Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2010/ UCRC Planning for Peace Talk

UCRC Working for Peace Talk

Recommending that people attend talks is a dangerous pasttime. Usually I have not seen the talk itself, so I don't know whether it will be worthwhile or boring. In this case I think I am on safe ground.

You see, way back in 2002 I saw an amazing talk -- probably one of the five best talks I have ever seen. The talk was about a community centre in rural Kenya called the Ugunja Community Resource Centre (UCRC). The presentation was given by Aggrey Omondi, one of the centre's founders. He shared a story of African success -- of rural Kenyans working together to improve their lives using education, improved farming techniques, and community supports. In the world of high-minded "third world development" projects, I guess that does not sound like much -- but it rocked my world, because instead of well-meaning white people going off to Africa to save the poor Kenyans from themselves, UCRC consists of local people working together to better their situations.

Unfortunately, only two people attended Omondi's talk at the university: me, and the talk's organizer.

That would have been the end of the story, except that Omondi made other connections in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. The seeds Aggrey Omondi sowed in this area have borne fruit -- there is a local "Friends of Ugunja" group that supports the community centre, and my current employer has organized several exchanges/internships over the years, where locals go to Kenya and UCRC staff come here. Although not totally egalitarian these exchanges reflect the sense that UCRC is interested in exchanging culture and knowledge, not just accepting handouts.

Over the years I have met a few of the people who have come to Kitchener on exchange, and the experience has consistently upset my conceptions of global poverty. The UCRC staff who visit us are intelligent, well-spoken, computer literate and well-informed -- but they are also poor. It has been hard to reconcile the idea that some of the exchange participants are subsistence farmers -- people who face hardship when the crops fail, and people who risk a lot (and increase the burdens on their families dramatically) by coming here on exchange.

In any case, UCRC founder Aggrey Omondi is back in Kitchener-Waterloo this December, and he is giving a talk on Sunday December 12 at 7pm. The talk will be held at Trinity United Church, at 74 Frederick St in Kitchener. If you have the opportunity I would encourage you to come.

The talk is being advertised as free. I am guessing there will be some appeals for donations -- after all, part of the reason Omondi is here is to raise funds. But even if you are broke I feel comfortable encouraging you to attend. I don't know for certain that the talk will be worthwhile, but given past experience I think it is a pretty good bet.