A Ugandan citizen managed to turn his destroyed village into a green town, after it had been in ruins for more than a decade, after the end of the civil war in northern Uganda. And now, early in the morning, outside his living room door, he could hear the screaming and laughter of early childhood center pupils, and the hustle and bustle of the vibrant village market. “I think what I’m doing here is something completely new,” says Ojuk Okello, who is behind the project to revitalize the village of Okere Mum-Kok, which has a population of 4,000.
Development work began in the town in January 2019 on an area of 500 acres and now includes a school and health clinic, a village bank, and a community hall that also functions as a cinema, church and nightclub. Electricity is available to everyone, and it is generated from solar energy – which is rare in this region, and there is clean water extracted from an underground well.
School pupils pay half of their fees in cash, and the rest in the form of corn, beans, sugar and firewood. The clinic allows residents to pay their bills in installments. Local security men use spears instead of firearms, which is an unusual sight in an area where many men sit at home, while women bear most of the paid and unpaid work.
Okello is financing the project out of his own pocket. Last year, development work cost him 200 million Ugandan shillings (about 39,000 pounds sterling). Okello, a London School of Economics graduate and development expert, has held positions in several charitable foundations and international NGOs, but has been disappointed to see several failing projects because, he says, societies have not participated in decisions about their future.
When he returned a few years ago to his village of Okere Mum-Cook, to see the village he left as a child after his father, a civil servant, was killed in the civil war in the 1980s, he decided to apply everything he learned in creating a self-led project.
The O’Kerry project is now generating significant revenue. Okello says that every project can finance itself, and that is possible because the project is not created as a charity, but rather as a social institution. “I do not want this project to be at the mercy of some white people,” he says. “We want to conduct business talks with partners, and be responsible for shaping the fate and future of the project.”
Okere will be a pioneer in green energy, but its unique point of rise is the shea trees, whose butter is popular in overseas markets. Okello says he took inspiration from Walt Disney’s “Black Panther”, when he was sitting under a chia tree outside his home one afternoon in early 2020.
He continues: “I looked at the tree and realized that we have this important natural resource, but we do not exploit it.” As we know, this country was built on a mountain of a unique mineral, called (fibranium). ” “They had a fibrous mineral, and this chia tree could be our fibranium,” he says, adding, “Therefore, I will invest everything in my power to take advantage of this resource, to protect it, and to use it for the welfare of my community.”
In August, shea butter arrives at the market, smelling its scent in the whole village, and Okello called for the protection and restoration of the shea trees, which are classified as an endangered species.
The Village Investment Club meets once a week, when the sun begins to set. The majority of the more than 100 members are women, and most of them are farmers, but some of them also run small businesses.
“I got a loan from the club to buy chia seeds, which I sold at a profit,” says member Asen Olga. Members’ financial contributions are carefully recorded, before they are redistributed as loans to members who need them. When borrowers pay off their loan, the cycle begins all over again. One of the members, Yassin, says this type of banking is especially important because it is of African origin.
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