RPCV Garland Smith and counterpart Bosco Tumuramye viewing a crater lake.

A collective force of powerful people, action takers, and change makers.

I was so excited to join Peace Corps. I had just graduated with my bachelor's degree and knew I wanted to do something other than work a desk job. I knew I wanted to branch out and explore other places and experience other cultures - just something different. So, there it was, after a thorough application process the opportunity to do so presented itself in my inbox with “Congratulations!” and I was stoked and ready from there-on-out.

Queue transition from Virginia to Uganda to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer

I arrived in my host community in Southwestern Uganda, ready to hit the ground running! ... but just as ready to hit my head on my pillow and sleep after an exhaustive three months of in-country training. 𝙯𝙯𝙯. I woke up to a realization that hitting the ground running was ambitious, almost a false narrative I set for myself. So, when I woke up, I took a step back and observed instead of taking charge.

My counterpart, Bosco Tumuramye took me everywhere he could, like his own brother. He showed me where his village fetched water from a 50-foot decline to a massive lake, where children have even disappeared he told me. Facing a very detrimental situation, we pursued our first project. We submitted a funding proposal for a solar powered water pump and piping, with exact details, to transport water for the marginalized village to access with more ease. That’s it! This is a dire situation, people’s lives are at risk, funding is a guarantee. The result: no-call-back. Who said it would be easy?

RPCV Garland Smith with fellow volunteers during PST.

Garland with fellow volunteers during Peace Corps Pre-Service Training.

RPCV Garland Smith and counterpart Bosco Tumuramye viewing a crater lake.

Garland and counterpart Bosco Tumuramye viewing a crater lake.

My secondary counterpart took me around as well, just before he left the country for an unreal internship abroad. Agaba Robert Bob brought me up north from the community, to the hydropower plant “providing” power to the region. However, the flow of power (and water) from the plant didn’t reach our community. Our community observed decreasing crop yields seasonally: income-to-subsistence for many, and subsistence-to-nothing for some. Peace Corps service is a marathon, not a sprint, and this was the next marker on the journey. We submitted a thorough grant application and accompanying 9-minute testimonial video of farmers advocating the opportunity to implement solar powered irrigation for their gardens. That’s it! In their own words, using their own voices, they spoke to their desire. Result: rejected. It really was not turning out to be easy. 

Our community’s football team manager was always there to rely on. Francis Karougaba lived with unreliable grid power in his home and knew funding may not come so, we took power into our own hands. We created an innovation and shared the “cooking oil candle” with the community; an up-cycled resource to provide light for marginalized families. My young friend Bashiru took the lead with the innovation as we spread the plastic bottle, cooking oil, and scrap cotton wick innovation throughout the community to generate in-home light. That’s it! at least some solution for families living in darkness. Result: finally getting somewhere. But time was flying, and I was leaving soon. So before leaving, I made an assessment:

Throughout my time volunteering in Uganda, I found trends: First, the vast majority of people want to develop; second, the majority of people are willing to work for their development; and third, most people do not want others to develop for them and want to develop themselves. However, ALTERNATIVELY: Fourth, the slight minority of people actually have the tools to begin and sustain development for their communities and country. … This observation developed into an understanding, and my experiences allowed me to realize the actual depth to development. I realized that people who seek development are simply without the tools to not only begin, but to also sustain their own development. By tools for development, I mean the various resources that allow people to put beneficial effort into increasing the wellbeing of themselves, their families, and their communities and country. Honestly, the tools are really an increase in opportunity, and those opportunities are widely absent.

RPCV Garland Smith and secondary counterpart Agaba Robert Bob digging during a field visit.

Garland and secondary counterpart Agaba Robert Bob digging during a field visit.

Football team manager Francis Karougaba teaching the cooking oil candle.

Francis Karougaba teaching the cooking oil candle in his boutique. 

Just before leaving Uganda, I worked with my host organization, Community Volunteer Initiative for Development (COVOID), to partner with a solar power company and secure solar lanterns on demand. The idea was to create a social enterprise by way of participatory development. Using the profit from sales of eco-friendly clothing, we would purchase solar lanterns for people in poverty and without power, who lived in villages around the community. It was an idea to provide clean light to marginalized households. An idea targeted to foster opportunity for families who have been widely absent of opportunities for their progress. A simple solution to a complex problem and the result was The Omushana Company.

Tweet: A simple solution to a complex problem.

We provided solar lanterns to 78 households - an entire village - within two months of launching. 390 women, men, children, elderly, disabled, farmers, midwives, out-of-school youth, builders, entrepreneurs, social workers, people in Butezi Village of the Bunyaruguru kingdom in Southwestern Uganda accessed clean light. Result: opportunity now realized by people who found a mission and set to achieve it together.

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Young Bashiru in primary school with the cooking oil candle.

Bashiru with the cooking oil candle.

Bosco Tumuramye and COVOID with Butezi Village receiving solar lanterns.

Bosco Tumuramye and COVOID with Butezi Village receiving solar lanterns.

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It’s not about me, it’s not about you, and it’s not about them - it’s about us. Reducing inequalities, alleviating poverty, and preserving our environment cannot be achieved in extent when we work as individuals, but when working as a collective force of powerful people, action takers, and change makers, capturing our potential and realizing our opportunities together. Together, we bring the world a step forward in creating the sustainable and inclusive communities she deserves. It takes persistence, it takes belief and vision, but most importantly, it takes people working within their capacity to foster unimaginable change. Thank you for being a person of change.

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