Letter to the World | Feb 12, 2019

 

Contents:

1).  The earnest appeal

2).  My own battle with poverty

3).  The arrival of 2030 (i.e. the Global Goals)

4).  One feat left — before I die

5).  About me

 

1).  The earnest appeal:

Dear My Fellow World Citizens,

I am asking you to help me create one bold, fully self-sustaining solution to poverty in my region by 2030. I live in a place where little is in place to end poverty. I have also personally battled poverty for decades. But my goal is to change the bigger picture.

I am a rural farmer somewhere in Africa. In my region, many poor smallholder farmers can’t even earn $20 in a full planting season, and it’s all due to one principal reason: absence of reliable markets for our produce. It doesn’t matter which crop you grow.

You have to be a poor small farmer to feel that pinch better. I decided back in 2015 that I had to do something about it. It’s just imperative. It’s the only remaining feat I have resolved to accomplish, before I die. In a bid to raise support, I have now met in person with everyone from the UNDP senior executive team in my country, to USAID’s Feed the Future, and have contacted over 10,000 people between that time, in vain.

Not ready to give up, I decided to cling onto SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals). I created a call to action in line with SDG 17, to crowdsource collaborators who could physically work with my team to implement the solution that I am striving to create (i.e. a fully fledged agro-processing plant), or those who could only amplify our voice via other means. The reason for creating that call, is the fact that I have tried to raise support for this plant since 2015; have contacted thousands in the process, in vain.

I am very earnestly appealing to you my fellow world citizens, to help me create the solution described in that call. Help me transition from the wretch that I was back in 2000 or 2015, into the creator of a self-sustainable path from poverty by 2030. To see the help that am asking of you, please visit this page, and see “How You Can Help”.

 

2).  My own battle with poverty:

In the year 2000, when the UN Millennium Summit was taking place to adopt the MDGs, I was 18, and didn’t know what was happening in the world. It wasn’t until several years later that I came to hear about that summit and the MDGs for the first time, long after the year 2000 had passed. At that time, I was working in a dilapidated motorcycle garage in one of the slums of my country’s capital. My only friends at the time were the Boda Boda riders (operators of motorcycle taxis) whose motorbikes I repaired. I didn’t have any skilled knowledge in motor vehicle mechanics. So, the owner of the garage, named Muna, asked me to buy an inflating pump, and my only work there was to repair damaged motorbike tyres. It seemed like my final destiny.

Considering the wretch I was back then, none of my Boda Boda friends agreed to the idea that I had ever gone to school. We could have arguments over basic spellings, and none of them wanted me to say I was among the people who had any academic training. I largely gave in, and behaved as someone who completely never went to school, the whole time I was there. But, in fact, I had only dropped out of school two years earlier in 1998, after completing four years of secondary school, because my mom couldn’t afford the $12 tuition that we were paying. I had also been one of the best performers in school before I dropped out. As a student, destitution was not just about tuition. But also, when mom afforded that $12, often towards the end of the academic term, she couldn’t afford anything more. I was a day scholar and my school was 40 km from home. I had to find my own accommodation near the school, and my own food during the full academic term. No shoes, and no other clothes other than school uniform. I depended only on school lunch, once a day, for much of those 4 years. I could only see darkness the first few minutes every time I stood up to walk, because of hunger. When I ended up in the motorycle garage in the capital a few years later, my mom remained in a more remote village 180 km away. She had never traveled to the capital, and still hasn’t as of 2019. Personally, I had been ferried to the capital by a man whom mum requested to take me there, at a time when the level of poverty back home nearly threatened to bring our lives to a complete stop.

By the time 2015 came, a few things had happened in my life. I had gotten a full understanding of the MDGs, and followed the transition to the SDGs. I had been to the teaching profession and back. I had trained as a teacher after my government introduced free teacher education in 2001. I had taught maths and science in the classroom for 7 years (2004-2011), and had quit teaching four years before 2015 (i.e. in 2011). After qualifying as a teacher in 2003, I initially went back to the same suburb in the capital, where the motorcycle garage that I previously worked in was located. All my boda boda friends were curious to know where I had been the past 2 years. I said I had just qualified as a teacher. Everyone said there is no way someone like me could have become a teacher. They all refuted it, and laughed so hard at such a suggestion. But I had indeed been among the top candidates in the teachers’ final exams nationally. Two other women, who owned stands selling green vegetables and who also knew me from the garage, laughed really hard when I told them I had trained and qualified as a teacher.  It made me nervous about seeking a vacancy at any nearby school. I finally did. On my first day at school, a 14-year old girl named Nasimbwa, who also knew me from the garage, whispered to her friends, suggesting their headmaster was recruiting peasants as teachers. “I know everything about that guy. He can’t be a teacher”, I overheard Nasimbwa saying. “He works in the garage, and at times sells charcoal [both of which I had in fact done before becoming a teacher]”. I entered Nasimbwa’s class (Grade 5), and by the time that lesson ended, she was visibly wowed to have heard me deliver real scientific concepts, in English.

In a way, the fact that everyone didn’t believe I had become a teacher, even as the official government salary for teachers was only $30/month at the time, meant that these people saw teaching as a profession that they themselves couldn’t manage to enter, and it’s why they disagreed that someone from a lower status, who only repaired tyres, could. It gave me the confidence that I could accomplish anything bigger. I remained uncomfortable teaching in that suburb though. And so, in 2014, I moved back to my home district 180 km away, where I got a job at a government school. It was here that I got the biggest lesson of my life. Everyone respected me. Our school had 7 classes, Grade 1-7, ages 6-14. The school required that each pupil bring to school 3kg of maize for food. That food was porridge. The youngest pupils, Grade 1-3, were the most obedient on bringing maize. The older pupils felt this was a bit shameful for them to do. With my $30/mo salary, I had to rent accommodation (the school had no staff quarters); buy food back home; pay daily transport to school, get descent cloth etc. I came to realize two things: 1). for the seven years I was at this school, the only food I subsisted on most of the time was the porridge that was provided by the 6-8 year olds of Grade 1-3, and 2). even as our pupils came from very impoverished homes and usually wore rags, they were still better off than me as a teacher. These pupils had parents back home who provided them with food after school. On my part, I was independent, and had no food back home. It really bothered me to understand I was only surviving on the mercy of 6-8 year olds who themselves came from very poor households. It was even more evident when the school broke off for holidays. I virtually had nothing to eat during school holidays. At some point, even the 6-8 year olds lost morale in bringing maize to school. I remember one day our Headmistress saying, “teachers, today is the last time we will have porridge. The remaining maize is for Grade 1-3 pupils”. The food store was left with about 50 kg of maize at the moment. From that time on, teachers were completely denied porridge every subsequent academic term. “Which future really do I have here? I can’t eat, I can’t afford anything, and it’s been like this since my childhood”, I said to myself.

Here is a 2010 photo of me and my students at Mutekanga Memorial Primary School:

I quit teaching in 2011 and became a farmer. Leveraging basic IT skills gained from teaching career, I ran 4 small indiegogo campaigns, and secured a few acres in 2015. My idea was: use this land to grow ample food to reign in the starving; use the same land to generate an income and run the project as a nonprofit social enterprise, so I can work together with many other poor farmers with whom we shared the same challenges. In this, my goal was to step in and change the bigger picture — disrupt the root causes of poverty — since very little is in place to end poverty in my region.

But, before all this, the period 2011 – 2014 had immersed me back into the same destitution that defined my past life. And it wasn’t the first time I was going through this. Rather, it was a pattern that had dotted my life since childhood. So much so that, this time, my plan was either to commit suicide, or travel to a distant country; destroy all my identification documents upon arrival, then take my life — so that my friends and family would never know what happened to me for the rest of the time.

 

3).  The arrival of 2030  (i.e. the Global Goals):

When the Global Goals launched in 2015, I was still intermittently starving, but had become an established farmer and social entrepreneur, working together with many other rural poor farmers in my region. The Global Goals coincided with a time when I was more resolute about taking charge of the status quo. The SDGs were best timed.

By laying out a platform for fostering cross-sector collaborations and partnerships, listening to all voices and leaving no one behind, the Global Goals not only promised to move people like me from poverty, but also meant that poor people like me are an integral, equal partner in ending extreme poverty — not just the awaiting recipients of such efforts. And, in a place where access to innovation capital is nearly impossible (i.e. my continent), and where people like me have no networks whatsoever, the Global Goals implied I now had a global network to turn to, especially through one of my most frequented reference points i.e. SDG 17 (partnerships for the Goals).

 

4).  One feat left — before I die:

Somewhere in 2015, my project raised 2 acres of carrots. We made all preparations. Dug a dam to provide irrigation water. Hired a water pump, and did everything. I have lots of photos and videos from this work until today. At harvest, a food retailer bought from us a small sample of 20 kg. He was our first and last buyer. We moved with a 30 kg sample of carrots to all food markets across our country. Every food retailer couldn’t buy from us. The only retailer whom everyone pointed us to as being the final, biggest prospect (who also supplies all other retailers), gave us a few conditions: he would be buying from us a maximum of 100kg per week, only during those weeks when no imported carrots arrived from our neighboring country. He would be paying $19 for the 100kg, a week after delivery. He was in a market 80km from our carrot farm (160km round trip). The cost of delivering the 100kg was higher than what he would pay a week after delivery. Our remaining 15,000 kg+ of carrots had to be left in the field. Before that, we had raised 2 acres of ginger in 2014, and 4 more acres of ginger a year later. In 2016, my project gave out 4,000 kg of free ginger rhizomes to 336 fellow poor farmers in my region, with support from RandomActs.org. It’s the same case. There is either totally no market, or someone asks you to deliver 20 kg a week. For 3 years now, we have had a lot of bananas at my project, and still do today. The experience is the same with every crop you turn to. It is the biggest challenge in our region. Meanwhile, the level of poverty here is just unheard of.

I decided I wanted to do something about it. That’s the one feat am left with. I set out to develop a fully-fledged agro-processing plant to create markets for rural poor smallholder farmers in our region, through value-added agriculture. And so, right from 2015, I have approached everyone from IFAD to DFID to the Global Innovation Fund, for support. I have met in person with people from Feed the Future at the USAID Mission in my country (an American named Laura Gonzalez saw me there), and have explored everything from traditional philanthropy to impact investment. In the end, I came to a conclusion that none will ever be possible. Give up? Doesn’t sound like me.

From 2016, I changed my mind: what if I stopped asking people for money, and started asking for a voice? I asked myself. I went for it right away. Since then, the only support I have sought is threefold: a) give us a voice only via social media b) directly work with us in person to implement our project, or c) use your convening power to pair us with others who could give us a voice through storytelling, or those who can work with us in person (e.g. by offering technical assistance). That’s what I asked of UN Women in my correspondence with them back in 2016. It’s the same thing I asked for in my in-person meeting with our UNDP Country Director and her entire team in 2017. Between that time, I have contacted thousands on the same request, except it hasn’t worked too. Final idea? What if I invited some antipoverty activists, or some new media influencers, to visit us and give us a voice through storytelling? My first such invitation was extended to someone from Sankofa.org in 2015. Since then, I have contacted over 8,000 people with the word “invitation” in the subject line, from people at the ONE Campaign, to every activist and social influencer there is.

 

Try some friendship?

“What if I reached out to some antipoverty activists, maybe Lenny Henry, maybe Mr. Geldof, and asked people to somehow become a friend, mentor or connector”, I asked myself. I have contacted the world, and ended up where I started. If you checked your inbox now, chances are, a mail with the subject line “Friendship” is in there from me.

It is for these reasons that I finally came up with a rather peculiar idea of creating this call to action. And it is for the same reasons that I am very humbly appealing to you my fellow world citizens, to help me create the solution described in that call. To see the help am asking of you, please visit that call, and see “How You Can Help”.

 

5).  About me:

My name is Anthony, a small farmer and social entrepreneur who runs the ‘Uganda Farm’, a nonprofit social enterprise that you can read about on this same website.

My journey, thus far, is why I feel innately vested in fighting poverty in my region.

Anthony Kalulu – Uganda Farm.