PROBLEMS CAN EMPOWER US
I come from Masaka, a rural community where my ancestors originate. I was born in a very large polygamous family. Unfortunately, my stepmother exercised all forms of violence on me, and succeeded in leaving a large scar in the middle of my back. I am now told that I used to share a plate with the family dog. I also have recollections of being beaten and locked outside the house in darkness.
Eventually, my biological mother had had enough. She came for me and took me to live with Peter Augustine Labongo, the man I now consider to be my father. It was from this family that I first felt what is called 'love'. Peter is now an old pensioner of 90 years, and loves me more than he does his own children. He supported me through secondary school, until I started making my own initiatives to go further up the educational ladder.
As a Ford Fellow, I graduated from Leeds University, U.K. in 2007 with a master's degree in Health Management, Planning and Policy. Prior to that, I had attained a bachelor's in Education in Uganda, worked in health education in Masaka, and travelled to Zaire and Tanzania on project assignments with the Child Care Mission.
My initial plan after graduation was to join the Public Service and engage the system towards pro-people planning and policies. But as my efforts to join became futile, I positioned myself in the ‘free space’ available and initiated individual efforts on my own. For instance, I have written numerous letters to Uganda's major daily newspapers The New Vision and The Monitor on a wide range of issues. At one time, i was profiled in the Sunday Magazine as one of Uganda’s most prolific letter writers. I now feel that it is ‘ideas" that change the world.
I have fallen in love with problems. Whenever I see a problem, I start imagining how that problem can become a solution. I see my neighbors’ problems as an opportunity to create solutions and gain an advantage. I initiate ideas that I believe may be responsible for changing society for the better. I have become a merchant of innovative ideas that benefit communities for social transformation.
Today, I am a private consultant, hired to help plan, design, implement, monitor and evaluate public health projects. My interest is in promoting my own community transformation model based on Education, Health and the Environment - EHE Kityo model - using resources that are already in place. I identify communities and develop ‘stand alone’ project initiatives (ideas), which can lead to community transformation. Some of my innovations are developed in my backyard, and are shared with international organizations for assessment and support.
For example, I have been beaten by rain and burnt by the sun while traveling en route to Kampala. It became very apparent to me that there were very few public utilities to support people during their daily routines. I then realized that it must be very difficult for other people in more disadvantaged positions than myself... people like breast feeding mothers, the elderly and persons with disabilities. I noted that the very few shades in Kampala (I have not seen more than 20!) mainly carry messages related to sponsors’ products. I felt that adding public health messages could benefit communities. So when I received the call for ideas from Philips Co., I submitted my Shade Stand Project to the Livable Cities Award Competition, and won second place, including a grant to help launch the project.
Other initiatives include the Green Leaf Project for city slum dwellers, based on a simple technology that can be used in urban areas where there is scarcity of land, resulting in severe malnutrition and low consumption of folic acids and vitamins. The innovation uses disposable, degradable plastic bags to grow collards and other green leafy vegetables (I tried in my backyard) by punching holes on the sides of the bags. The 100 kg bags are filled with a mixture of animal manure and top soil. The bag is enhanced with a 1metre long PVC pipe with holes on its sides for watering and aeration. This idea was a 2010 finalist at the Kennedy Space Center’s LAUNCH Health project, funded by NASA, USAID, U.S. State Department and NIKE.
I am also working with Scientists Without Borders to implement the re-use of water from the Naivubo water channel. I posted this challenge on the Scientists Without Borders online platform and it was accredited for generating the most number of solutions since the forum was established.
Using social media, I promote campaigns for social justice causes where i feel the causes are genuine. My most recent cause was the nomination and social promotion (through Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and emails) of the Gender Justice Cause, a campaign which sought to recognise the Costitutional Court of Uganda for the ruling that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is illegal and violates the Constitutional Rights of women.
Watch the Kampala Shade Stands video here.
Read more about James' Shade Stands project.
Middle Right - James receives the Philips Liveable Cities Award
Bottom - James standing next to the Naivubo Water Channel, where he is developing a water recycling project in collaboration with Scientists Without Borders.