How It Began

How It Began

By Ron Schira

In 2007 I was approached by Luka Beru Francis of Yubu Development Agency Inc (YDA) to see if I would be interested in helping get their registered charitable organization off the ground. I had been to Uganda with a group called Encounter Uganda (EU) and was planning to travel with them again in the spring of 2008 for another 2 week mission trip.

Encounter Uganda

In 2006 I started a staff charity in my company Spruce Ridge Holdings Inc that runs a number of Subway restaurants in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I offered to match any monthly donation staff would make. I did it for two reasons: 1. To help those in need at home and abroad and 2. To encourage a spirit of philanthropy in my young staff.

We decided to sponsor a few children in the third world, donate annually to The Bridge on 20th in Saskatoon and we hoped we could support digging some wells in Africa. After a few months and many phone calls, I had concluded that paying for digging multiple wells may not be so easy. The usual response from the NGO’s I spoke with was that they could not allocate our money specifically for that cause, or in a couple cases they said they could but the cost would be $10-14,000. Wow! We can dig a well for a lot less than that here, where labour costs etc are 10 times higher. I was disappointed that any charitable organization could be that inefficient with donors’ money.

One evening I received a call from my brother-in-law telling me that while listening to the radio show Focus on the Family, he had heard of a group that dug wells in Africa very economically. The next day I called the Focus on the Family office and they gave me the contact information of Graham Hodgetts with Encounter Uganda, based in Sewickly, PA. After a number of conversations with Graham, I decided that this is where we wanted to donate, as the cost of a completed well was around $1500. He also invited me to join the team, which did a lot more than dig wells. They had opened the Azur Health Clinic which was funding it’s own operation through small fees for lab services and fair margins on medicine. They had a mobile teaching health team, evangelization team, a coffee farm, wood working shop, police mentoring program as well as a number of other great initiatives.

My objective with Encounter Uganda was of course to help the people in the Hoima and Missindi districts where EU did most of their work, but in addition I wanted to learn as much as possible about aid in Africa and determine for myself why so much money has been spent over the years, for what appeared to be very minimal impact. I traveled with the EU team for their spring missions in 2007 and 2008 and I learned a ton about how to deliver enabling help, while continuing to let the Ugandan people own their future. I gathered a lot of information from the experienced members of the EU team, made many notes and this helped me to create my own action plan. Graham and the rest of the EU team were wonderful in how they approached giving and in sharing much valuable information with me.

Yubu Development Agency

In 2004 Luka Beru Francis, now living in Saskatoon and Michael Tombura living in Nairobi were both thinking the same thing, though they had never met. Luka had fled the Tombura area to save his life as an early teen and Michael had moved to Nairobi to further his education. Both wanted to help their former home community, the beautiful area of Tombura, South Sudan by starting a CBO (Community Based Organization). A mutual friend would share Michael’s number with Luka and Luka made the call to Michael. Through that conversation, a call to Tombura was made by Michael and a group was formed in Tombura; the beginning of YDA. These hopeful men and women in Tombura knew they wanted to help their community but possessed very little means to do it on their own.

In 2007 Luka heard about my experience working in Africa from my sister Emilie and he approached me to ask for my help. After a few meetings I agreed to join the small support team in Saskatoon to help bring direction and an action plan for the people on the team in Tombura. We would try to help them create long term, self-sustaining projects for their community.

Why we believe self sustainability is the only way

Please read carefully: “If you give a man a fish he will eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, the lake will run out of fish”. That’s right! Unless someone takes the responsibility for re-stocking the lake and making sure it’s environment is protected, one day the good fishing will end. This is the one simple understanding that has been missing in creating true, sustainable programs in Africa. We need to enable the people with more than money and program initiatives with hired people working for NGO’s travelling around in the heat, doing the same things that have been done for the last 50+ years. I’m not criticizing the hard working, well-meaning people who have donated time and money and worked so hard to make a difference over all these years. What I am saying is this: For all the effort and money that has been dedicated to helping the people of Africa, the return on investment in the development of lasting change has been minimal. The people need to own their future!

If you wrote the Grade 12 exams for your children, how much ownership and pride would they take in their graduation day? How equipped would they be to take the next steps to independence? What if you told your children that you were going to continue to subsidize their bank account for as long as you could afford it? These seem like terrible ideas to all of us I would think. So if these ideas don’t work in creating educated, confident, motivated young adults, why would we think it will work in Africa? Again, they need to own their future!

Sustainability to me means that once we help them get a program up and running, eventually we should be able to stop funding it and they should be in a position to run it on their own. In some charitable organizations, I fear sustainability means making sure the donations keep coming in. As long as that happens, their job is safe and they can keep funding the programs they started; programs of course that can only be sustainable again, if the donations continue. Any program that is predominantly dependent on donations is not sustainable in my view.

Therefore I have made a pact with myself. If I am to be immersed in the development of YDA, there has to be a time when the funding from us stops and the Tombura community has to carry on without us; just like our children have to! I do not want to spend most of my YDA time raising money. Will money be necessary to accomplish what we have planned? Yes of course, but with that money and effort we want to help develop, educate and enable the Tombura people so they can succeed on their own. Just like raising our children, right? At some point we want to kick back and enjoy the grandchildren, not work endlessly to support our children. And have I mentioned? They need to own their future!

The plan is in motion and I have committed myself to the program until 2020. When Luka and I met in early February, 2013 with the members and staff and I explained my approach, they totally bought into it. They want more than their independence as a nation. They want to be free from the outside help which is necessary at present for them to progress. They want to move forward as individuals, families and communities with the pride and dignity of knowing they can own their future.