Would-be PhD student Matteo Caravani instead chose to begin a life in the most impoverished part of Uganda. However, he has found happiness amidst challenges and amusing traditions, as well as being part of a new thing that WFP is doing.
Matteo Caravani was born 27 years ago in Rome, Italy, a few steps from the Vatican hill. His current address, however, is Kaabong, Uganda’s most remote district, located in the dry northeasten Karamoja region.
He works as a consultant on WFP’s Karamoja Productive Assets Programme, a new initiative positioned to help the people in the region to strengthen their livelihoods and therefore overcome hunger and dependency on food aid.
First time in Uganda
“My first time to come to Uganda was in 2008, as a Masters intern under the Italian Embassy and Cooperation,” says Matteo, who has lived in Kaabong 14 months now.
“On finishing my Master’s I was awarded a scholarship for a PhD at the University of Rome to do research on livelihoods in Karamoja,” the Italian says. “However, I put if off, opting to begin by living and working in Karamoja. I was in love with the region.”
Challenges in Kaabong
Life has not been easy for Matteo.
“I do miss my girlfriend as she lives in (Uganda’s capital) Kampala, but we do see each other every two months when I am allowed a break,” he says.
“Also I miss good Italian food. My stomach is overloaded of beans and rice currently.”
Furthermore, there is a shortage of water.
“I live with 15 Ugandans with whom we have to share the water we get from a borehole. For them one basin is enough for a shower. But given my big hair, I need a triple ration at least.
“In spite of all this, this is the most interesting job I could ever get. Being a photographer as well, I could find no better scenery and landscapes in Uganda than in Karamoja.”
Originally it was difficult for his family to understand why he moved to Kaabong. Now they do, seeing that Matteo is happy and satisfied with his work.
Cultural beliefs abound
Everyday something amazing happens in Kaabong. For example, WFP has been sensitizing communities regarding the assets programme. Everyday, Matteo and others have been going out to explain the initiative, listen to queries and encourage communities to participate. However, staff have found it hard to meet entire communities at once. The issue of in-laws always comes up. Some people in Karamoja believe that looking at or sitting close to their in-laws causes blindness.
In addition, sometimes communities refuse to sit under certain trees and yet meetings are better organised there. They say some trees harbour evil spirits.
“And so, we often have to move meetings from one tree to another,” says Matteo.
WFP has been supplying relief food aid for years in Karamoja and so the majority of the population has come to expect free things. However, the productive assets programme is helping WFP to change mindsets. Working closely with the Government of Uganda, WFP is encouraging able-bodied people to do something for themselves by building things such as low-technology dams, which help communities to water their animals and crops.
“I would love to see one day the people of Karamoja be independent and owners of their future,” says the Italian. “That is why I live here.”