On the way to Arua….

Hi Everyone!

I have a post below that I wrote on my personal blog a while ago, but first a quick summary:

I’m currently interning in Uganda for Innovations for Poverty Action.  They do very interesting research studies, using randomized controlled trials all over the world with the goal of figuring out what works to solve problems stemming from and related to poverty, and what does not work. You can read all about it  at http://www.poverty-action.org .

So what does my internship entail? A whole bunch of different things.  The first three weeks I was living in Kampala and preparing to move an endline survey (the survey we do after a randomly assigned treatment to find out if that treatment actually helped people or not) so that was a lot of office work, move papers around, generating forms and documents we would use later, and then a week and a half of training our survey teams.  Then we were off to the field to start (which is when I wrote the post below, on the way to our first survey location). I was there for three weeks, first with the whole team and then with just four enumerators finishing up the last respondents in the district.  After a quick lay over in Kampala, I moved to our second survey sight where I am now, to help finish things up here. Next week I’ll head to a new survey sight, this time in Eastern Uganda to manage enumeration there. So what does “managing enumeration” mean? I am responsible for syncing the PDAs and doing initial data cleaning and checking, managing our auditors who go back and double check the work the enumerators did, and figuring out what they found and if we need to correct anyone, helping to plan when we will go where and how we will travel, and pretty much anything else that comes up along the way!

….And now “On the Bus”

In hour five of what can be any where between a six and a half or seven hour bus ride up to our first survey sight, which is in northern Uganda, it feels like I have had more time to think today than in the whole month previous month I have been here.  First of all I have realized that I have been here for a month.  Pretty increadible how fast that went by, and how easily I managed to fall into a routine or at least a comfortable life style in Kampala.

Looking out of the window of this bus, I feel that we are in a different place all together.  First of all, this is an exceptionally beautiful country.   On the way up here we past the nile twice (I think) once it was rapids and once it was calm.   The most exciting part of the rid (so far) was when we drove through a national park.  One of the enumerators told me last week that we were passing through a nature resereve on our way up and that we would see hippos.  I smiled and said that would be nice, not really believing him.  But he was right! We were driving along (what has been an exceptionally nice paved road so far) and someone yelled elephant! The driver slowed down a bit and we all got to see not one but a whole group (pack, pride, community?) pretty close to the road maybe 500m at most 1000m away.  Less than 2 km later we drove by a swampy lake rive complex and at lead half a dozen hippos chilling under the water.

The project associate and I had been syncing the PDAs we are using to collect our data. We stopped enjoyed the animals, and then got back to what we were doing. Two minutes later we drove by a big billboard, reminding us that Orange (a major cell phone company in many parts of Africa and the middle east) has the fastest 3g network in Uganda (which I am currently taking advantage of to post this blog entry!).  I took a course this past semester called globalization, but you wouldn’t need a university class to recognize the interconnectedness of a world where two playing with relatively advanced technology they will use to conduct research, huge wild animals living in their natural habitat, and advertisements for a major international telecom company all exist in the same 2 minute stretch of road.

The places I am driving by right now are incredibly rural.  There are power lines along the road but they do not seem to connect to the houses we are passing along the way all of which are made of mud and thatched roofs, and many of which are located together in groups of three to ten.  There seem to be very few towns or trading centers or even villages along this road.  Its hard to think back to what Kenya was like, but it does at least seem to be less “developed” in the sense that ther  are very few people and very few trading centers.

I am thinking about the first time I read through the survey we are conducting, which asks a lot of questions about how people make money.  At first read I found someone them a little boring. But now, driving through this area, I am so interested to see peoples answers to these questions. How do they make  money? What combinations of activities sustain themselves, both to put food on the table and to pay for school fees for their children, and health care?  These are not novel questions and they do not seem to be so fasincating on paper.  They don’t have the cultural nuance or interacies of the questions which get asked about HIV, and enviormental preservation.  They won’t lead to the spectacular reduction in suffering promised by greater uptake of preventative measures for malaria, and water born diseases.  What they will do is shed light on how people here get by.  What they do to make money and how they decide to spend their money when they have it.

Over the course of the last few months I have heard from several friends who were interested in development that they are not longer interested in working in this field.  They each had their own reasons, but for many it seems to be about frustration with the way NGOs operate and feeling that giving handouts ultimately does not accomplish much.  When I look at these homes I am passing on the road, I also wonder about the term development.  In Kampala, which I is a large but not well designed city with severe infrastructure problems (bad roads few sidewalks), I have and idea of what development might mean. Fixing these roads, starting industries that employ more people, and fixing many governance issues all seem like good places to start.  When I go out in Kampala though it feels like familiar territory.  Yes, things are different and I am sure that many of you would not agree with me that Kampala is a managble and easy to navigate city.  But there is something familiar to me about it something I can grab onto.  Out here, while there are cell phone towers (I’m driving by one at the moment), power lines, and this road (half an hour later and still nicely paved), I have a harder time imagining what “development” means.  Well that’s not entirely true, I can easily think of all of thing things some of these places seem to be missing, healthcare, clean running water, every child in school. What I am having a hard time picturing is what a world where these things come about here organically looks like, what are the sectors of the economy which could be fostered to help people in these areas generate the income they need to get these things for themselves. I don’t want to be misunderstood here, I am not saying that it is okay that such drastic inequality exists, and I am not saying that it is okay for it to continue.  I am also not saying that it would necessarily be a wrong or poor choice if these things were simply given to people (though I am also not saying I advocate that approach all of the time either). What I am saying is that in this vast rural area, with so few houses, so few people, and so much land it is hard for me to imagine what this place would look like if all of the “problems” of rural poverty were solved tomorrow. I’m in an optimistic mood today, so I’m going to say that its not that such a world can’t or won’t exist, I just don’t have a big enough imagination.  At least that is what I hope.

I’m excited to look back at this in a few weeks and see how I feel and what I think about it then. I know the the impressioni get from inside this bus, and the impression I get hanging out in towns are not likely to be the same at all, I’m excited to have my perceptions and thoughts change, that’s one of the things I enjoy most about traveling and meeting new people.

Over the course of writing this hour five has turned into hour six, and we should be arriving relatively soon.  I wish I could take a video and send it to all of you to show you how beautiful the scenery has become.  There are more trees now than there were an hour ago.  Everything is so green. The terrain is relatively flat but in the  distances there are hills, which look blue in the late afternoon sun.  We are driving very fast, and I’m wishing I had remembered to keep a head band or scarf out of my bag for the trip to keep my hair out of my eyes.  Its cooled off significantly and there are some ominous looking rain clouds, which I hope hold off, or rain and move on before we have to unload all of our supplies from this bus. My internet modem is buried somewhere deep in by bag, otherwise I would pull it out and upload this right from the bus (wouldn’t that be a neat trick). But instead I’ll try to remember to post it later tonight.  Thanks for keeping me company on the bus, and for listening to my ramblings along the way.

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1 comment
  1. Your experience raises some interesting questions. Who do you think is driving the decisions that are made regarding development? What are some entrepreneurial solutions that you have seen through your work with Poverty Action?

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