The Big Picture: Life, by now, will have shown you that we all possess deep pools of resilient strength. No one gives that capacity to us. Resilience arises from our own vast reservoir of potential talent and character, what we call our “dignity.” The Unity Project is about bringing out, uniting around and mobilizing that dignity so that we can transform our lives, our communities and our organizations. The Unity Project’s unique strength is our “Transformation Process” that has been developed over 30 years. We focus the dynamic power of this Transformation Process on raising up a generation of competent global leaders who can resist the extremism and despair of our troubled age. We know that the struggles of life do not have to make us victims or psychological casualties, but can be the fuel to help us become beacons of hope and role models of resilience. We are building a global network of young people who are anxious to make their mark and bring our hurting world together.
Going to Scale: The Unity Project has crafted a model of development intended to mobilize the largest number of youth. We created a Transformation Process that can be adopted by any existing community network. So, instead of having to create brand new Unity Project centers, other organizations can simply use our Transformation Process to do their own work much better. In that way, we are like “software” that can be implemented in any other organization’s “hardware.” This model is being used in Uganda as we begin our launch in our Unity Assembly we created in Lira Uganda. This successful pilot is now ready to be extended through extensive networks of already existing youth organizations across the country and the region. Using a “train-the’trainer” model, we will prepare staff in our partners to begin a nationwide campaign to build resilience among a generation. This essential process of skill building at the local level forms the nexus within which community and economic development can then be launched.
Uganda: In the case of Uganda, there is a rich culture and deep pride in its people that will allow the country to arise from decades of rebel war and deprivation the people have suffered through. It is the perfect example of the spirit of resilience arising from great loss and tragedy. Experience has shown that there is nothing wrong with Uganda that can not be solved by what is right with Uganda and her people. Efforts to help, then, must be centered around bringing out the strengths of Ugandans, the dignity of Ugandans, and not importing “solutions” from somewhere else.
For 23 years, the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led a macabre and vicious campaign of cruelty throughout northern Uganda in an effort to overthrow the government. The primary methods of recruitment of these criminals was to kidnap children and turn them into soldiers and sexual slaves. The children were typcally forced to commit atrocties against their own families to fracture family bonds and brainwash the children into submission. The LRA bizarrely claimed that these methods would help institute the rule of the 10 Commandments in Uganda. Leaders of this psychopathic cult have been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In October, 2011, President Obama announced the dispatch of 100 US advisors and special forces to apprehend the criminal leaders of the LRA cult to bring them to justice.
The Unity Project-Uganda: The Unity Project has launched a major initiative in war-torn northern Uganda. A “Unity Assembly” composed of 9 schools, public health, micro-enterprise, community organizations and media outlets has been created as a vehicle to begin a process of sustainable development and community healing in Lira, Uganda. The district Ministry of Education has asked that the Unity Project’s efforts be extended to all the schools in the district. This pilot effort holds great promise as a model for reconstruction throughout northern Uganda, the region and any post-confict area.
The Unity Project has engaged youth in a series of service activities to launch a locally based sustainable spiral of growth for the Lira area of northern Uganda. Together, our partners reach many tens of thousands of young people. From our Unity Assembly of partners, we engage youth in service activities that build upon locally identified needs which also align with the Millennium Development Goals. This service activity “mines the gems” of potential strengths, talents and character in our youth. These “gems” are then refined through our experiential “Transformation Exercises” into practical personal skills that can be used to provide a vision for a life of useful service to the community. In the process, the community benefits from the service and strengthens its institutional and community capacity through the growth of the Unity Assembly.
Working with local, national and international experts and agencies, youth will be involved in designing an implementing a needs survey around key development issues. They will then work closely with these experts to analyze the data, craft and implement a community-wide intervention. Youth will be central to the design and execution of an important community building initiative. Not as passive recipients of aid, but as active participants in their own development, youth will step into roles of being agents of change building competence, hope and the foundations of a sustainable and prosperous community.
In subsequent phases, we will direct these newly developed strengths and the ability to identify community needs toward employment and business creation. Our work is intended to establish the first rung of the ladder to stimulate the personal capacity, community networks and institutional strengths to lead to security and prosperity. In doing so, our methds also strengthen the foundations of democratic and cooperative community problem solving, the foudnation of prosperity.
In parallel to this work in Uganda, the Unity Project is launching chapters in high schools, universities and community organizations throughout the US. Soon, these sites in the US will be linked online with the our partners in Uganda creating a dynamic learning community of peers all taking action to transform their own communities and join together in projects with a global reach.
Currently in Uganda, we are focusing on 4 “Legs” that support the over-all “table” of this project. These are:
1.) Education: This involves the training of teachers and the staff of partners in the Unity Project’s resilience building Transformation Process to be incorporated into school curricula and youth programs.
2.) Economic Development: Once youth have gained some skill identifying community needs and built their own strengths to meet those needs, they are far along the path to envisioning a life’s work. They have reason to finish school and the basics to envision a business that can help their community. We are creating a teams to explore a number of prosperity generating initiatives in Lira, Uganda: a farmers’ cooperative, an online store of local women’s crafts, and entry level IT services. These can then finance the project making it grounded in the community and sustainable. In exchange for particiapting in these income generating activities we ask families to their keep their children in school and participate in Unity Project capacity building programs. In this way, the project can become self-sustaining while building capacity.
3.) Health: Working with our local partners as well as local, national and international agencies, we are developing service teams in each of the following themes: malaria eradication, HIV/AIDS, water purification, gender violence and maternal and child health. One of these themes will be chosen by the partners as the focus of the youth efforts to begin in the fall of 2012. In partnership with both the Center for Global Health and the Center for Global Mental Health and Resilience at Danbury Hospital, we will also be assisiting in the development of local professional expertise in health care to compliment the resilience building efforts of local community leaders.
4.) Learning Community: A significant innovation of our methods involves mobilizing young people to help define the information that is needed to create meaningful service plans. Youth will be directly involved in defining the information needed, collecting and analyzing it as well designing and implementing relevant and manageable service activities based on information they collected. In this way, a learning culture can evolve that is built upon the feedback of accurate and relevant data, cooperative reflection and planning and the united action and assessment of results. This process will greatly increase the effectiveness of the community and build local capacity.
The Lira District Ministry of Education has requested that the Unity Project extend this initiative to all schools in the district. We have also been invited by the Council on Higher Education in Rwanda to provide this model as a best practice example for the development of security and economic development in the region.
We have been approached by many high school and college students in the US asking to do internships with the Unity Project. An application will be available soon when our website update is completed. Through the Center for Global Health and the Center for Global Mental Health and Resilience, relationships to train medical residents is underway.
We welcome inquiries into this work. Also, we are now launching Unity Project chapters in the US to implement this resilience building model to develop youth capacity. Feel free to ask how you can start a Unity Project chapter in your community. Also, we are very grateful to those offering to help raise funds to support this work. Thank you! If you would like to have a lunch or dinner to raise funds among friends and colleagues, we’ll be happy to help you do so.
We’ll be posting more as this rapidly growing movement takes shape!