Written by Rabya Bhatia, GivingWay Ambassador. Rabya has previously undertaken a Bachelor of Psychological Sciences and is currently completing a Masters in Social Work. She has a proficiency in working with culturally and linguistically diverse individuals and is currently working within the disability and special needs sector. She has experience volunteering with different organizations and has a passion for environmental sustainability and human and animal justice. You can find her on LinkedIn.
Forests and fruit trees are of immense importance to every person. Particularly, forests remain a vital source of domestic energy for families in East Africa, with approximately three million people in Uganda dependent on them for survival. Goods from the forests enable communities to expand their livelihoods whilst also providing crucial environmental functions. These include air and water purification, pollination, healthy soils, and much more. In fact, forests and fruit trees contribute over Uganda shillings 332.3 billion (US$173 million) to the total annual incomes of the households in Uganda. The overall contribution of forests is about 6% of the GDP.
Deforestation presents a perilous threat to not only individual livelihoods and the country’s economic development, but also to the biodiversity and climate of this planet. And this is why it affects everyone across the globe and why we must care. As the world population continues to surge and our earth’s capacity for its’ occupants continues to decline, it is essential that we take responsibility. We have to protect and maintain healthy forests to avoid dangerous climate change. The world’s forests remain critical for the wellbeing of both ourselves and our planet. There is no way around it. We have to care.
Despite conservation efforts, forests in Uganda continue to be degraded at a fast rate (Kutiote et al. 2019). Uganda’s forest cover declined from 4.9 to 1.8 million hectares between 1990 and 2015! Particularly, most losses in private forests are attributed to forest clearance for agriculture, fuelwood harvesting and charcoal, urbanization, illegal and unregulated trade in forest products, and insecure tenure.
Nevertheless, many experts optimistically highlight that forest recovery is possible. Whilst evidence of forest logging and forest losses is not cheering, Scholars Twongyirwe and Bithell, for example, suggest that we need to shift the discussion from deforestation to how local actions can effectively contribute to forest preservation and recovery. This could help provide long-term continued success.
The Zero Waste Amazing Projects Foundation aims to restore and maintain Uganda’s lost forests and green environment with its #10Milliontrees project. This wonderful project is working to plant more than 20 million trees by 2026, aiming for 3.5 million trees a year. Through the kind donations made by people from across the world, this project intends to support and empower small-scale communities with nursery set up as well as the management and maintenance within their grounds.
I had the opportunity to speak with the director and founder of this inspiring foundation, Kuteesa Michael Isaac. Mr. Kuteesa explained to me how growing trees in the community with children offers a unique way of appreciating the environment and teaching about the importance of healthy foods and nutrition. Whether the fruit-eaters are adults, children, animals, or impoverished neighbors, fruit trees take advantage of nature’s natural resources system and deliver shade, air and water purification, soil conditioning, water table maintenance and food for everyone, humans and animals alike. Most of the fruit trees last for decades! That’s a lot for one simple plant to gift us with. Now, on to learning more about Mr. Kuteesa with our questions!
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to be in your current role?
I am Kuteesa Michael Isaac, the programs director and the founder Zero Waste Amazing Projects Foundation. After losing a beloved relative as a result of cancer, I was triggered to research about cancer and upon discoveries that plastics, chemicals and other poorly disposed waste materials and deforestation as a result of population and industrial growth, contribute to the spread of cancer and many other health, economic and environmental hazards. This sparked off my heart and the collective to adopt conservation as a personal and collective responsibility and utilization of every waste as a raw material.
And now ZWAP Foundation stands to sensitize communities, encourage individuals, train and educate the public to protect and conserve nature by utilizing every waste as a raw material for sustainable socio-economic wellbeing knowing that an individual living in harmony with nature is a source of socio-economic wellbeing. “Conservation is our responsibility; every waste is a raw material”.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
Nothing is more rewarding and makes me more satisfied than gazing at a clean green environment, seeing someone who does whatever it takes to reduces waste, looking at a person helping the elderly and those in need, I feel so much satisfied whenever I see someone planting trees not for only business purposes but for the benefit of anyone in the community, I can clearly see the green, clean and healthy future of my children, my neighbor’s and the nation at large whenever I see a leader, a parent and any other person supporting our programs. I believe there’s a creator of the universe, by respecting nature we respect our creator, His creation and His purposes; this is my best reward, doing what I was intended to do before creation.
At Zero Waste Amazing Projects Foundation, how do you define success?
At ZWAP Foundation we take success as a fulfilled purpose intended by our creator and it is a state or condition of meeting a defined range of expectations, it is also a state of achieving whatever you’ve been longing or desiring for, whenever we engage in activities that halt and reverse environmental degradation and natural resource depletion, and ensure sustainable livelihoods in a green, healthy and conserved waste-free zone, we are doing our creation’s purpose. Sustaining a life just by the use of nature and the close conserved environment is taken to be our greatest success.
In what ways has Zero Waste Amazing Projects Foundation been most successful?
There are so many ways to see our success but to mention a few are our daily reduction of waste in the community to create a clean environment, trainings and workshops we do to help communities know the dangers of poor waste management and how they can turn their waste to wealth, our discovery and establishment of more than 30 product prototypes made out of waste is a wonderful success achieved.
To be recognized by different bodies like Ministry of Tourism, UNCC, Nommo Gallery, district bodies etc, and invite us to exhibit our work and train their people, it is not a small thing to undermine. Holding different trainings and workshops in different areas of the country like Wakiso, Kamuli, Kalangala etc, It is of immense joy when we train someone to utilize environmental polluters (wastes around them) as a raw material and adopting conservation as an individual’s responsibility. We have seen families improving on their healthy food production, income generation and creating green communities.
What is most challenging about your job?
Limited team Capacity; we have been highly challenged by the lack of the technical and organizational capacity to document, implement and fulfill our mission and objectives, we are willing but not able to invest in trainings for capacity and team building because of our limited funds, and this has affected our fundraising ability, governance, research, leadership and technical areas. Therefore, we invite anyone ready to support in document writing, reports, social media management and marketing, forestry and seeds management to come and help this work overtake the world.
Acceptance in the community; it has not been easy for the community to welcome us because of the mentality that no good can be done out of waste. So it is a hard task to convince them to take a try and the negative history of the prior NGOs has contributed to the rejection in the corporate sponsor’s world, following the past events where they were conned by the so-called NGOs who seemed to do the same like we do. There is a lot of fear mounted.
Difficulties to get funds; Getting donors is a hard task, and sometimes dealing with some specific donor’s funding conditions has been an enormous challenge for us. We have experienced difficulties in getting enough, and continuous funding in order to do our work, so we end up using personal finances to make sure that life is planted.
Rejection and stigma; We’ve been highly rejected and undermined by government and non-government officials, looking at us as low-level locals who are not worthy to even enter their offices; this has made our search for partnerships highly annoying.
Project robbery; It’s unfortunate that people in big offices don’t want to think to create new and clean concepts and as a result when we go to their offices for support and partnerships, they end up robbing our projects. They say our concepts are not worthy to be funded or to receive support and as a result, our partnership requests are thrown in the trash and after some time you find them implementing the exact concept. What brings much pain is that they cannot perform or implement these projects to satisfaction as we are able to.
What keeps you most motivated in your role?
Getting off track is one of the easiest things to do no matter how long you’ve been in the system, but those who focus at a higher achievement (goal) will never be trapped. When I fix my eyes on what is ahead, I overlook the challenges around me and keep going. A green healthy community with self-reliant people engaged in various unforced and self-motivated productive schemes for waste management, environment protection and nature conservation is what I want to see. My love for nature keeps me going. The love for my children to have a clean and healthy feature keeps me on track, as well as having joy in the small achievements I get.
At the end of the day, no man is an island; d we call upon government organizations, development partners, and corporate sponsors, environmentalists, NGOs, clubs, local leaders, and individuals to collaborate with, bring a collective effort to stand as a team scoring one goal.
Support the #10MilliomTrees project HERE.
For more information and news, visit Zero Waste Amazing Projects Foundation’s GivingWay profile and follow it on Facebook.
Head to our blog for more stories, tips, and volunteering inspiration! You can also check out our Volunteering Online & Around the World Facebook Group to connect with other volunteers and nonprofits! 😁
The views expressed in this guest post are solely those of its author and do not necessarily reflect the views of GivingWay. The material and information contained on the GivingWay blog is for general information purposes only. GivingWay will not be liable for any false, inaccurate, inappropriate or incomplete information presented in the GivingWay blog.