Category: Resilient Development

The Unity Project-Uganda

The Unity Project-Uganda

Be Known By Deeds

Be Known By Deeds

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.


Planting trees to prevent erosion was the need that students, parents and town officials identified as the most important need in Lira, Uganda. The Unity Project helped organize local and national Ugandan resources to plant 3,000 trees. A Ugandan solution for Ugandan problems.

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 LRA killed all the story tellers in the region. 200 years from now, the elders will tell children the stories of these resilient girls and how they transformed Uganda and the world.

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.


Members of the Unity Council decide on the community strengths that can be applied to problems in Lira, Uganda.

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.


Members of Te Cwao point out that in unity, we can achieve anything. Watch for their beatiful hand made crafts.

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!

Don't just do something.  Stand there!

Don’t just do something. Stand there!

Should I stay or should I go?

An article in yesterday’s USA Today caught my attention.  In it, an emergency room doc, Scott Plantz, recounts his voluneteer experience in Haiti.  He describes it as working in a “chaotic hell” with  the presentation of patients with broken bones that were  “the worst injuries I have ever seen.”

He expresses his frustration at the lack of coordination between hospitals as a real problem.  Some faciltities have far too few of desperately needed neuro and vascular surgeons.  The facilities he worked at, Project Medishare and the University of Miami Global Institute Hospital, had four orthopedic surgeons.  Down the road, at another facility, patients with broken limbs were being turned away and told to return in two weeks due to a shortage of the orthopedic surgeons which his facility had too many.

This reminded me of “Woodall’s Axiom: There is no such thing as an adequate response to a catastrophe.”  One can not expect things to run smoothly after a horror like what Haiti experienced.  But, we only hope to get closer and closer to acceptable responses to the overwhelming challenges.

Of note, Dr. Plantz describes what I have seen many times,

“I flew down with a group of 200 college students with no association with Project Medishare- probably the most frustrating aspect. They came down to “help out,” each at a cost of $500.  They had no construction or medical skills.  When you realize that $500 will keep two Haitian children alive for a year, watching anyone arrive that is not trained is aggravating.  Funding the sending of carpenters or one bulldozer would have been 1,000 times more effective.”

There was a saying I remember from my medical training that seems absurd and counter-intuitive.  “Don’t just do something.  Stand there!”   This saying was meant to tell us to think carefully about what the most strategic and helpful intervention would be to help a patient.  We were asked to resist immediate actions based on our own emotional responses that might make us feel good because we are doing something,  but that would not really be in the patient’s best interest.

It boils down to a question a doctor is trained to ask themself: “Is my acting based on me trying to prove to myself I’m useful, or is it really in the best interest of the patient?”  The patient comes first, not my desire to feel helpful, or to calm my anxieties about how bad things are,  or prove to myself I have a life’s mission, or to launch a new phase of my life, or gain recognition for being a humanitarian.   These all get checked at the door.  The patient’s real needs come first.

Then, the sober analysis must begin as to how one can be of the most help.  Dr. Plantz felt that these 200 college students were treating their own desire to be seen as helpful, while likely being of very little actual help.  It is very likely that they consumed food that was not readily available, contributed to an already overloaded sewage capacity, took time and resources away from generous hosts who had to accomodate them.

It may be that such “missions” can have some positive effect.  But, there may have been 100 other interventions that would truly be more effective in helping many more people without burdening already broken systems.  Such modest interventions  might not allow for  a “life changing experience” for the person who wants to go to help.  But, it is not about the care giver having a life changing experience.  It is about actually helping those in need.

So, for now, it seems to me, that if you can help medically treat or nurse this child, find a way to go to Haiti, preferably by connecting to an agency that is established there to maximize your efficiency.

If you can provide a way to clean up sewage and treat water, by all means, get yourself to Haiti.  If not,  it is probably best you stay home and raise funds for those who can or provide material that is specfically requested by agencies on the ground in Haiti that have the means to distribute it.

If you can help to clear and rebuild this, consider going to Haiti.

There will come a time when the emergency phase of this calamity is over.  That will be a time for other types of services to be brought to Haiti in earnest.  That will be a time for non-specialists.  But, until the sewage and water systems are intact, until food is readily available, until basic accomodations are there for Haitians at the pre-earthquake levels, consider the strain you are putting on the system by trying to be of help.  Honestly ask if your personal input is more valuable then the strain your presence puts on these systems.

Be honest.

Wanting to help and being willing to sacrifice yourself to help are different than actually being helpful.  Your best intentions to help may best be fulfilled by not going and doing something here that benefits many there.  No one may know of your effort, but that is really the measure of who you are really going for.

If you would regret if no one knew you went to help, don’t go.

If you have no specific skills to render at this time, seriously consider not going.

If you have no systematic plan to be of help, seriously consider not going.

Be honest.

In Haiti: first, find the women who can find diapers

In Haiti: first, find the women who can find diapers

The women who can find diapers are the most important people in a disaster response.  That’s the way it always works.   Finding these women and empowering them in creative ways is critical right now in Haiti.  The biggest challenge is the same that accompanies every major disaster: connecting the resources that are pouring into the country with the people most in need.  As we are seeing increasingly there and as has always been true in disaster responses, this is enormously difficult to do. The reason is the lack of local capacity to channel the resources through.  Here’s where we pick up on the ladies and the diapers.

To the savvy manager of an aid agency, you look for the women who have figured out what the needs of the most people are and have used their wits to meet them.  That’s the person you want to work with to set your priorities and develop the best method of delivery of resources.   This is what happened in Bosnia and Croatia when I was running a trauma response program during and after the war there.   In town after town where the disaster spread, I’d see women looking everywhere for water, food, diapers.  The woman who was the most resourceful in finding these the quickest became the “go to” person.

Reports of mass confusion and increasing levels of threat are mounting as frustration turns to desperation from the inevitable inefficiencies of a disaster response.   The chief bottleneck happens at the final point of distribution.  The current model of crisis response is like a factory conveyor belt.  Deliver material and dump it at the end.  We are good at sending material down the conveyor belt.  We are not good at distributing the material at the end of the belt.  There is another way.

The women who use their wits to find the diapers, food and water need to be empowered to organize clusters of families into Action Teams. These Action Teams consult together about what the needs of the cluster are and what resources are needed to meet them.  They prioritize actions that they can take themselves without waiting for understaffed aid agencies.  These Action Teams can be organized into a Unity Council in a village to coordinate the delivery of services and to interact as a united and coordinated voice with aid deliverers.  By itself, this would greatly increase the sense of empowerment of the people most in need.  It would decrease social tension born from chaos and desperation.  It would undercut lawlessness and violence.  It affords the people the chance to become partners in their own recovery, builders of their own hope and role models of active and creative resilience instead of merely passive victims who receive aid.

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