Let me first of all introduce myself. I’m Nieke Westerik, and together with Felica I will be the new project leader in Uganda for Yoba for Life. I just successfully finished an internship in Kenya and thereby obtained my master degree in Food Technology from the Wageningen University (the Netherlands). Now I’m full of energy and enthusiasm to further use my skills and knowledge to let the African food sector prosper.
It has been nearly three weeks now since I arrived, and I have loved every minute so far. Every day is a new adventure full of challenges and opportunities, and often concludes with new achievements.
In the first week, my fellow new project leader Felicia and I were introduced to the job by the former project leader, Mark. Our hair waved in the wind and the adrenaline pumped through our veins while we crisscrossed the crowded Kampala city at the back of bodaboda’s (motorbikes), on our way to numerous meetings with heads of big organizations to the simplest hardworking people on the ground. Our blood stopped running through our veins when we were pressed with 11 persons in a 4 person car while travelling to some places in the country side (which is normal practice for public transport in Uganda). Yoba has found its way from the best university of east Africa (Makarere University) to the Uganda Industrial Research Institute, to the director of the big international NGO Heifer, to the board meeting of the East Africa Dairy Development project. But Yoba has also found its way to people like mama Hope, who feeds 24 orphans from her own means, and to Fred who lives deep in the country side, and supplies Yoba yoghurt to the local primary school where the kids often only eat one meal per day. Yoba also offers a solution to the Kitanda Dairy cooperative, where in the rainy season a surplus of milk is collected which has no outlet. Now the milk can be processed in a value added product (Yoba yoghurt) with a prolonged shelf live. Yoba has already improved the live of many, the concept is growing, and the opportunities are huge.
After this very eventful, intensive and educative week, our ways departed. Felicia will be working in Kampala, while I myself will travel to different districts in Uganda. There I will train farmers groups (mostly organized in dairy cooperatives) to make yoghurt from their milk, and see if groups/companies that already produce yoghurt are interested in using our pro-biotic bacteria. To attain this goal, I cooperate with Ugandan colleagues who work for the East Africa Dairy Development (EADD) project, which greatly helps me to establish contact and create good will among my target groups. Currently the EADD has defined four districts in Uganda in which they work, and I will spend 2 months in three of those districts (so in total I will work 6 months for Yoba).
Currently I’m based in the first district, Masaka. Here are two EADD employees based, and my female EADD colleague offered me to share her room with me, which is great fun. I love to immerse myself in the local culture, interacting and travelling with my EADD colleagues, learning to cook the local food from my neighbors, or going out on own initiative, taking the public transport to rural places where the electricity has not reached, to see if I can reach my target group and asses the possibilities of starting yoghurt production. I have learned an awful lot already.
Among others, I have learned that ‘the African’ does not exist. There is an enormous difference from the people I lived with in Kenya, but also here I see for example a great difference between the educated people (for example my EADD colleagues) and the people in the very rural areas who live according a very traditional life style. In this area, that traditional lifestyle includes an enormous gender inequality. A woman bows for a man, or often even gets seated on the floor if he talks to her. It is desirable to empower those women by teaching them how to make yoghurt, and in that respect it is advantageous that I’m a woman, since husband would not allow an other man to interact with (‘steal’) their woman.
In the first two weeks that I have been here, many contacts have been established and beginnings have been made. I will report about them in more detail when we have reached some more tangible results.
As for now, thank you very much for your interest in Yoba and my work as project leader. I will keep you updated about my activities trough those blog posts. Please warn me if they become too long or too boring.