Sophomore Dickson Kwatampora receives $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant to create market in war-torn Uganda

March 25, 2010

Luther College sophomore Dickson Kwatampora has received a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant, one of 100 Davis grants awarded to college students worldwide to support grassroots community projects that can contribute to international cooperation, understanding and peace. 

The Davis Projects for Peace initiative, renewed for 2010 by philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis, will award more than $1 million in funding to students from nearly 100 college campuses for projects in all regions of the world in the summer of 2010. 

Designed to encourage and support motivated youth to create and implement their ideas for building peace throughout the world in the 21st century, each of the projects will receive $10,000 in funding.

Kwatampora, a native of Uganda, won Davis Peace Project funding for his proposal titled “Economic Empowerment: Establishing an African Market.” His project goal is to build a central market in a war-torn and economically depressed Gulu province of his home country. The market will help villagers sell their surplus agricultural produce and handcrafted artifacts, giving an economic boost to the region and improving the standard of living.

Davis Projects for Peace invited students to submit plans for grassroots projects for peace. The competitive grant program was open to all students at partner schools in the Davis United World College (UWC) Scholars Program plus students at International Houses worldwide and Future Generations.

“The competition on nearly 100 campuses was keen and we congratulate the students who proposed the winning projects,” said executive director of the Davis UWC Scholars Program Philip O. Geier. “Kathryn Davis has been a lifelong internationalist and philanthropist, and has left her mark on a wide range of institutions and countless students. The wisdom of her years has led her to look to young people for new ideas and fresh energy to improve prospects for peace.”

In June, Kwatampora will travel to Gulu in northern Uganda, the homeland of the Acholi people and an area that has been devastated by civil war since 1980. Thousands of people have been killed, thousands kidnapped, thousands left homeless and thousands of children have been orphaned in the fights between the rebel groups LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) and NRM (National Resistance Movement) and the government forces. 

He said the LRA has kidnapped massive numbers of young boys, some as young as 10 years of age, and forced them to serve as rebel soldiers. Women and girls are often forced into marriage with leaders of the LRA groups. Many families have fled their homes to escape death, mutilation and abduction.

In the last two years, with the help of international organizations, thousands of exiled Ugandans have been returned to Gulu and placed in IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps. Most of these people want to return to their respective home villages, but some of those villages have been destroyed and the rest have little access to water, food, economic opportunities, health centers and education.

“I believe it’s our responsibility to help these people,” said Kwatampora. “I have visited one of the IDP camps in Gulu twice, witnessed how people live, and it’s really horrible. The conditions in which they live and raise their children are atrocious.”

During a visit to Gulu in 2008, he saw that people in the IDP camps had taken up small-scale farming, growing food for their families and selling any surplus. There is an abundance of land, so small-scale farming is the most promising way out of poverty and homelessness. Many people also make craft items to sell. 

But because there is no market area, people sell goods right in front of their huts, and there are few buyers.

“My project is constructing an African market where the Acholi people would come on a daily basis to trade their surplus farm produce and handmade craft items,” Kwatampora said. “In my hometown, Kakiri, Uganda, we have a market, but this place is a ‘real business’—a place where people come together from different regions for the purpose of shopping but end up socializing and getting to know other people.

“In the case of Gulu, where people are finding it difficult to integrate into the society because of their experience with the war, this small market project will be a great opportunity. They will be able to interact with others, thus obtaining a feeling of belonging to a caring community. The market will also act as a storage place for their products instead of having to store them in their huts.”

Kwatampora has made arrangements with the village government to provide a parcel of land for the market project. The market square will include four stalls with cemented counters, a storage space and a brick floor. Each stall will be built with wood poles and a corrugated sheet steel roof. The market’s interior square, made of local bricks, will be used for storage.

He said the money earned from the sale of farm produce and handmade goods will improve the villagers’ standard of living and allow them to send their children to school.

“One of the most sorrowful things about the people that live in the camps is their inability to send their children to school, even though education is free in some schools,” he said. “Parents don’t have the money to provide their children with books or writing materials, transportation to school, school uniforms and shoes. With the ability to sell their surplus, they can afford school supplies.”

He said the market may also open doors for more job opportunities and will broaden the economic, social and culture life of the Acholi.

“By bringing people together who share a common interest in trading and selling, the market will provide underprivileged people with a chance to develop a sense of belonging,” Kwatampora said. “The market place will also help build the community and bring people of different backgrounds together with a common interest, creating a sense of unity.

“My ultimate goal is to economically empower people who live in these IDP camps.”

Kwatampora said he has been thinking about the market since his 2007 visit to Gulu. The Davis Peace Project funding was an opportunity for him to put together a formal project. He said he developed his proposal with the help of Luther faculty member Joy Conrad, staff members Jon Lund and Jerry Johnson, and several of his friends.

Kathryn Davis, who launched the Projects for Peace initiative on the occasion of her 100th birthday in 2007, renewed her challenge to college students to undertake innovative and meaningful projects.

“I want to use my birthday to once again help young people launch some initiatives that will bring new energy and ideas to the prospects of peace in the world,” said Mrs. Davis. “My many years have taught me that there will always be conflict. It’s part of human nature. 

“But love, kindness, and support are also part of human nature, and my challenge to these young people is to bring about a mindset of preparing for peace instead of preparing for war.”

A complete list of the participating schools and projects, as well as a summary of the 2009 projects and a video interview with Davis from 2006, is available on the program’s website at www.davisprojectsforpeace.org.