Learning for Sustainability: University-Community Nexus

Anthony Kadoma, Research Administrator of the Ugandan hub; Reagan Kandole, ECOaction; and Dave Gerow

On 13 April, 2019, members of SFA’s Uganda hub jointed staff and students from Makerere University’s Department of Adult and Community Education for an environmental education field study tour. Two lecturers and 90 students participated along with SFA members Joseph Watuleke, Kevin Aanyu, Kellen Aganyira, Richard Kagolobya and Anthony Kadoma. The idea of the hub members collaborating with the university staff grew out of a monthly meeting held on 19 March.

Uganda hub members during the field study tour

The team visited three different but related innovation sites: ECOaction, an SFA partner in Uganda; United Innovations Development Centre (UIDC), a leading innovation and waste incubation centre in Kireka, a suburb of Kampala; and finally, Sezibwa, an eco-tourism site in the district of Mukono, Central Uganda.

The field study was guided by, but not limited to the following objectives:

  • To learn and appreciate innovative ways of turning waste into a resource;
  • To understand the ecotourism activities promoted at Sezibwa conservation area;
  • To explore the relationship between innovative conservation projects and their adjacent communities;
  • To generate ways of achieving environmental, economic and social sustainability in the areas visited;
  • To identify opportunities for recruiting new members to the SFA network.

During this field study, observations were made by the SFA members, and interviews were conducted with key organization staff to learn more about what they did and the impact of their activities on the environment and on neighboring communities. Data was collected by taking photographs and short video recordings, especially during presentations. At the end of the tour, all 90 students filled out evaluation forms and handed them to the SFA team. This data will be analysed and will inform future actions and relationships with the visited organizations.

SFA believes in and promotes a multidisciplinary approach, and this field study offered the team a range of options on how to interact with different community members in various settings. Of interest was the presence of cultural healing sites at Sezibwa, where patients from different parts of the region came for prayers and healing. The waste incubation centre offered insights on how agricultural waste could be used to produce eco-friendly products such as briquettes, paper bags and envelopes. Beyond their environmental benefits, these innovations created employment for the youth and the neighboring communities, thus contributing to poverty reduction. The idea of exposing students to local environmental concerns when they are about to graduate university is important because it not only prepares them to become ambassadors of sustainable development in their respective communities, but it also challenges them to think critically and practice more sustainable and innovative ways of dealing with environmental waste.

For instance, in his address to the team, ECOaction’s founder, Mr. Kandole Reagan, painted a mind-opening, artistic picture, likening irresponsibly dumped plastics to “vomit” from excessive intake. This is a spot-on description: “vomit” consists only of what has been consumed! Who on earth ever liked their own vomit, let alone somebody else’s, except perhaps a dog? Logically speaking, why should we let the environment choke on our vomit?  

At both ECOaction and at United Innovations Development Centre, an economic perspective was encouraged; the emphasis was on looking beyond waste. The economic value that lies in or beyond environmental waste can create an intrinsic motivation for preserving and conserving the physical environment while reducing poverty and unemployment through reusing, recycling and upcycling waste for economic benefits. What these organizations offer are innovative methodsof environmental sustainability. Meanwhile, Sezibwa Eco-Tourism focuses more on conserving the natural green environment and cultural practices that ensure responsible use of natural resources such as tree spices, rocks, birds and water bodies, among other things. The students, lecturers and SFA members benefitted from visiting each of these sites, which demonstrate practical, innovative methods of sustainability.