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Dust to dust, ashes to ashes, milk to yoghurt

Dust to dust, ashes to ashes, milk to yoghurt

It has not rained for almost two months now, and Uganda has turned into dust. Dust between my teeth, in my nose, my hair, my bed and dust sticking to my sweaty skin. While Europe and America get covered in snow and ice, Uganda experience the hottest two months of the year (January and February). Most villages are far away from the tarmac road. Big clouds of dust that slowly fade like morning fog are created every time a car passes by on the murram roads. Upon returning from such a village, I look even two degrees browner then I already have become after a year in the African sun. I wash my hair and mud streams run down over my still very white belly. My snot has turned brown. My teeth grit. I wash my clothes and shoes daily, leaving the laundry water impenetrable brown. Lets not even think of how my lungs look like…

But surely this cannot keep me from visiting my groups, were to my joy I see many bundles of firewood turn into ashes in the process of making yoghurt (pasteurization of the milk). Especially in those hottest months, yoghurt is popular and the demand increases. Furthermore in February, schools are starting again after a holiday of 6 weeks, and groups are taking this opportunity to try to put yoghurt in school canteens.

After acquiring packaging material, groups started serious yoghurt production. However, getting packaging material turned out to be only a start. The road to ‘big business’ has many obstacles. Along the road, new obstacles are found, and every time after tackling an obstacle, a new one appears. But that’s the sport of it. More than occasionally, villages experience power outages, which can even last several days. Even if the power is there, shop owners tend to switch off their fridges at night. This causes yoghurt to get spoiled pretty fast. The first solution we found to this problem was to start using a preservative, a quite common practice among established yoghurt producers in Uganda. Another solution is to sell the yoghurt quickly. Hereto we have acquired coolboxes. With those boxes, groups can move around with the yoghurt and sell it the same day to costumers on the street, similar to travelling ice-cream sellers. Then some groups want to sell the yoghurt from bigger and more formal shops, but those shops require an expiry date to be displayed on the product. So we acquired stamps to put this date on the packaging material. Finally marketing is often challenging for the groups. Yoghurt is a quite unknown product in villages. If people know the product at all, they know it as a luxury product that is obtained from supermarkets in town. So we have developed promotion posters and painted signposts to make the presence of affordable yoghurt in the local shops know to the villagers.

Success rates are variable between groups, but also the enthusiasm and active attitude differ from group to group. Hopefully the groups are now supplied with the tools to tackle the most urgent bottlenecks to expansion of the business. Because for the coming six weeks, the groups will have to struggle for themselves.

As a project leader for Yoba for Life, I have enjoyed my work and the interaction with ‘my people’ so much, that we have decided to extend my volunteer agreement with another six months. After a leave in the coming six weeks, I will be back in April. So you shall continue to find my stories on this blog post, please bear with me. And who knows, I might meet some of you in the Netherlands in March.

Nieke Westerik

Nieke Westerik

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