From Research Administrator to PhD Student: Impact Story of Anthony Kadoma

Compiled by Deepa Pullanikkatil and David Gerow

It’s been two years since Anthony Kadoma joined Sustainable Futures in Africa. He was initially hired on a four-month contract to work as a research assistant, but through his hard work and intelligence, Anthony has risen from being a short-term Research Administrator to a PhD student at the University of Glasgow, and a valued member of the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network. It’s an opportunity he doesn’t take lightly. “I know it is likely not to be a walkover,” he says of his upcoming PhD studies, “but rather hard work that calls for a lot of flexibility and commitment on my part.”

Anthony was originally invited to join SFA in 2017. He was enlisted by Dr. Twine Bananuka, who had been one of his lecturers when he was studying for his BA in Adult and Community Education at Makerere University. Anthony had subsequently earned his master’s degree in Applied Community Change and Peacebuilding at Future Generations University WV USA, which led to work as a consultant in Kampala. At that time, Twine and his colleagues were undertaking a scoping study in Uganda, and they needed someone to manage the enormous amount of audio and pictorial data they’d amassed. They also needed help coordinating their work with colleagues in other hubs of the SFA network. “Dr. Twine was aware of my working ability and skills,” Anthony recalls. “He recommended that I be given the Research Assistant job to assist the hub members in transcribing the data they had collected, organize it, come up with themes and also assist in the writing of draft papers. I was fortunate that the other members believed in him and gave me the job. That is how I joined the family of Sustainable Futures in Africa Network.”

While working with SFA, his immediate supervisor has been Dr. Alex Okot. Anthony describes Alex as “a very good man: approachable, transparent, and he gives me time to discuss network issues even when he is so busy”. Anthony also praises the other hub members he works with on a regular basis, whose “openness and support” he values. “Working with other research assistants and academicians from countries like Nigeria, Botswana, Scotland and Malawi promotes my international exposure,” he says. “This is something that I really enjoy.”

But Anthony’s experience with SFA hasn’t been entirely office-bound. He’s attended two international symposiums – one in Lagos, Nigeria and one in Lira, Uganda – which he even had a hand in organizing. He’s also done a significant amount of fieldwork, an opportunity he values. “I have personally visited communities, interacted with community members and learnt a lot from them: the way they live, how they cope with challenges. I have liked working with organized groups of students, farmers and youth in Alebtong district as they work towards improving their livelihoods. I like the challenge because indeed poverty still persists as a great challenge, and this calls for more training to come up with workable approaches to reduce it today, not in the future.”

Just as he does his part in helping SFA collaborate with communities, Anthony has also reaped personal benefits from his work. Not only does it provide him with a welcome source of income and a network of likeminded colleagues, but it has allowed him to sharpen his digital literacies. “For instance,” he says, “most of our meetings are done on Skype and Zoom, and we chat constantly through WhatsApp and emails, as well as sharing documents using Google docs among others.” He anticipates that these necessary skills will help him as he moves on to his next challenge: a PhD at the University of Glasgow.

His PhD is another opportunity that he traces back to his work with SFA, as it arose through a meeting with SFA co-founder Dr. Mia Perry at the 2018 Lagos symposium. In his conversation with her, he expressed his interest in pursuing a PhD, to which she replied, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Anthony told Mia that he wanted to work on community development, research and youth, and she suggested he send her a project proposal. As Anthony tells it, “She introduced my concept to her colleagues at the University of Glasgow, and by the grace of God it was selected, and that is how I became a PhD student on the study.” He’s about to begin his PhD in Environmental Sustainability, with a problem entitled Understanding the perception of multiple stakeholders of the ecosystem services provided by mangroves to improve restoration activities. He’s eager to seize every opportunity that comes his way: “While at the University of Glasgow, I hope to be intellectually stimulated since I will be living and working with intellectuals. From these people, I hope to get some motivation and courage to push forward.”

In just two years, Anthony has spun a four-month contract into ongoing work and a brand-new PhD project in Glasgow. Who knows what the future holds for this bright young man, and what contributions he has yet to make to SFA and to the communities of Uganda? Inspired by Gandhi’s famous quote, “Be the change you want to see,” Anthony plans to put his skills to good use. He says, “I believe that being informed and skilled enough will put me in better position to work with community members so that we can change our communities for the better.”


Learning for Sustainability: University-Community Nexus

By Anthony Kadoma, Research Administrator of the Ugandan hub; Reagan Kandole, ECOaction; and David Gerow

On 13 April, 2019, members of SFA’s Uganda hub jointed staff and students from Makerere University’s Department of Adult and Community Education for an environmental education field study tour. Two lecturers and 90 students participated along with SFA members Joseph Watuleke, Kevin Aanyu, Kellen Aganyira, Richard Kagolobya and Anthony Kadoma. The idea of the hub members collaborating with the university staff grew out of a monthly meeting held on 19 March.

The team visited three different but related innovation sites: ECOaction, an SFA partner in Uganda; United Innovations Development Centre (UIDC), a leading innovation and waste incubation centre in Kireka, a suburb of Kampala; and finally, Sezibwa, an eco-tourism site in the district of Mukono, Central Uganda.

The field study was guided by, but not limited to the following objectives:

  • To learn and appreciate innovative ways of turning waste into a resource;
  • To understand the ecotourism activities promoted at Sezibwa conservation area;
  • To explore the relationship between innovative conservation projects and their adjacent communities;
  • To generate ways of achieving environmental, economic and social sustainability in the areas visited;
  • To identify opportunities for recruiting new members to the SFA network

During this field study, observations were made by the SFA members, and interviews were conducted with key organization staff to learn more about what they did and the impact of their activities on the environment and on neighboring communities. Data was collected by taking photographs and short video recordings, especially during presentations. At the end of the tour, all 90 students filled out evaluation forms and handed them to the SFA team. This data will be analysed and will inform future actions and relationships with the visited organizations.

SFA believes in and promotes a multidisciplinary approach, and this field study offered the team a range of options on how to interact with different community members in various settings. Of interest was the presence of cultural healing sites at Sezibwa, where patients from different parts of the region came for prayers and healing. The waste incubation centre offered insights on how agricultural waste could be used to produce eco-friendly products such as briquettes, paper bags and envelopes. Beyond their environmental benefits, these innovations created employment for the youth and the neighboring communities, thus contributing to poverty reduction. The idea of exposing students to local environmental concerns when they are about to graduate university is important because it not only prepares them to become ambassadors of sustainable development in their respective communities, but it also challenges them to think critically and practice more sustainable and innovative ways of dealing with environmental waste.

For instance, in his address to the team, ECOaction’s founder, Mr. Kandole Reagan, painted a mind-opening, artistic picture, likening irresponsibly dumped plastics to “vomit” from excessive intake. This is a spot-on description: “vomit” consists only of what has been consumed! Who on earth ever liked their own vomit, let alone somebody else’s, except perhaps a dog? Logically speaking, why should we let the environment choke on our vomit?

At both ECOaction and at United Innovations Development Centre, an economic perspective was encouraged; the emphasis was on looking beyond waste. The economic value that lies in or beyond environmental waste can create an intrinsic motivation for preserving and conserving the physical environment while reducing poverty and unemployment through reusing, recycling and upcycling waste for economic benefits. What these organizations offer are innovative methods of environmental sustainability. Meanwhile, Sezibwa Eco-Tourism focuses more on conserving the natural green environment and cultural practices that ensure responsible use of natural resources such as tree spices, rocks, birds and water bodies, among other things. The students, lecturers and SFA members benefitted from visiting each of these sites, which demonstrate practical, innovative methods of sustainability.


Mentoring impact story from Botswana Hub

By David Gerow

“I used to perceive myself as just a learner, but ever since I involved myself with the network, my worldview has really changed. Now I never see myself like an island. I just see myself as part of that bigger family, part of a bigger world. And I see myself as someone who can bring a change, whether big or small. I see that life is an exchange: you live together, you benefit from each other, you help each other.”

Goitse Mmeko, SFA Research Administrator for the Botswana Hub

Goitsemang Mmeko is the research administrator for Sustainable Futures in Africa’s (SFA) Botswana hub. She describes SFA as “a family of researchers from different backgrounds and disciplines with a common goal to achieve sustainable development by reaching out to communities and help solve problems through community engagement and involvement. A common goal is to have research impact, to leave impact out there in the communities.” But as well as impacting communities, Goitse credits SFA with having a positive impact on her own life, as she explained when she recently sat down with SFA co-director Dr. Deepa Pullanikkatil.

Goitse secured her Research Assistant (RA) position in March, 2017, just before SFA’s symposium in Botswana. She was a Masters student at the time, studying adult education. She graduated in 2018, an achievement she says was partly supported by her work with SFA, which has affected her worldview. “I used to perceive myself as just a learner,” Goitse says. “But ever since I involved myself with the network, my worldview has really changed. Now I never see myself like an island. I just see myself as part of that bigger family, part of a bigger world. And I see myself as someone who can bring a change, whether big or small. I see that life is an exchange: you live together, you benefit from each other, you help each other.”

The first major project Goitse collaborated on with SFA was the Botswana scoping study, which focused on human-wildlife conflict, particularly with elephants in a rural community at Mmadinare. Reflecting on her role in that project, Goitse says, “I’m so glad the hub coordinator involved me from the initial stage to the finish line. I was part of all the meetings, the community outreach, all the stages of the research trial.” Goitse was instrumental in establishing contacts with key stakeholders at Mmadinare. She contacted chiefs and sub-chiefs, members of the Village Development Committee, the Wildlife Department, Members of Parliament and non-governmental players. These contacts contributed not only to making the scoping study a success, but to Goitse’s own Masters: “It is out of this project, especially conducting the trials, that I started having my thesis idea.”

Goitse’s thesis is entitled Community Participation in Sustainable Tourism, and she considers her work on the Botswana scoping project an important factor in enabling her to conduct the necessary interviews for her research. “My entry point was the local leaders, whom I had already met (through the scoping project).

“That’s why my research was so fast-tracked, because I had already bonded, I had good relationships, I had established myself as a researcher.” These relationships made Goitse the only Masters student among the five in her department who managed to graduate within the projected time. “Indeed it was a miracle,” she says with confidence.

Goitse is quick to attribute some of the credit for her academic growth to her supervisor, SFA member MmaB Modise. “I’m grateful to MmaB because she mentored me in a lot of things. Nowadays, I am able to just draft a report and take it to her, then she edits and finishes it. Before I joined the SFA, I couldn’t even write a report.” Goitse also researches funding opportunities to present to MmaB and her colleagues, who make Goitse responsible for the application process. She then discusses her applications with MmaB and achieves a better understanding of how to find and obtain funding, another key skill that Goitse has developed with SFA.

Goitse also credits her SFA involvement with improving her communication skills and helping her learn about the world of IT-based communication platforms. Prior to securing her RA position, she primarily used IT to facilitate her learning, but she has now “seen the value” of e-platforms like Skype and has gained experience managing Google Drive, as well as blogging on behalf of SFA. Just as the SFA has benefitted Goitse, she has also benefitted the network with her hard work, her intelligence and her positive attitude. In the long-term, Goitse’s work with SFA has opened new horizons for her: “Now my worldview has expanded. I never thought I could be part of the academic world, but since I joined, I’m aspiring to do my PhD, I’m aspiring to write articles for journals. This has really developed me and I have no fear of doing my PhD. I’m so inspired.”


Impact Story: A Solar Dryer Tent to Support Farmers in Nigeria

The Problem

For the farmers of Adogo, a community in Nigeria’s Mbaya district, sun drying was the only way to preserve produce. Local women would lay fruits and vegetables on the ground to dehydrate them for future use. But sun drying brings problems: it’s weather-dependent, it exposes the food to contaminants like dust and insects, and it’s surprisingly time-consuming, as the women need to guard their produce from scavenging animals, both wild and domestic. In Adogo, where the majority of Benue State’s peppers and tomatoes originate but which has no nearby market or processing industry, the smallholder farmers faced a lose-lose situation: either inefficiently dry their produce in the sun, or sell it at giveaway prices before it rotted. All too often the food went bad, just because the farmers lacked a safe, sanitary, reliable method of preserving their produce.

The Idea

Enter Pricilla Achakpa, a celebrated environmentalist and Executive Director of Women Environmental Programme (WEP) in Nigeria. In 2017, Achakpa was invited to the University of Glasgow for a meeting of Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA). There she heard a fellow SFA member, Dr. Deepa Pullanikkatil, present on climate change adaptation technologies that were used in a project in Malawi. One technology mentioned by Dr. Pullanikkatil made a particular impression on Achakpa: the Solar Dryer Tent. Here was a simple construction, similar to a greenhouse, that would not only allow produce to be dried quickly, safely and hygienically, but which had already been successfully implemented in Malawi, where it was used to dry fish. Achakpa knew at once that she was on to something that could change lives in rural Nigerian communities like Adogo.

CONSULTATIVEMEETING

Three months later, Achakpa and Pullanikkatil met again, this time at an SFA conference in Nigeria. This time Pullanikkatil brought along a model of a Solar Dryer Tent as well as a how-to construction video. Achakpa brought these to Adogo, where the farmers responded with overwhelming positivity. They recognized a priceless opportunity to stop their produce from rotting, meaning they would be able to dry enough food to last all year, and also to sell preserved goods at fair prices rather than offloading it dirt-cheap before it rotted. With the community whole-heartedly on board, WEP delegated a team to strategize with the villagers in a consultative meeting.

The Project

The people of Adogo committed to providing land for the tent as well as labour, wood, sand, water and cement. WEP would provide the necessary funds as well as bricks, tin roofing sheets, plastic sheets, nets and other materials. To oversee the construction of their tent, the community formed a project Implementation Committee consisting of local masons, carpenters, church leaders, enthusiastic youths and the community head, Zakki, who mobilised people and played a supervisory role.

Carpenters

Construction began in July 2018 and was completed a month later. The result was a tent built 21 feet wide and 32 feet long, with a 2-foot deep foundation. The walls, made of burnt bricks, stand 5 feet high, giving the tent a strong foundation and protecting it from animals, wind and flooding. The wooden pillars bring the height of the tent up to 7 feet, with galvanized aluminium sheets used for roofing. These sheets absorb sunlight, and the heat they generate is retained by hard polythene sheets used as walls, with vents for circulation. Inside the tent are double-decker racks, each 4 feet wide and 22 feet long, covered with polythene and netting on which produce can be left to dry with minimal monitoring from the farmers, freeing them up to tend to other duties.

HANDOVER

The Impact

The community have reported that their produce dries faster in the Solar Dryer Tent than it did outdoors, and that the nutritional properties of the produce are better retained. The Solar Tent Dryer is cost-effective, easy to build (requiring only semi-skilled labour), and suitable for rural areas of Nigeria where subsistence farming is highly concentrated. The widespread use of Solar Dryer Tents would have a huge impact, enhancing the storage of produce during harvests and reducing post-harvest losses, all of which means an increase in the availability of food and a major reduction in food waste.

PEPPER

Safer, healthier, more abundant food for the people of Adogo to consume and sell, and a permanent structure to ensure continued success into the future. It’s easy to see why Zaki Linus Asorzwa, the district head of Adogo, called the Solar Dryer Tent a “momentous milestone for the good of the community” as he expressed his gratitude to WEP for their efforts. But it was not WEP alone that turned the tide in Adogo; it was the result of a collaboration between WEP and the community, as well as a fortuitous meeting between Achakpa and Dr. Pullanikkatil. Thinking back on it, Pullanikkatil says, “It is heartening to know that a simple conversation and meeting through SFA in Glasgow helped transfer this technology to Nigeria and is now helping communities there.”

You can see a short documentary about Adogo’s Solar Dryer Tent here: https://youtu.be/jT4usNwpSkg


Success for Abundance Fundraiser; eLearning Center secured for rural Malawi!

Abundance graduated from the GlobalGiving Accelerator program, becoming a regonised partner, through successfully raising $5,538 from 60 unique individual donors in 18 days in June 2018 to support their project, "Build an eLearning Center in rural Malawi!".

eLearning provides many benefits to rural community, as through this they can stay up-to-date with information that can help improve their lives. Abundance therefore sought help through GlobalGiving to fundraise for setting up an eLearning center at the village we work in. Donations were received from USA, UK, Canada, Malawi, Singapore, South Africa, India, Qatar, Swaziland and many more. Sustainable Futures in Africa network  partners also donated to support this. The funds received will be used to purchase solar panels, Keepods, keepod-ready laptops, furniture and for holding training sessions at the eLearning center.

GlobalGiving is the first and largest global crowdfunding community that connects nonprofits, donors, and companies in nearly every country around the world. Having participated in the June 2018 Accelerator program, Abundance has been vetted and approved and are now recognized partners of GlobalGiving.

Here is the link to Abundance’s project: http://goto.gg/33386


Reproductive Health at Mbando Village: Dispelling Myths

Making informed choices regarding reproductive health is something that is taken for granted in developed countries with good access to health services. This is often not the case in developing countries, and particularly so at Mbando village which is located by the shores of Lake Chilwa, in Machinga District, southern Malawi. Being one of the poorest countries in the world, Malawi faces a number of challenges, including poor access to reproductive health services and inadequate awareness. Mbando is a small village with 95 households consisting of mostly subsistence farmers and fishermen. It is vulnerable due to being prone to droughts and having few livelihood options. However, there is a vibrant youth community at the village. They have organized themselves into a club called “Wonderful Youth Club”. Being concerned about the high number of teenage pregnancies and many misconceptions regarding reproductive health, this club requested Abundance to hold a training session to discuss sexual and reproductive health.

Stewart Paul, Secretary of Abundance and a person of multiple talents, offered to undertake the training and was the right choice, being a youth himself (22 years old). On the 22nd of July 2017, Stewart joined Ruth Mumba (Director of Abundance) and others to Mbando village to meet with the youth to discuss this important yet often neglected topic. The youth face many challenges including poor access to contraceptives. They said that the nearest clinic was 3 km away and contraceptives were often unavailable and when it is available they were distributed to more established youth clubs in surrounding villages. Youth could not access any “counselling” or knowledge on sexual and reproductive health. Often girls were uncomfortable approaching older women to request for contraceptives at the clinic because they feared being judged immoral.

Stewart Paul talks to the youth, as Ruth Mumba (left) looks on.

It was surprising for Stewart to hear about the myths and misconceptions regarding this topic from the youth:

“Artificial contraception methods lead such as using pills lead to sterility or infertility.”

“When boys use contraception, over a given period of time they lack sexual prowess and stamina”.

Through the training Stewart dispelled some of the myths and provided much needed information to youth about sexual and reproductive health and how contraceptives work. The need for family planning was emphasized and he explained that good sexual and reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive system. The importance of taking care of the reproductive system to avoid injuries and infection was also emphasized.

The session was only for a few hours and the youth requested for more such sessions to be organized for continued awareness raising on these matters. The access to contraceptives remains a challenge to be overcome. Abundance hopes to collaborate with organizations that provide these services and work towards improving access for youth at Mbando village. We envision a Malawi where all youth will be free to take informed decisions regarding reproductive health. This training was a small step towards that vision, but many more needs to be taken.

 

For more information visit: http://www.abundanceworldwide.org

 @abundanceworldwide

 @Abundance_ww


Periods; Let’s talk about it!

Menstruation is the most dreaded time for adolescent girls and women in poor communities such as those in Mbando village, Machinga District, Malawi, where Abundance works. Why is such a natural health cycle, so difficult for them? The girls describe it as a time of anxiety and worry.

“When I get periods, I use pieces of cloth and am worried that it will fall off when I walk. That would be so shameful! So I don’t go to school those days. Also, it is difficult to sit on the floor while having periods, as our school does not have desks and chairs and we sit on the classroom floor.”

-A girl in Chirimba Secondary school, Mbando village.

Our rapid assessment in the village revealed that lack of access to and inability to afford proper sanitary napkins, caused the girls to resort to poor menstrual hygiene practises. Only three out of 53 girls surveyed at Mbando village have ever used proper sanitary pads. Lead by Abundance Director Ruth Mumba and her team, a one day training workshop (22 July 2017) was held at Mbando village on production of reusable sanitary napkins. The training was in response to a request from mothers in the village, who were concerned about young girls’ menstrual hygiene and related impacts.

Abundance Menstrual Hygiene Training

Grace Moyo began the training by first removing the “social stigma” on menstruation. “It is healthy to menstruate and you should not be ashamed of it. If you are a girl, you will menstruate”, she told the girls. She reiterated that being teased by their peers should not let them down, in fact, menstruation should be viewed as a sign that they are fit. Reusable sanitary napkins are made from used cloth and shaped like proper sanitary pads, but have an addition of buttons on the sides to secure them. Thus the worry that the cloth may fall off is no longer there and this gives confidence to the girls. Furthermore, the pads are something the girls can make on their own with a little training. They can be washed and reused, thus being an inexpensive and sustainable solution.

In the large classroom of Mbando village’s Community Based Child Care Centre, girls grouped themselves into groups of 6 and began making the pads with help from Ruth Mumba and Grace Moyo. Used cloth was sourced by Ruth from the local markets and sewing kits were purchased which was distributed to each group. Every girl got a small sewing pack which she could take home with her and continue making pads at her home. Care was taken to include aspects of washing pads with soap and drying them thoroughly before use, in the training.

Present at the workshop was the “Mothers Support Group”, which is a volunteer group of women in Mbando village who support women and children and help bring back children who drop out of school. They welcomed the training as a means to reduce girls’ absenteeism in schools. But there were also a pleasantly surprising cascading effect from the training. The Chairlady of the group said, “Because of this workshop, I believe that not only will the girls help themselves, go to school during periods, but, they can also use the skills to make pads and sell them for an income.” The possibility of income generation movement from this workshop was a positive spill-over that Abundance’s training did not expect, but happily welcomed.

Making reusable sanitary pads is not just a menstrual hygiene project, it has multiple benefits of improving confidence in girls, reducing absenteeism of girls in school and possible income generation venture. This is one small way Abundance is trying to help communities in Malawi. Let us break the silence about menstruation and promote dignity for girls!

Written by Deepa Pullanikkatil (PhD)

Founder & President of Abundance.

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