Simply News 5: Development project in Uganda: One year on

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New school buildings, boreholes sunk, wells repaired, village health teams trained, mosquito nets distributed, community finance schemes established and £615,649 raised through donations. A year after the launch of the Katine project, we’ve seen some significant achievements.

But it’s not been an easy 12 months. In fact, the past year has been one long lesson in development for the Guardian. We hadn’t expected the three-year project would arouse such heated debate.

Describing Katine as an area stuck in the middle ages, a term borrowed from the economist Paul Collier, at the beginning of the project didn’t win us friends. We were accused on this blog of neo-colonialism, of using a “dumb and offensive analogy” and attempting to “sweep Africans out of the contemporary context”.

We were also asked what we, a news organisation, thought we were doing getting involved in development work – especially area-based development work, which divides the experts at the best of times. And we received a few sharp words, publicly and privately, on the sustainability of the project after 2010.

We’ve not shied away from the criticism. The Katine Chronicles blog has been a platform for some rigorous debate over the year, as we’ve sought to address some of your concerns. We’ve discussed that “medieval” comment, the impact of the project on neighbouring villages, the building costs of the new Amorikot primary school and our independent assessor’s reports.

To satisfy a need for context, we’ve looked at Uganda’s history and politics and explored the wider issues of development, such as whether aid works, and the role religion and music can play in changing people’s lives.

It hasn’t all been bad, of course. Buried beneath the fiery comments has been some positive feedback – we’ve been congratulated for our long-term commitment to development, and some visitors to the website have been “blown away” by the coverage. For some, it appears, the project has been an opportunity simply to discuss the ins and outs of development work.

At the launch of the project we were asked whether Katine residents were being consulted on the work being carried out in their villages.

A vital part of the project is to hear from villagers and ensuring this happens is something we will be specifically focusing on over the coming months. So far we’ve had various degrees of success. Logistically, it’s been tricky trying to gather comments from people living in an area with limited electricity and access to computers. But our Ugandan journalist, Richard M Kavuma, has done a sterling job feeding back stories and keeping us up to date on progress during his monthly visits, and, recently, Katine teacher Jean Geoffrey Eyedu has emailed us his thoughts on the project, which can be read in our village voices section of the site.

We’ve also been able to tell villagers’ stories through films and pictures. We now have more than 30 films on the site, including the moving story of Janet Anyango and her struggle to care for her sick son, an interview with Amorikot primary school’s first female teacher, Agnes Ameo, and a day in the life of schoolboy Pius Omoding. Most recently has been a new film on the importance of music and radio in Katine. And we’ve a new film to mark the first anniversary, which will be online next week.

Looking back, it’s been a challenging year, but one that we believe is starting to bring real change to a very poor rural area. There is still much more to do, and to discover, and we’ll continue to share it all with you – the highs and the lows. We’re sure you’ll tell us what you think.

Story by Liz Ford

Vocabulary Notes

wells repaired – a well is a hole used to get water from under the ground. Wells are usually dug by hand and need to be repaired quite often unless they have strong walls.

boreholes sunk – a borehole is used to get water from deep under the ground. A machine is used to make a narrow hole, a metal pipe is inserted and a pump brings water to the surface. Here ‘sunk’ means pushed deep into the ground as part of the construction. Notice that in many other contexts ‘sunk’ can be negative. For example, if a ship is sunk, it means it is damaged and goes to the bottom of the sea. If a business has ‘sunk’ it means that it has failed.

mosquito nets – nets used to prevent mosquitoes from reaching someone in bed and biting them. Mosquito nets are used to fight the spread of malaria, a major killer disease in Africa.

development – economic and social activity intended to improve people’s lives, in this case to reduce poverty in Africa.

heated debate – fierce discussion or argument.

analogy – an analogy is a comparison with something else that has similar characteristics. If something is said to be ‘analogous’ with something else, it means it has similarities which can be used to help to understand the thing.

the middle ages – a period in history hundreds of years ago.

the ins and outs – the various aspects, the details of something.

to win friends – to do things that other people will approve of; to become popular.

moving story – in this context, if something is described as ‘moving’ it means that it has a emotional effect. A ‘moving story’ is one which arouses strong feeling, often empathy or sympathy, in the reader. Reports of tragedies, or other sad things, are said to be ‘moving’.

neo-colonialism – beliefs, attitudes and actions associated with foreign domination, even after colonialism has ended, a sort of new-colonialism.

sustainability – the ability of something to become self-sufficient and survive for a long time.

the highs and the lows – the good and bad things that happen; also called ‘the ups and the downs’.

This article is reproduced for language learning practice. Copyright acknowledged.