Trinity Students Bring Grinding Mills to Ugandan Refugee Camp

African Development Coalition Project serves 800 Families each Month

Until recently, refugees living in Uganda’s Kyangwali Refugee Camp had to travel six hours on foot – carrying 100+ pound bags of maize – to access the technology necessary to turn their crops into food. That is no longer the case, thanks to the work of Trinity students who spent three weeks last summer with the African Development Coalition (ADC) bringing grinding mills to the camp.

Tinashe Chidziva ’15, an international studies major from Zimbabwe and the president of the ADC, discussed his experience coordinating the delivery and installation of the mills during the latest installment of the Center for Urban and Global Studies Global Vantage Point series.

Chidziva was joined by Madeleine Shukurani ’14, an international studies major from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who researched the use of film in conflict resolution and reconciliation at the camp.

The Kyangwali Refugee Camp is home to 25,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, and Sudan, said Chidziva. It is also the home of COBURWAS, an organization that provides support to the refugees. The ADC partnered with COBURWAS on the project.

The project involved several components, Chidziva said. The ADC purchased two diesel-powered grinding mills, enough to serve 800 families each month. The group also erected a structure to house the mills and protect them from the elements. Finally, the students trained individuals to operate the mills after their departure from the camp.

Initially, the group had planned to build the structure for the mills out of brick and mortar. They were surprised to hear residents of the camp reject this idea, saying the camp was not intended to be a permanent home and that they hoped to one day return to their home countries. They opted instead for a semi-permanent structure made of wood, mud, and concrete, with an estimated life of seven to 10 years.

Naturally, the students ran into some challenges. First was the language barrier between the students and the residents of the camp. Though much of the education in the camp was in English, Chidziva said, he could not communicate with residents of the camp in their native languages, which some residents of the camp considered impolite.

Second, the logistics of purchasing, transporting, and housing the mills proved challenging. Though the project was sufficiently funded, regulations limiting the students’ ability to withdraw money from banks delayed their efforts. However, as time grew short, Chidziva said, community members helped the students finish construction of the building that housed the grinding mills and the project was finished successfully and on time.

Users are charged a nominal fee (approximately ten cents per use), so that the mills are generating just enough revenue to supply the diesel to keep them up and running. After training three residents of the refugee camp to operate the mills, they are now controlled by COBURWAS. The mills now allow many in the camp to produce their own food, Chidziva said.

In conducting her research on the use of film in conflict resolution, Shukurani screened two films for audiences within the camp: Sometimes in April, a film about the genocide in Rwanda, and Bopha, a film about apartheid in South Africa. She found that while Bopha generated a great deal of enthusiastic discussion, many refugees in the camp were hesitant to comment on Sometimes in April. This, she said, was due to their own experiences in Rwanda and the stories passed down by relatives.

Additionally, Shukurani identified a stark contrast between the generations within the camp. There were different reactions from those who were born and raised in the refugee camp and those who arrived there from their home countries. This was in addition to the friction among longtime residents of the camp and new arrivals, she said.

The Global Vantage Point series continues on December 5 with a Common Hour lecture by Anne-Marie Hanson, Patricia C. and Charles H. McGill III '63 Visiting Assistant Professor of International Studies, entitled “Mexico: Garbage, Cities, and Nature in Coastal Yucátan.”