Emma's peace mission
24 year old Emma Jones from Aboyne is a program assistant with Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment in Kampala, Uganda.
Here is her story:
"Moving to Kampala in Uganda, East Africa, in May last year, really changed things for me; aged 23, the opportunity to apply my first-class degree in peace and development studies in the professional working world had arrived.
For little over a year now, I have been working as a program assistant in a Ugandan think-tank called Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), a Ugandan non-government organisation concerned with making public policy work for people.
I secured my current role having made a memorable impression during one of the three internships I undertook. At the end of my first year in university, I worked with ACODE for three months; as an intern, I published two opinion articles and was credited as an author of a report and remained in touch with staff once it finished.
After graduating in 2014, I inquired about available opportunities and, thanks to a strong and demonstrable work ethic and ability, I was invited to apply for the position of program assistant in January of 2015.
Four months later, I found myself arriving in Kampala ready to start a probationary period of six months with the opportunity of a two-year contract, based on good performance.
In terms of peace and development work, securing an entry-level position is one of the hardest feats in the working world of international development; it is far more likely that graduates will go on to further education or volunteer in order to qualify themselves to secure a paid role.
As such, there was a lot riding on me to successfully complete the probationary period. The relevance of my degree in the UK is often regarded as amusing (peace studies can gather many a response). Meanwhile, Aboyne is remarkably peaceful in comparison to global standards so I’m not sure how much value my degree and experience could add to our community.
The opportunity to work with ACODE therefore provided a very unique opportunity; one that was likely never to present itself again.
Within ACODE, I support the peace and democracy program, within which there are a variety of different projects addressing issues including governance, national policy issues and regional peace and security issues. I also support the research department with data collection, analysis and organising research training to build the skills of staff. In terms of day-to-day activities, I am so fortunate that my work is varied, particularly my work with the Local Government Council Score-Card Initiative (LGCSCI).
LGCSCI is an evidence-based research, capacity building and outreach project that seeks to enhance the capacity of local elected leaders in undertaking their mandate. It also aims at strengthening citizen capacity to demand for effective service delivery and accountability from their elected leaders. The initiative employs an assessment tool – the score-card – in assessing the performance of local government political organs including the district council, chairperson, speaker and councillors which is conducted on an annual basis.
Beyond the assessment, policy recommendations are generated that guide policy advocacy for improved delivery of services in local governments countrywide and disseminated during six weeks of LGCSCI District Dissemination and Inception Workshops. These are half-day workshops in all of the 30 assessed districts to launch the district-specific findings of the assessment and disseminate the findings. The workshops also double as a reorientation and civic education opportunity. I took part in over half of the workshops where I supported administrative and logistical work as well as taking the minutes for each workshop.
My job is to code the minutes for use as data; effectively I get to collect the key service delivery and local governance issues from local leaders and citizens across 30 districts and then organise the issues and identify success stories where LGCSCI is credited for having made impact or built capacity, alongside other issues raised such as the need for policy advocacy. To me, it is absolutely fascinating being able to have a bird’s eye view of the main issues affecting the delivery of quality services and to then work with the LGCSCI team, district local government, Uganda Local Government Association and central government to advocate for appropriate policies.
My working life has changed so much from the summers spent waitressing at the Glen Lui, working at the Glen Tanar Equestrian Centre and housekeeping at the Hilton Craigendarroch. My daily life has also become unrecognisable since last year; my day-to-day routine includes a motorbike ride as it’s the most effective commuter transport. I now have a small circle of “Boda Men” (boda is the word for the motorbike taxi here) who help me get to and from work. On occasion, one of them has even been known to do my shopping for me!
Being a millionaire has also taught me the important of financial management, mainly because despite earning millions, Ugandan shillings are volatile and not worth so much beyond the border. Currently it’s about 4,200UgX to one pound sterling.
Seasons have also become a distant memory. In Uganda, there is no autumn, winter, summer or spring. Instead, there are two seasons – rainy and dry. And instead of snow days, we are informally excused from travelling in the rain on a working day. In fact, the only consistency since last year has been porridge for breakfast.
I also now appreciate, more than ever, hearing a Scottish accent. Meeting with staff from The Archie Foundation and seeing their work (twinning the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital with children’s services in Kampala, including the completion of a children’s operating theatre and ward) was very exciting and it makes me so proud to see the positive impact that Scotland has abroad. Honestly, I’ve yet to meet a Ugandan who has met a rude Scot!
Aside from this particular highlight, I have enjoyed the sense of satisfaction that comes from trying and succeeding at something so far removed from what I would ever let my own children do (sorry mum, sorry dad). Undoubtedly, moving abroad alone was the hardest thing I have ever done. Aside from starting a new job, I simultaneously had to secure legal documents required to work here, open a bank account and set up my national social security fund in order to receive my first month’s wage.
I have, however, been able to rise to each and every new challenge and my six-month probation went without a hitch. In particular, thanks must be given to ACODE and my family for their incredible professional and personal support. Before Christmas, I was offered a two-year contract which I happily signed and is now carefully filed away.
Despite a stubborn approach to pursuing an unconventional career, the risks and the hard work have paid off thanks to the copious amounts of luck, support and a consistent refusal to welcome any other option. As I once said to my mum, if all doors close, find a window to climb through."