer you;
Have to know that you are dealing with human beings of which are coming from different backgrounds and as a volunteer you have to respect their issues and way of thinking.
Have to show good attitude to the community
Have to put in mind that you are the picture of the host organization because what ever you do they look at you as the entire host organization.
Don’ts in Volunteerism
As a volunteer you;
Do not have to be shabby in the community since you are wearing the umbrella of the host organization
Do not disrespect the community because they are the ones you serve and help.
Do not drink alcohol or smoke in the Centre because it sends a bad picture to the community
Do not underestimate the community people in terms of their appearance, because their idea is a way of doing things.
21. Challenges faced
The following challenges were noted:
Few people were interested in documentation and sharing of information as well as willingness to give information needed to improve the centre services. This was observed when the CIV had one on one conversation with community members.
There was always technical breakdown of the Open Knowledge Network (OKN) system of which sending and receiving of the information via this OKN system was some times difficult. The nature of the break down was that some times the system fails to open as a whole. The problem was reported to both EA and ALIN Information and communication focal persons, and solutions were suggested to overcome the problem in the shortest time possible.
Writing still is a big challenge to most of community people as most do not want to engage in writing due to fear that writing is for the literate. This has been solved by encouraging community members to put their ideas in art by drawing on the ground or paper or narrate.
There is still lack of adequate information for the visitors such as books, news papers, straight talk, farmer talk, magazines, among others.
Distance from one area to another to generate information, was a big challenges since some member in the community were left out due to distance. This was solved in a manner that the CIV always sent near by members who visited the CKC to talk with those who lived far away from the Center to share with them the information so that when they visited the CKC again they were able to share the feed back information with the CIV in so doing the CIV would write it down and pin on the center notice boards for sharing with other community members.
Another challenge is the on and off electric power at the centre, one even finds it difficult some times to charge a phone, power is so low that one requires a candle to see at night. This has been also tackled in the way that I have at least managed to buy one energy saver bulb at least to see at night although it does not do well most times.
22. Way forward
Need to translate policies like Land policy, food and nutrition policy and other relevant information into the language understood by the community.
Need to take and inform the activities of the CKC to the community so that they can appreciate and own their centre.
The centre also needs to search for more resources in terms of finances to run the day today activities of the centre since it does not have a realistic budget.
The CKC need to show case good video documentaries to the community to learn and practice.
More outreach to a wide community to market CKC.
Enhance strategies for diversifying disseminating of articles or repackaging articles in the local language understood by the community.
The community knowledge centre is indeed an information hub for the community due to the samples of the community members who have tested its information and their testimonies. Though there some challenges faced, the community knowledge centre has made a difference in lives of several individuals, and only needs support from the community its self as well as community ownership.