Joint GRÓ alumni event in Uganda

5 March 2024
GRÓ Alumni Event participants and organisers
Kampala, Uganda - February 2024
GRÓ Alumni Event participants and organisers
Kampala, Uganda - February 2024

In Kampala, the capital of Uganda, a group of people from various backgrounds have gathered. Some live in the city, others have travelled long distances. Although their backgrounds are different, they are all experts in their respective fields whether it is in the civil service, academia or the private sector. One thing unites them all: Iceland.

These are the alumni of the four GRÓ training programmes under the auspices of UNESCO: the Geothermal Training Programme (GRÓ GTP), the Fisheries Training Programme (GRÓ FTP), the Land Restorations Training Programme (GRÓ LRT) and Gender Equality Studies & Training Programme (GRÓ GEST). For the last four decades, the Icelandic government has supported experts and professionals from developing countries to deepen their knowledge in their fields by attending training programmes in Iceland. The oldest of them is the GRÓ GTP, founded in 1979, while the youngest is GRÓ GEST, which was founded three decades later.

The training programmes were operated as part of the United Nations University until 2019, when GRÓ – International Centre for Capacity Development, Sustainability and Societal Change was established. The work is now carried out under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO. Almost 1700 fellows have graduated during this time. They have come from all over the world, especially from Africa, but also Asia, South America and elsewhere.

Uganda is GRÓ's largest partner country where all four programmes have been active. A total of 117 Ugandans has completed their training at the four programmes. Some of them graduated decades ago, others just last year. Dr. Godfrey Kubriza, speaking at the eventToday, a part of this large and powerful Ugandan alumni group has gathered at an event organized by representatives of the alumni, GRÓ, UNESCO and the Embassy of Iceland in Kampala. The purpose of the meeting is to connect the alumni across the four programme areas and build a joint GRÓ alumni network, in addition to the active programme specific networks, and draw attention to their interdisciplinary expertise. This is a gathering of highly educated people, many of them are in very influential jobs.

Dr. Godfrey Kubiriza, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Science at Makerere University in Kampala and a GRÓ FTP alumnus, led the organisation of the event on behalf of the alumni. Dr. Kubiriza also completed his doctorate from the University of Iceland on a GRÓ scholarship. "We are optimistic that the skills and knowledge we have brought together today can further activate the potential of the alumni. These are experts in their fields and the training they received in Iceland adds to their ingenuity and experience. There is a great benefit in making further use of this human resource," says Godfrey. "I am very proud of this meeting and hope that more graduates from the training programmes in other parts of the world will do the same."

Diversity of expertise
Several participants at the event present the projects they worked on during their training in Iceland and demonstrate how the knowledge they acquired has been useful for their work at home. Evelyn Mugume attended the GRÓ LRT in 2014. She is wearing a silver necklace with the outlines of Iceland as a memory of her time there, which she says taught her countless things. These learnings are useful to her in her work as an environmental officer in her home district of Kasese, which is a very beautiful area in the western part of Uganda and a part of two national parks.

The people of Kasese are mainly farmers that grow a variety of crops. The soil in the area is coarse and water percolates easily through it. Mugume says that in many ways it resembles Iceland's rough volcanic soil. She works with local people to prevent the water from seeping away, but instead nourishing the soil so that more can grow in it. "Heat and drought and hilly terrains are some of the challenges we face when it comes to water storage, some areas require specific solutions," she says. "I learned in Iceland to work with communities and simultaneously focus on tackling certain areas, then there is a greater chance of getting the problem under control."

Akullo Davis Ebong is one of the presenters at the meeting. She attended GRÓ FTP in 2021-2022. One of the projects she worked on in Iceland aimed to improve the quality of dried fish to extend its shelf life and make it more attractive for human consumption. Davis developed a way to use the properties of lemongrass: the fish is treated with the herb before it is laid out to dry. The lemongrass protects the fish from damage and insects. Davis now works as a research assistant at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories of Uganda, where she specializes in quality management of fish. Work is close to her heart: "You see, I eat a lot of fish myself," she says jokingly.

Peter Mawejje immediately asks the Icelanders at the meeting for the latest news about volcanic eruptions in the Reykjanes Peninsula. He keeps a close eye on these issues, which is not surprising as he was at the Geothermal Training Programme in Iceland in 2007 and became fascinated by the country's volcanic and geothermal system. Today, Peter works in Geothermal Resource Department of Uganda. The country has some geothermal energy but many areas have not been studied or developed to much extent. Peter says that deep drilling is soon planned at selected sites in the country. He is excited about the possibilities; especially how geothermal energy can be used for food processing. For him the meeting is a great opportunity to further his network, especially with the experts from the GRÓ FTP. "Geothermal energy can be used for fish farming and drying, as Icelanders know so well," he says. Peter points out that the geothermal energy is present near the large lakes in Uganda and further inland: "I have just returned from a trip to a geothermal area in a large agricultural region where, among other things, quite a lot of tea is grown. It would be a great benefit to use the geothermal heat to dry and process the leaves."

The alumni of GRÓ GEST are prominent at the meeting. The young and energetic Sophia Nabukenya was in Iceland in 2018 and is passionate about sexual health of young people and reproductive rights. She has worked many different actors to find ways to reduce STDs among young people and prevent teenage pregnancies. After her stay in Iceland, she became very interested in the gender pay gap and is now working, among other things, on a project that encourages girls to pursue higher education and high-level jobs. Sophia herself aims high. "I want to pursue further studies in international gender studies and work in influential international organizations and contribute to improving the well-being of women and girls around the world."

Another fellow of GRÓ GEST is Katuramu Peter Collins, who graduated in 2018. Collins comes from a poor family and faced great adversity throughout his childhood due to a physical disability. Collins worked hard to attend school and has used his education to improve the rights of people with disabilities in Uganda. He says that studying in Iceland strengthened him even more and filled him with confidence to set up an organization that works to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. He has especially looked at ways to empower disabled women in his home country. "I am a disabled person myself and I know marginalization, but I realized that disabled women live with twice as much stigma. Their situation in Uganda is often very bad." Collins is now aiming to run independently for a seat in the Ugandan parliament. If elected, he plans to work hard so that disabled people in Uganda, who are estimated to be around five million, get better access to education and health care.

People for a better future 
After an eventful meeting and interesting discussions, the alumni gather over tea. Ugandans drink a lot of tea, it is the basis of team building and conversations – which are lively and inspired. Charles Draecabo, project manager at the UNESCO office in Kampala, says he is full of spirit. "For me, this has been a very good opportunity to get together and connect interdisciplinary. In my opinion this is an important step to help the alumni to promote change, both within their academic fields and institutions, but more importantly in this society and thus influence its development," he says. "By harnessing the talents of the group, we can change the lives of people in Uganda and beyond. We at UNESCO want to support this initiative and continue to work with the alumni group, the GRÓ programmes and other institutions related to the project."


Þórhildur Ólafsdóttir,
Journalist based in Kampala

GRÓ Alumni Event participants and organisers
Dr. Godfrey Kubiriza, a GRÓ FTP alumnus and one of the main organisers of the event, welcomes participants to the event.
Evelyn Mugume - GRÓ GEST Alumna
Katuramu Peter Collins - GRÓ GEST Alumnus
Þór Heiðar Ágústsson, Director of GRÓ FTP, speaking
Sophie Nabukenya - GRÓ GEST Alumna
Peter Mawejje - GRÓ GTP Alumnus
Nína Björk Jónsdóttir, Director General of GRÓ, addresses the event from Iceland
Akullo Davis Ebong - GRÓ FTP Alumna
Charles Draecabo, project manager at the UNESCO office in Kampala