There is a saying in Uganda pertaining to the Northeast region of the country, known as Karamoja: “We shall never wait for Karamoja to develop.” Here, CWS Africa, along with the other members of Together Coalition, attempt what many consider impossible.

CWS, ECHO, and MAP International founded Together to encourage development in the region using an integrated approach. St. Mary’s Methodist Church Foundation provides the funding for this program. Each partner employs its unique strengths to empower Karimajongs to toughen resilience, cope with their environment, and improve health and development outcomes.

Karamoja is the least developed area of Uganda, and among the least developed in all of Africa. One cause of this is its very dry climate. Additionally, bandits and militias, including Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, have devastated villages here. Residents have been forced to allocate great energy planning defense against deadly attacks, so less time and effort can be given to growing food or collecting water. Child labor is universally mandatory, and until just recently, school attendance was only for the most privileged.

To enhance the wellbeing of the targeted communities, Together combines various thematic facets encompassing water, hygiene, sanitation, food security, livelihoods, health, micro watershed development, education, and youth empowerment.

CWS’s role is to work with residents to encourage participation in adult and youth education programs. Currently, school enrollment is as low as 33 percent in Lokiding Parish, and of those, regular attendance is only 43 percent. CWS has trained the school management committee (parent teacher organization) on management strategies as well as techniques to increase attendance.

“[The committee] told me that they are going to mobilize the children to come to school,” Lokiding Primary School Head Teacher Molly Okullo reported.

“I want to strongly believe that we are going to work as a team…with the management committee, the entire community, and even with the children, to make sure that people remain in school and are able to learn,” CWS Africa Program Coordinator Mary Obiero responded.

CWS is also working with the school to renovate classrooms. These classrooms by day are used as dormitories by night for the students in residence. Restrooms are also receiving upgrades.

In addition to partnerships with schools, CWS is helping to construct a youth center that will provide workforce training and entrepreneurial opportunities. Courses will vary in length from six months to one year. The best graduates will be asked to become mentors to the next class of students.

Karamojong young adults have the will to learn and work but only lack the prospects.

“So we thought if at least we had this youth center, it would help them,” Kotido Assistant Community Development Officer Simon Butong said. “Those ones who may actually be carpenters, after being trained…are about to get self-employed where they will continue getting money.”

Construction has already commenced and completion is scheduled for December 2014. It will open its doors to the first class of 50 learners in January 2015.

“We are very grateful for development partners to come and support and give development to the area,” Butong continued.

Karamojongs are encouraged that outsiders are beginning to believe in them, and eventually, they will no longer be known as the underdeveloped region.

Joel Cooper, communications intern, CWS Africa, serves as a Global Mission Intern with Church World Service East Africa in Nairobi, Kenya.  His appointment is supported by Week of Compasssion, Our Church’s Wider Mission, Disciples Mission Fund and your special gifts.