Gulping down the propaganda: Notre Dame visits a Millennium Village

by Sasha Alyson

If you remember any of the big development projects of the early 2000s, it is probably the Millennium Villages Project. The MVP was not the biggest such effort of its era, but it was the one that got attention.

Jeffrey Sachs, the wunderkind who became a tenured Harvard professor at age 29, was lured away to be a superstar at Columbia University, where he launched the Millennium Villages Project. Sachs understood how to nurture the media, and did it well. Time magazine featured him on a cover story about how to end poverty, and twice named Sachs as one of its 100 people of the year. Bono wrote the introduction to his best-selling book The End of Poverty. Sachs toured Africa with Angelina Jolie for an MTV video about the exciting new venture.

Others joined in, bringing more attention and credibility. In January 2007, a delegation from the University of Notre Dame visited the Ruhiira, the “flagship” of the Millennium Villages Project. The Rev. John I. Jenkins, president of the university, reported on his thoughts and experiences during the visit, and he invited others from the delegation to do so. These stories were published on the Notre Dame website in January 2007.

They were deleted sometime in or after 2018. They were deleted not merely because of their age — a laudatory speech about Dr. Martin Luther King, also posted that January, is still up. Nor is there anything scandalous or overtly offensive.

But they were embarrassing. The MVP was based on Sachs’s “Big Push” theory that extreme poverty could only be ended by attacking many sectors — health, agriculture, nutrition, education, and others — all at once. It sounds good. But this approach had been tried many times, and had consistently failed. It might be reasonable to try it again, with new tweaks, but only an awareness of its poor track record, not by presenting it as a great new insight from a brilliant economist. Many others, with far more actual experience in the field, pointed this out, most notably former World Banker William Easterly. But they offered depressing economic analyses; Sachs offered the brighter soundbite: We can end extreme poverty in a generation, and it won’t even be that hard.

The media preferred to cover Sachs.

Sachs and the MVP endlessly described it as “community-based” and “bottom-up.” This was the Big Lie. The MVP was born in the U.S., developed in the U.S., run by Jeffrey Sachs from the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York, pursuing goals set by the United Nations, which in 78 years has never had an African nation on its powerful permanent security council. All of this was well known. Yet again and again, the Notre Dame delegation repeated this propaganda.

By the end of 2018, it was well established that the Millennium Villages Project had been a fiasco. The only independent, controlled evaluation of the MVP concluded that it had failed to reach its goals; that the money had brought some short-term relief, but at much higher cost than other projects. Jeffrey Sachs, a constant presence in the MVP spotlight during its early years, had long since hurried off the stage. So had Bono, Angelina Jolie, and others who had been eager to share the spotlight.

Useful lessons could have been learned from those who had been deeply involved, had they been willing to admit they’d gotten it wrong. But they were not. This is a key difference between real experts, and celebrities. True experts know there is more to learn and they’re eager to learn it. They understand that mistakes are part of this learning process, and they’re glad to share what they have learned from their own missteps. Celebrities, in contrast, know that their fame can be a fragile commodity. They want to sweep their mistakes under the rug and find a new spotlight that makes them look terrific.

Most of the Notre Dame visitors were too ready to blindly parrot the demonstrably false statements made by Sachs and the MVP. But in my view, the bigger issue is that after uncritically helping to launch the MVP, after giving it a credibility boost, they took no responsibility for addressing the issues raised by its failure. Notre Dame states that it strives to “be a powerful force for good in the world.” The head of its Africana Studies department admonishes: “We have the opportunity, nay the obligation, to question whether structures very familiar and perhaps comfortable and profitable to us should continue to exist.”

They had an opportunity to pursue hard questions about the project they had supported. I can find no published sign that any of them did. Instead, President Jenkins’s office tried to erase all evidence that they’d been flim-flammed.

In my research about development aid, I’ve often noticed that grand claims and statements disappeared after reality proved them hollow, so I’ve sometimes saved copies. I copied these pages (but I did not copy the photos) from the Notre Dame website before they were deleted. I am reprinting them below because I’ve quoted from them in my MVP series, and felt readers should be able to see the full context of these quotes. Moreover, they provide an example of the unquestioning support that this aid project, like so many others, received from mainstream institutions which should instead practice the hard thinking that they preach.

The accounts are below, beginning with the overview by N.D. President Jenkins.

–Sasha Alyson


For the next ten days I will be traveling throughout Uganda to learn more about the University’s role and opportunities around our participation in the Millennium Development Initiative. As you may remember, I announced the creation of the Notre Dame Millennium Development Initiative during my closing remarks at the Notre Dame Forum. Through this initiative Notre Dame will participate in the Millennium Villages Project, a collaborative effort dedicated to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Adopted by world leaders in September 2000 during the United Nations Millennium Summit, these timebound and measurable goals have been placed at the heart of the global agenda of the United Nations. The goals focus on combating poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women. The realization of these goals will reduce the gap between wealthy and poor parts of our world and enhance the long–term prospects for peace.

The Millennium Villages Project seeks to end extreme poverty by working with the poor, village by village, in sub–Saharan Africa, providing affordable and science–based solutions to help end the cycle of poverty. These community–led interventions focus on increasing agricultural productivity, eradicating preventable disease, expanding access to basic healthcare and education, and connecting people to information and markets. The villagers themselves own and drive all the work being done through Millennium Promise, the monitoring organization, and are thus partners with a vested interest in the success of the project. Millennium Promise was launched by Dr. Jeffery Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special advisor to the United Nations Secretary General.

Our participation in the Millennium Villages Project will be focused in Uganda, where Notre Dame, through the Congregation of Holy Cross, has strong ties. Notre Dame students have traveled to Uganda for several years to intern with local and international organizations and participate in study abroad programs. Dozens of Notre Dame faculty and staff have also visited Uganda over the past ten years to gain exposure to the triumph and tragedy that permeates this beautiful East African country. Though blessed with a rich culture and resilient spirit the people of Uganda have endured a great deal of suffering, particularly in the North, due to the 19–year war that has senselessly shattered the lives of so many.

The opportunities this partnership affords the Notre Dame community are many, the central goal is two–fold: to work with villagers in developing interventions that are central to the Millennium Village Project and to provide faculty and students, both graduate and undergraduate, with research opportunities that contribute to human development.

I have asked Rev. Robert Dowd, C.S.C. (Department of Political Science) to serve as Director of the Millennium Development Initiative. He has assembled a task force consisting of faculty, staff, students and alumni to further develop the vision and goals of the initiative and help guide its actions during this first year. During the second semester, Fr. Dowd will organize information sessions and form working groups of students and other members of the Notre Dame community who wish to lend their talents, energy and experience to this project. He and others involved in the initiative will be traveling back and forth between Africa and Notre Dame in the coming year.

Though the Millennium Development Initiative is rooted in the generosity of Ray Chambers, a renowned philanthropist and a member of our Board of Trustees, its success is equally dependent on the participation of many members of the Notre Dame community. We at Notre Dame have many gifts to share; our partners in Uganda have many lessons to teach. Thus, joining the fight against extreme poverty is not only an opportunity but our responsibility. Notre Dame can only be the Catholic university it strives to be if it devotes its time, talent and treasure to solving real–world problems: problems that are dehumanizing and that prevent people from realizing their God–given potential, problems that are essentially the result of ignorance, indifference and injustice.

Finally, I believe this initiative is an important way to fulfill our mission, “to cultivate in [our] students not only an appreciation for the great achievements of human beings but sensibility to the poverty, injustice and oppression that burden the lives of so many…to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.” Through the NDMDI, we hope to promote solidarity with our Ugandan brothers and sisters, to establish and nurture lasting relationships built on mutual understanding and acceptance, and to focus on the simple yet crucial idea that we form one human family.

Day 1

Fr Jenkins and Fr Burasa

Upon arriving in Uganda, one has many impressions—the lush and beautiful land on the banks of Lake Victoria, the crowded and chaotic streets, and the signs of poverty and the hard lives of people here. But the overwhelming impression for me is the warmth, hospitality, and joy of the people. After arriving in Kampala late on January 5, our first event the following morning was to attend the ordination to the deaconate of three young African Holy Cross religious. It was a chance to see some old friends, to experience the warmth and welcome of a community, and to take part in the joyful celebration of Ugandan people.

The mass and ordination ceremony lasted for nearly three hours, and was an extraordinary celebration of faith and of the commitment of these young men. The Church in Uganda is a young Church. Although most of the country is Christian and forty percent is Catholic, Christianity only came to this land in the nineteenth century. Yet the vibrancy of faith was manifest in this ceremony that included much singing, dancing, prayers in several languages, applause, and various expressions of joy and thanks. Following the ceremony, we remained with their families and friends to give congratulations to the newly ordained and to share a meal in celebration.

The Archbishop of Kampala, Cyprian Lwanga, ordained the young men and at one point during an address that was marked by both humorous and inspiring stories, gave instruction about the three most important things for any missionary. First, he urged that they understand and appreciate the culture of the people served. Second, learn their language, for that is part of their culture. And third, be fully present to them in all their joys, sorrows, struggles, and triumphs. It is inspiring to see how well this is done in Uganda.

This day expressed well a number of important aspects of the purpose of this trip. First, at Notre Dame, we emphasize international experiences and the awareness of different cultures. This is especially important now, for we live in a global world, and one that is becoming more global. We must be more deeply aware of the rich cultures across continents and of the accomplishments of peoples. This trip is a chance to learn about the cultures of Africa. Despite any differences that set our American party from the Africans who warmly greet us at each stop, each of us desires to belong to a community that brings us together, supports us, and allows us to manifest our unique talents and abilities. While learning differences among peoples, one gets a sense of the possibility of and need for a deeper community.

Secondly, as a Catholic university, we are connected with a universal Church, and thus have loyalties that extend beyond the bounds of any single nation or culture. We are connected with the mystical body of Christ, which is present in many different lands and many different cultures. We are enriched by our awareness of the Church in other lands and cultures, and we strive to remain connected with them. The Congregation of Holy Cross has served in Uganda since the 1950’s, which is roughly half the life of this young Church. For many years Holy Cross in Uganda was predominantly expatriate Americans, who served faithfully and generously. Now the religious superior of the district is my friend, Fr. James Burasa, C.S.C., and the community is predominantly African. Holy Cross is richer, and the Church is richer, and as the faith takes root in these lands.

On this trip we seek to learn about this nation and its various cultures, celebrate this these people and its their accomplishments, and seek explore possibilities for constructive partnerships. In coming days we will visit those who work with the Millennium villages to assist economic development in this part of the world,, and meet with leaders of Uganda Martyrs University, a new Catholic university in this country. We will continue to strive to learn, celebrate this land, and build relationships.

Day 2

Student Entry

Notre Dame sophomore Tess Bone is in the College of Arts and Letters, studying Dept. of Sociology/IIPS and Peace Studies. As a 2006-07 grant recipient in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP), she is conducting a research project titled “The Notre Dame Millennium Development Initiative: Methods and Lessons.” The UROP Program provides financial support to students who wish to engage in independent research, creative projects, or the presentation of their own research at conferences.

By Tess Bone (‘09)

We began the day at a beautiful African mass in a new Holy Cross Church in Jinja featuring the local language, Lugosa; beautiful singing; and a warm welcome by many parishioners and perhaps every child in the church. After mass, we received smiles and handshakes from all sides, so eager just to shake our hands and say that we were “most welcome.” I have never experienced so much raw friendliness or such genuine smiles that said how happy they were that we were there. We were very heartened to begin our day in such a special way before heading to St. Jude Primary School and Lakeview Secondary School. At both these schools I was struck by the intense natural beauty, the greenery, and Lakeview’s breathtaking view of Lake Victoria. However, I was also struck by the realities that exist for the students in these schools.

We were shown around by two Notre Dame ’06 grads named Matt Young and Clay Allison, who are teaching at these schools for a year and a half through Holy Cross and Notre Dame. We met another Notre Dame grad named Jessica Brock who was visiting from Western Uganda, where she teaches also. Walking around the campuses and hearing their stories was quite an experience. The joy they share with the children they teach was very apparent, but the difficulties the very young children face was tough for them as well. It is my first time in Africa, and though I had an idea of what to expect, it is still a shock to see firsthand the dirt-covered floors, the dark classrooms, and the overall lack of resources such as books and other study materials.

A few things resounded with me while visiting the schools. First, I noticed the facilities themselves: dark wooden structures filled with about 60 rudimentary desks per room. Clay told us that when it rains, half the kids can’t make it to school through the mud. Those students who do make it are disappointed when the teachers are forced to cancel class because the rain conditions on the tin-covered roof make it too dark to see and too loud to hear too, challenging even the most experienced teachers. Matt and Clay teach computer class, which entails 300 kids for 7 computers. The students cannot afford books, so everything is taught on the board; including computers. I was incredulous: how can somebody learn the vital skill of a computer through drawings of the screen on a chalkboard?

That was the first of many system-wide barriers to getting an education. The conditions themselves pose a challenge. The latrines (a hole in the ground), the “kitchen” at St. Jude’s that I only recognized as a pile of charred wood, and the two daily meals of porridge would be enough for most contemporary American students to give up completely. The girls’ dormitory at Lakeview had rooms the size of a Notre Dame two-person dorm room, but they had six sets of triple-bunk beds in each. A total of 18 people sharing the same small space, and compared to conditions at most other local schools, they are considered lucky! At that point I knew I’d never complain about dorm life again. Despite these challenges and the miles many walk to school, the children still desperately want an education.

Most don’t make it past primary school; they simply can’t afford it. Matt said that his class sizes drop considerably when school fees are due, and many never come back. How much is tuition for a school year? Three terms cost $15 for a total of $45. That figure probably shocked me the most. How many useless purchases have I made, that I cannot even remember, that would put a child through school here? It is sickening (and incites some guilt) to compare the conditions of these young children with the lifestyle and norms at Notre Dame, or any American school for that matter.

Brother Everest, a teacher at Lakeview, shared with me many heart-breaking stories from his experience, as well as the children’s deep desire and joy for learning. They understand, according to him, the life-and-death value of an education. One boy he told me about lost both his parents toAIDS, heaving upon his shoulders the huge weight of grief and the responsibility to care for his younger siblings. What can a 15-year-old boy do with no education, high unemployment, and no resources or opportunities? This type of hopelessness did not exist in my reality growing up in the United States. The hardest part is that when Matt, Clay, or Brother Everest see older students, the students almost always express their deep but futile desire to return. Quite a change from the homework-hating, school-dreading attitude back home.

If nothing else, this visit has given me a revived value of the opportunities we are lucky enough to have, and an appreciation for the strength of the people that face their dire problems with what has seemed to me such stoicism and hope. To see the huge congregation at mass, everyone dressed in their Sunday best, to hear the indescribable beauty of the drums and voices singing in their language, the sense of true celebration, I never would have guessed the difficulties they face daily. When I come back to Notre Dame, I will remember what I’ve had the incredible opportunity to see, and I hope to share some of the things we never see in the States. Every comfort and discomfort at Notre Dame is a blessing: every dorm room, dining hall meal, and yes, even finals week.

Day 3, Ruhiira Village Visit

Frances L. Shavers Chief of Staff and Special Assistant to the President

Uganda is a beautiful country. It is January, and the sun is bright and warm. Pelicans sit atop tall trees; the midnight sky is peppered with stars of all sizes; and as far as the eye can see, vegetation is thick and green. People are kindhearted and polite; some are perhaps a bit more curious than others to know what brings Americans to their area, particularly in rural villages. As an African American making my first trip to Africa, I have been curious to learn about a culture much different than any I have known growing up in Texas or now living in South Bend. In a few short days, I have been touched by the challenge facing many who live here and inspired by their faith and tenacity.

We spent today visiting Ruhiira, a small but densely populated area of Uganda located approximately three hours by car from Kampala, where a Millennium Village Project has been operating for approximately ten months. Compared to village projects in Ethiopia and western Kenya, this is a relatively young site. Despite this relative newness, there was progress and promise.

We were met on our arrival in Mbarara by the Millennium Development Village (MDV) team, which was led by John Okorro. Over twenty MDV staff, mostly Ugandans who grew up in or near Ruhiira, greeted us and presented an overview of their goals and efforts to date. Ruhiira, they described, was a village of high hunger and malnutrition, poor sanitation, inadequate water supply, limited medical resources, a high prevalence of infectious diseases, poor school conditions, and restricted access to wood, electricity and other fuel sources. These were only some of their challenges, and they only give, according to Mr. Okorro, a general understanding of the depth and breadth of the challenges that villagers in Ruhiira face on a daily basis.

Education was one of the Ruhiira project’s major goals but also arguably its greatest challenge. Resources are scarce; teachers are difficult to find and retain; demands to contribute to the family’s labor severely limit the time that students can devote to school and their energy levels when they are able to attend. Girls, on average, only reach the fourth grade while boys generally achieve a sixth grade education. One of the team members, Hilda, an energetic and outspoken Ugandan woman, explained that most young girls are encouraged to leave school and by their early teens, may be married and pregnant. Hilda continued to describe how she had been able to continue her studies because of the encouragement and support of her parents, both of whom were educated. “My mother,” Hilda shared, “instilled us with courage and my father refused to let us be convinced by others to drop out of school.” Today, she serves as the education coordinator for the Ruhiira project and also leads efforts to address issues of gender inequality. In speaking and laughing with her over lunch, I found a sisterhood, apart from the shared color of our skin. I was, in fact, reminded of many of the women I know, particularly Notre Dame students, who would like to determine their own path in life, perhaps choosing a professional career; perhaps choosing to have a family; perhaps choosing to do both. Despite growing up and being raised in markedly different settings and cultures, most of us, as Hilda described, wish to be heard.

Following the presentation and a brief lunch, our group joined the entire Ruhiira Millennium team for a one-hour drive aboard four-wheel drive trucks to the sites of the project office, school, health center, and a local farmer’s home. The narrow, unpaved dirt road that leads from Mbarara to Ruhiira winds alongside banana-tree covered hills and valleys, and is marked with large stones, roots and potholes. Throughout the drive, we passed women carrying large containers of water and men pushing bikes, carrying bananas or other fruits up steep hills. Bikes carried bunches of bananas like saddle bags strapped over horses as men bent to near ninety degrees to propel forward. Some wore shoes or sandals; some were barefoot. It was impossible to tell how far they had come or how much farther they must travel, but likely their day would be long.

Our first stop was the school site. Like each of our other stops, it quickly became apparent that this project had not been imposed on community members without respect for their wisdom and talents and without recognition of their cultural uniqueness. In fact, the work was led and supported by members of the community. At the school, the head master, joined by a group of approximately fifty teachers, parents, and students, described the school’s significant strides over the past six months. As wide-eyed, giggling children inched closer and closer to our group, we heard how student enrollment had increased from 250 to over 400 students. High absenteeism of both students and teachers was decreased significantly after the school began serving breakfast. Now, instead of arriving at the school at 8:30 a.m., school begins with a hot meal at 7:30 a.m. Efforts were underway to build more latrines, improve the school’s modest kitchen facilities, and level the road leading to the school. In all of these activities, members of the community were active in setting project goals, establishing priorities, and delegating the work among themselves. They dug ditches and carried stones for an extended latrine system; they made bricks for a new classroom building; and they identified and covered the costs to hire additional cooks and custodial workers. These men and women, many having walked miles up and down the same rocky road that we drove, wore their Sunday best to come share their work with us. When the project coordinator informed them that the Ugandan government had recently agreed to allow the school to hire new teachers, the group applauded vigorously. Their pride was apparent.

Before our departure, a group of women, all members of one of the school’s multiple planning committees, bid us farewell with song and dance. The chorus of the song, as translated to us, welcomed us to the school and expressed gratitude to God for our visit. As we shook hands with our hosts, the drummers began playing, and the women continued to sing as two young girls enthusiastically performed a dance.

These days in Uganda have been remarkable. I have learned a great deal about this country and the Millennium Village project and most importantly, about how the project works collaboratively with community members to seek lasting change. It is true that much work must be done. The Ruhiira village is a wonderful model for the work that lies ahead for the village that will partner with Notre Dame. We are heartened as we continue this trip.

On Monday, January 8, we took a three and one-half hour trip to Mbarara in Southwestern Uganda, not far from the border with Tanzania. We checked into a hotel, and met with members of the Millennium Village team for lunch and a brief presentation on their work with the community of Ruhiira Village. We then took a 45-minute trip south over dirt roads, avoiding pedestrians, bikers, and cattle, winding up switchback roads, to the highlands of Ruhiira. We happened to arrive on market day, when the village center was full of shoppers and vendors selling everything from produce to racks of colorful cloth. We were immediately surrounded by onlookers who stopped to observe the strange visitors, and particularly by the ever-present flock of small children for whom we were the day’s entertainment. We met in a room and spoke of the challenges and successes of the Millennium Village Project, which began only ten months ago.

Most impressive for me is the way the Millennium Village Project works hard to involve the local community in discussing challenges and seeking solutions. The process is slower and more difficult this way, but has a much better chance of achieving sustainable change. The community elects a Millennium Project leadership council, which includes both women and men, and there is much discussion with them and with the wider community about the major problems and possible solutions.

David Siriri, an affable Ugandan with a Ph.D. in agro-forestry, is the science coordinator for the project and he lives in the village. He explained that the major immediate challenge for the community is the lack of potable water. There is sufficient water available for irrigation, but it is too mineralized with iron and fluoride to be drinkable. The villagers now pay 500 shillings (30 cents) for five liters of water. In a village in which nearly half the people live on less than a dollar a day, this is a great burden. David explained that they are now looking at pumping water, which they could do for roughly 50 to 100 shillings (3 to 6 cents) for five liters. This is the sort of practical challenge for which solutions must be found if the villagers are to rise out of debilitating poverty.

Another issue is the introduction of effective agricultural practices to increase the yield for farmers from limited land. The local farmers are generally not well educated, and are skeptical about introducing new techniques. We visited the farm of a farmer who had been a school teacher and spoke excellent English. He had set aside a plot of maize and on one swath simply broadcast seeds; on a second, he planted the seeds in rows; in the third swath, he used only one type of fertilizer; and in a fourth swath, he used two types of fertilizer. The size and health of the maze was dramatically better in each successive swath, and the yield dramatically improved. The fact that this experiment was conducted by a respected local farmer will, no doubt, be highly persuasive for his fellow farmers. It is this kind of education for farmers that will likely make lasting change possible.

Similar efforts were being made in education, health care, and micro-financing. Whether these interventions will be successful in lifting this village out of poverty is yet to be seen. But the interventions make good sense, and the villagers have responded enthusiastically. The Millennium Village project set a goal of funding their effort with 70% contribution from outside the country, 20% from the government, and 10% from the village itself. Although the contribution of the village community is relatively small, it is important that they show their commitment through such a contribution. Yet the response of this community has been so enthusiastic that in the school renovation project, which is now underway, the community’s contribution in goods and services was near 25%. The community is not a passive recipient of benefaction from elsewhere. They are eager to take steps to improve their lives. Nearby communities are now clamoring for similar measures in their villages. In this village we saw the positive changes which can be made, and the hope and enthusiasm which can be generated, in a relatively short time. The Notre Dame village will begin soon in the district of Nkozi, which we will visit on January 9. We look forward to the project which begins in March. Our last stop in Ruhiira was at the local health clinic. As the doctors talked about improvements in health care, I scanned the group of children who were looking on and occasionally giggling. One girl who looked about seven years old caught my eye. She was very thin, but her belly was distended and on her scalp were sores. She was obviously suffering from severe malnourishment. All the data about poverty in this land were not as powerful as the eyes of this young girl, playing and laughing, in a rural community so desperate for a better future. It was a privilege to witness their efforts and seek ways to contribute.

Day 4

Tim Lyden, Fr. Bob Dowd, C.S.C.

Today we set off for Nkozi to visit with administrators and faculty at Uganda Martyrs University and, most importantly, to meet the people of Nindye (NIN–Dee) village with whom Notre Dame and Uganda Martyrs University will work to fight extreme poverty, and to learn the lessons that help us promote human development more widely. It is with the people of Nindye that Notre Dame and Uganda Martyrs University will participate in the Millennium Village Project.

A wonderful spirit filled the meeting at Uganda Martyrs University, Uganda’s largest Catholic university. Besides administrators and faculty of Uganda Martyrs University, the meeting included representatives of the United Nations Development Program and local governmental officials. Father John and Fr. Peter Kanyandago of Uganda Martyrs University expressed their desire to work together to provide students and faculty with opportunities to learn the lessons of human development from the people in the village and from each other, and to build relationships that promote human solidarity for years to come. The meeting was followed by a tour of the Uganda Martyrs University campus that included the chapel, the library, academic facilities, and dormitories. It is a beautiful campus, not unlike Notre Dame’s campus in many ways. There are wonderful facilities and well–maintained buildings. It is a peaceful place, built on a hill overlooking Lake Victoria, conducive to learning, teaching, and research.

Finally, the time for us to meet the people of Nindye arrived; a moment for which we have been eagerly waiting. Nindye is located in Nkozi sub–county and Mpigi District. It is a 20–minute drive from the Uganda Martyrs University campus to Nindye, about one–and–a–half hours from Kampala along the road between Kampala and Masaka.

First, we were led to the village clinic, which was about the size of two dorm rooms, with dirt floors and chipped walls. The nurse’s aid who runs the day–to–day operations of the clinic told us that she and her assistants do the best they can to treat the sick without electricity or running water in the building, which we consider essential for the administration of health care. She was obviously moved when she talked about the sick people who go without the basic treatment that most people in our country take for granted. She informed our group that the community, the members of which generally make $1 to 2 per day, pay to rent the clinic at a cost of $150 per year.

From the clinic we went to a primary school, which had a dozen classrooms for seven grade levels: about 900 students altogether. To illustrate, 90 first–grade students squeeze into one small classroom that has no desks and only one blackboard. The headmaster, Francis, told us that each year more boys and girls drop out of school. Usually, these children begin working jobs in an attempt to increase the income of their families.

After visiting a few other sites within the village, we attended a gathering that included at least 300 villagers. This gathering was certainly the highlight of out visit. We were warmly welcomed with smiling faces and rhythmic clapping. After introductions, Dr. Johnson Nkuuhe, country coordinator of the Millennium Village Project in Uganda, thanked all present for gathering together and welcoming us. Dr. Nkuuhe went on to explain why we were there and the basics of the Millennium Village Project.

One interesting question he posed was what each villager would do if they were given one million Uganda shillings, or about $600. One woman said she would use it to expand her small business of selling fruits and vegetables. Another woman said she would use it to send her children to school. A middle–aged man said he would use it to improve his farm. Another man said he would use it for fishing equipment. Although they answered in different ways, they all said they would invest in their work, support their children, and share with the community. These people are obviously hard working, but they often lack the resources that would make more from the work of their hands. The meeting ended with words of thanks and a prayer by Father John.

For the two of us, this day represents the beginning of something wonderful, yet challenging. We still have a great deal to learn from and about the people of Nindye. However, we believe we are off to a great start. One very old woman with a rosary around her neck came up to us as we prepared to drive away after our hour–long meeting under the tree. She said to us, “Let us be family!” Yes, let us be family!

Day 5

Professor Richard Pierce Chair, Dept. of Africana Studies

The juxtaposition of the majesty and horror in Uganda struck me almost immediately. I was overwhelmed with the splendor of the environment and institutions and the horror found in the ravages of poverty. For those of you who have traveled in developing countries, the story I relate will not surprise. While there are some very privileged few who drive fine cars or who have traveled the world, they travel in their cars past people who make their homes out of mud and their roadside stands out of scavenged waste. They drive by children carrying heavy containers filled with water. Everywhere we went, we found need. But we also found great joy. The people were happy. The people welcomed us, and although they had little, they shared what they had with us. Like visitors to any foreign country, I have been transformed by the visit. Unlike some who travel to Africa to see lions, tigers, and bears, oh my, we saw humanity.

It is tempting to believe that need is omnipresent, that it will always be among us. While we often use the words interchangeably, with seeming indifference to meaning, there is a difference in the meaning of the words poverty and impoverished. Poverty means to be without; impoverished means to make poor, to deprive. We must examine our society’s structures and institutions to learn if they cause others to be impoverished and, if we find that there are active agents, then we must be willing to act. But before we act we must believe. We must believe in the things that we do not yet know are true.

Each of us at Notre Dame, whether we accept it eagerly or reluctantly, is part of this nation’s educated elite. With our position among the educated elite comes a responsibility to examine critically the structures that make up our society. We have the opportunity, nay the obligation, to question whether structures very familiar and perhaps comfortable and profitable to us should continue to exist. That is what we are doing with the Millennium Village Project. We are questioning the structures of society to determine those that have contributed to harm. At times we may think that this burden is too heavy or unfair; well, it is, but having walked among the villagers, fairness is not a concept I feel comfortable discussing. When faced with burdens or challenges, I remember what my grandmother told me years ago when I would begin to offer a word of complaint about some task or chore. She would say, “You don’t have to, Honey child, you get to.”

We must renovate this world. It may seem hopeless, but we must have faith. It occurred to me that my Ugandan hosts retain hope and faith amidst much despair and that is why they are so willing to participate in the Millennium Village Project. If the Ugandans have not lost hope, then we should not be willing to forsake ours. They believe their lives can be better and they are working to make their faith a reality. I cannot ask that you sojourn to Africa or to some other developing region in our world, but I ask that we open ourselves to the wider world. A world that is smaller than that taught in geography classes, but larger than that found in our television screens. Tradition is blind to change but our society is ever evolving with a grip on its past and a questing hand exploring the unknown. There is comfort in gripping on to the past for it promises security and permanence and it has stood the test of time, but too firm a grip will root us to a past that for some was uncomfortable or stifling. Be courageous and have faith; your moorings are sound. Honor, courage, virtue mean everything. Whatever wealth or power we attain must serve those qualities and if not, then our wealth and influence are wasted. We must believe in honor not because we may find truth, but because the search makes us human. Travel well as we have.

Day 6

Fr. Robert Dowd, C.S.C.

Because one important goal of our visit is to connect with the Catholic Church in Uganda, today we met with bishops and Church leaders. We wanted to celebrate the achievements of the Church, learn about the unique challenges faced, particularly in the area of higher education, and pledge to work with the local Church in its ongoing efforts to promote human well-being.

Several of us at Notre Dame are already good friends with some of Uganda’s bishops, like Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu. He has visited Notre Dame several times and recently spoke on campus about the great suffering caused by the 20-year-long war in northern Uganda. As many students at Notre Dame know, over 30,000 children have been abducted and killed, and tens of thousands of people continue to suffer in internally displaced persons camps just a few hours north of Kampala. In a sense, Uganda is like two different countries: a poor but peaceful one in the south and an even poorer and war-torn one in the north. I talked with Archbishop Odama a few weeks before we left Notre Dame in hopes that he could meet with our group. He expressed his appreciation for the invitation and for all the work that Notre Dame students, alumni, and faculty have been doing for peace in northern Uganda, but he told me he would not be able to join us because of events requiring his presence in the north.

Although Archbishop Odama could not meet us in Kampala, the Church’s leadership was very well represented. Among those present at the meeting were Cardinal Wamala (retired Archbishop of Kampala), Bishop Ssekamanya (Chair of the Uganda Episcopal Conference and Chancellor of Uganda Martyrs University), Archbishop Lwanga (Archbishop of Kampala), and Bishop Zziwa (Chair of the Board of Governors of Uganda Martyrs University).

The Catholic Church has been involved in education, healthcare, and community development at the grassroots level for more a hundred years; the Congregation of Holy Cross has been serving the Church here since 1958. While all too often religion has been used to divide people in Uganda as elsewhere, the Church here has always included heroes who have been open to working with and serving all people while remaining true to the faith. In fact, I believe the growth and vibrancy of the Catholic Church in Uganda is largely due to the example set by such heroes.

Only recently has the Catholic Church been involved in higher education in Uganda with the opening of Uganda Martyrs University (UMU) in 1994. During our meeting with the bishops, Cardinal Wamala explained the genesis of UMU. He said that lay Catholics in Uganda were calling for an institution of higher learning that would cultivate the heart as well as the mind. For various political and economic reasons, Catholic leaders struggled to respond to this call for many years. In a relatively short period of time, UMUhas assembled a top-notch faculty and has earned a reputation for excellence in agricultural studies, public health, good governance, development studies, and business.

In his remarks, Father John congratulated the bishops for the remarkable growth of UMU and noted that Notre Dame was nowhere nearly as developed 12 years after it was founded in 1842. Father John went on to tell the story of Notre Dame’s founding by Fr. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., and the Congregation of Holy Cross. He listed some of Notre Dame’s aspirations as a Catholic university and stressed the importance of providing Notre Dame students and faculty with more opportunities to cross boundaries of every sort and to be engaged in research and service that contributes to human well-being. Father John said that this is why he is enthused about a partnership between Notre Dame and UMU with regard to the Millennium Villages Project in Nindye village.

Tim Lyden and I did our best to describe the Millennium Villages Project and proposed a vision for how UMU and Notre Dame might work together promote the goals of the project. We spoke of the possibility of collaborative research projects and student exchange programs. Yet we suggested that the essence of our partnership should be the solidarity we hope to cultivate, the bond formed between two Catholic universities separated by great distance yet rooted in common values and views of the human person. The bishops asked probing questions and offered their ideas for the way forward. In the end, they expressed their support and desire to assist in any way that they can.

This meeting today was crucially important. We exchanged our concerns, our hopes, and desires. We were reminded that the Catholic Church is universal and that we should never let boundaries of any kind prevent us from working together for the common good. We agreed that the Millennium Villages Project provides UMU and Notre Dame with one more opportunity to better serve the Church and contribute to human well-being, which I consider two sides of the same coin. Since the Church has been in Uganda a relatively long time, will continue to be around for the foreseeable future, and enjoys a great deal of trust compared to many nongovernmental organizations and agencies, I believe that working with the Church enhances the prospects that the project will be truly empowering and sustainable.

Day 7

Todd M. Woodward
Associate Vice President, Marketing Communication

In the fall of this academic year, we held our second annual Notre Dame Forum. Two of the speakers were very well known: Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, the architect of the United Nations’ Millennium Project and Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard professor of medicine and anthropology who is the founding director of Partners in Health and the subject of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. Global figures with unrelenting focus and dedication, neither man had grown up or spent much time before the age of 20 in Sub–Saharan Africa. Practiced public speakers, both described the scourge of infectious disease in Africa and the admirable, if not miraculous, work being done to rid the continent of devastating plagues.

The third speaker, a quiet yet forceful woman, easily mistaken from her youthful appearance as a Notre Dame student, spoke lovingly of a beautiful country and a people who faced death on a daily basis with dignity and hope. Having traveled two days, with little sleep, Dr. Miriam Opwonya was able to put a face to the statistics and stories of which the two other global leaders spoke. Hers was a story of witness: the personal tragedy of AIDS, of friends and relatives dying before they reached their formative ages, and the fight against a myriad of fatal diseases that have left more than 1 million children orphaned in Uganda.

On Friday, our trip to Uganda came full circle. A connection loosely sewn together at the forum was strengthened when we met with Dr. Opwonya and her colleagues at the Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) at Makerere University. To learn more about what the Institute does, I strongly encourage anyone who reads this to simply click into this link,, and spend five minutes learning about the extraordinary work being done by a dedicated few health care professionals in the hope of delivering sustainable, high–quality HIV/AIDScare and prevention through training and research.

What you won’t get from the website is a feel for how deeply the IDI professionals care about their patients, providing not only health care but also counseling, spiritual support, and life skills training. As Dr. Keith McAdam, director of the institute, walks us through the waiting area 300–400 people deep, he stops in mid–sentence—five, six, maybe eight times—to reach out and shake hands with the patients. He focuses only on the person in front of him; we are no longer there or important. At a health care and research facility that caters to more than 10,000 patients a year, Dr. McAdam seems to know each patient by name. I can hardly remember the names of the doctors I met five minutes earlier. It’s at that point that you understand the meaning and importance of human dignity in healing.

After the tour, we learned that the great work at the IDI may be in jeopardy. After years of support from the Pfizer Foundation, the IDI is losing their main sponsor. Being gifted in medicine and research does not necessarily mean you can market yourself. Their worst fear—and the apparent reality that I have witnessed as I travel through a city littered with now–defunct NGO acronyms—is that this institute, which calls its patients “friends,” may, in the near future, be tossed on the ever–growing mound of well–intentioned beneficiaries that didn’t make it. “One of the most important objectives of the IDI,” Dr. McAdam told us, “is to be sustainable over the long term.” The sustainability he spoke of will come through donations. In an hour–long meeting after our tour of the IDI, we agreed to work together to help build a marketing plan that builds awareness, understanding, and support for the vital role his team plays to relieve the AIDS pandemic in Uganda.

For our Notre Dame community, financial support is not always the answer to many of the economic and health–related problems of the world, particularly in Uganda and other poor communities. Opportunities for education, awareness building, service learning, and other types of involvement are available on campus through the African Faith and Justice Network, the Millennium Development Goals Committee, and the Center for Social Concerns, to name a few. Now, thanks to the generosity of Raymond Chambers, a Notre Dame alumnus and Trustee, a legacy has evolved from our 2006 Notre Dame Forum that will keep our campus engaged and active in the fight against infectious disease and poverty in Uganda.

Dr. Miriam Opwonya traveled for two days to spend less than two hours with us. She asked for nothing; she wanted simply to give us a glimpse into the plight of her country. She is working every day to forge solutions, one patient at a time. With the help of our partners in Uganda—the United Nations Millennium Development Program, the Holy Cross community, Uganda Martyrs University, and the Infectious Diseases Institute at Makerere University—we, too, have a chance to make a difference.


The first entry was originally published at the URL and successive days at the same URL but with the final number changed. They are no longer on the Notre Dame website. I have republished them because in writing about the MVP I have criticized these reports as an example of the uncritical groupthink that keeps bad aid projects afloat. Also, I have quoted from them, and want readers to be able to see the quotes in context..

Related Stories:

Left: Millennium Villages Project. The MVP was supposed to prove that Western aid could end extreme poverty in five years. It didn’t. But its failures offer insight into the true intents of Western aid.
Right: An African Adventure. Bono wanted to make Africa “less of a burden, more of an adventure” and the Millennium Villages Project made it just that – for celebrities and bigwigs who briefly visited and got the media spotlight.

Left: Experts vs. Chimps: Do “development experts” have any more wisdom than dart-throwing chimpanzees? Well, it’s a tight contest. It turns out, the experts who get in the news have a sorry track record, though they try to hide it.
Right: The high cost of meddling. Aid organizations claim they want to “fix” problems, but they’re really driven to create jobs for themselves, while pleasing foreign donors. They end up meddling, and it carries a high cost.

Other stories about karma colonialism

Left: Can aid be decolonized? Many people have proposed ways to address flaws in the aid system. It doesn’t happen, because the system is ALREADY working well — for those in charge. Here’s a look at why reform efforts won’t work.
Right: Cash transfers. Why not just give aid funds directly to the people you want to help? This approach has been done, results have been studied — and it proves quite effective.