Villages Connected Blog


The power of witnessing change – Wilson’s success story by de Villiers van Zyl

Mwesige Wilson building a new house


I will never forget the day I met Mwesige Wilson. It was June 25, 2011, the day we wrapped up our three-week training program with the newly established Villages Connected Fort Portal media co-op in Uganda. I was just about to enter the classroom to start the last day, when my eye caught this strong, young, African man wearing a Scottish kilt walking towards me from across a field. It was Wilson. Besides the fact that I have never seen an African in a kilt, what struck me most is that never before have I seen such a strong visual representation of the presence of Western heritage in Africa.

Wilson’s kilt has become a reminder to me of why Villages Connected’s work is so important. For centuries, western societies have had the ability to communicate their knowledge, potential, beliefs and stories to a global audience but only now do Africans have the opportunity to showcase their potential & knowledge globally thanks to technological breakthroughs that allow Africans to access the internet via cell networks.

With these advances in technology, Villages Connected Fort Portal is not only able to show the opportunities within their community but also, the change investments within opportunistic Africans and their businesses creates. In fact, for all investments or contributions received, Villages Connected creates a success story showing exactly where money has gone and what impact it has on the lives of the recipients such as Wilson.

Wilson is a grade ten student who owns a livestock farm. He was introduced to us by Camp Uganda, an organization that empowers youth to save endangered chimpanzees. Haida Bolton, founder of Camp Uganda, first met Wilson in 2009 when he attended Camp Uganda with his school’s wildlife club. Haida learned that he was orphaned at the age of four and was raised by his grandfather. His grandfather was able to raise enough funds to send him to school when he was 11 years old. When Haida met Wilson he was 17 and one of the brightest students in his grade seven class. He longed to be a doctor so he could prevent other children from losing their parents to unnecessary diseases. However, Wilson could not afford to go to high school.

Fortunately, a group of Canadian people pooled their funds together to help Wilson attend one of the best and oldest high schools in Fort Portal, Nyakasura Secondary. Nyakasura is a private school, started in the early 1900’s by a Scotsman and the reason for Wilson’s impressive dress code.

To sustain himself and his grandfather, Wilson started a poultry and pig farm but while away at school all the pigs contracted a disease and died. Now burdened with using savings to buy new pigs and to replace an aging farmhouse, Wilson contacted Haida for financial support. Haida jumped on it and raised the funds to invest in a new house for Wilson.

To see the change this investment has created, watch the video and to help create another success story through investment, click here

Wilson wearing his kilt

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Villages Connected Fort Portal Response to Kony 2012 by Caroline Spira

It’s impossible to think of anyone not having a reaction to the Kony 2012 campaign. Indeed, we have written about it after many discussions between our board, staff and media co-op members.

One of our goals is to create media that matters – media that is at once positive, compelling and authentic; media that shares our values as interconnected humans. The missing piece in the story of powerful media has been the voices of people who must now live with the representation decided upon by others. It is time to let those voices tell the story.

Last week, members of the Villages Connected Fort Portal media co-op in Uganda came together to watch the Kony 2012 video and then turned the cameras on themselves to capture their discussion to share this with the world.

No frills, no hype, no hidden agenda. What you get is their reactions and personal opinions – their voices finally heard as the world turns their eyes upon their country. There is a clear message about the current situation in the country, the present focus and the desire for a more prosperous future.

This is media that matters.



“Kony 2012” diverts attention from Africa’s real enemy by de Villiers van Zyl

As the Executive Director for Villages Connected, I am indignant about the Kony 2012 campaign.  I see it as a flawed approach to put the focus on Kony ahead and above of everything else.  I say this because our organization works at the grassroots in a community called Fort Portal, Uganda and what I have experienced there leads me to different conclusions.

So, if the Kony 2012 campaign is a success, and somehow Kony is captured or killed, will it then be mission accomplished for the millions that participated in the campaign? Will they celebrate? After all, the evildoer is gone and now everyone can live happily ever after.

Wrong!

The hunt for Kony diverts the attention from the real problem in Africa: inequality.

The root cause is that poor villagers are vulnerable economically and man and nature can so easily exploit their weaknesses. Many of these villagers cannot even afford mosquito nets to protect themselves from malaria – which has killed many more people than Kony has. But this fact is one that we somehow accept more easily.

The real enemy is the world turning a blind eye to the importance of investing in Africa as a way to turn inequality on its head.  Supporting businesses that build strong economies give the power to the people to protect themselves socially and economically from “Konys” and malaria-mosquitoes.

We want to see a different outcome, but we too often fail to bear witness to the potential of opportunities in Africa.

Ugandan kids, full of life, in school and ready to show us the potential of Africa.

Too many times, Western organizations go to Africa to find problems.  People start organizations to address these problems, then sensationalize them to spread the word to millions of people to raise funds. What is the result:  a million negative messages about Africa being war-torn, emaciated, helpless etc.

Elsewhere in the world opportunities attract investors. The worlds economic system is driven by investors – if these investors don’t have confidence that a business exists in a stable environment and can flourish, guess what, they won’t invest. Media and aid organizations feed us endless messages about the problems of Africa – not a picture to attract investors for sure. However, this is not the reality for most of Africa – and definitely not in Uganda where Kony and his cronies actually left years ago.

Opportunities are there and waiting for investors.

While we don’t see the messages, there are countless everyday people seizing opportunities, starting businesses, developing new techniques, giving rise to new products.  We may not hear about people working hard to show they have products to sell, but they are many!

This message just isn’t communicated because everyday people don’t have millions of dollars to launch marketing campaigns.

Instead, these everyday people seem to get food packages, donations to band-aid the real issues, and – now – millions of dollars spent on a marketing initiative to make a warlord famous.  Kony has killed 60 000 kids.  Economic equality is killing millions and will continue to do so unless we stand up and create a real victory over inequality.

We need to invest in the countless viable African businesses – big and small – so that everyday Africans can grow their local economies. They will then be able to protect themselves socially and economically and become less vulnerable to the Konys of the world.

With a successful Kony 2012 campaign, we may neutralize this “Kony”, but ten years from now there may be another “Kony”.

It really saddens me that millions of dollars will make a criminal famous, when millions of people in Uganda and a billion people in Africa can radically change their long-term economic well-being – and by default the negative perceptions of Africa – with a fraction of that money.

In our work at Villages Connected, we invest in businesses, share stories of the everyday opportunities.  Our work creates an environment that could lead to a prosperous future for at least 200 000 people in Fort Portal alone.  We make Fort Portal a little more famous in our own way.  Yet it’s the people, the businesses, the opportunities for investment that have center stage in making the real difference.

Imagine the possibilities if our approach was replicated elsewhere? .

No war, no negativity, no handouts, no band-aids, no space for the Konys of the world.   An end to the inequality.

What I know from my experience is this: investing in communities and bearing witness to the potential – this is the solution.

Villages Connected International is a registered non-profit that combines the tools of media, marketing and micro-finance to unlock the potential of global and local values-based partnerships. Check us out on www.villagesconnected.org




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