putting your idea into action, you can get stuck at a mental crossroad on what
direction you should take. When looking to the right, you see yourself stranded
because you the lack capital to get going. When looking to the left, you see
nothing but the roadblocks of self-doubt and fear. When looking straight ahead,
you see an open road with twists and turns leaving you uncertain on where it
will end. While many may remain paralyzed at this intersection, there are those
who will take a completely different direction by paving their way.

LaLonde is one those people who was willing to pave her own road. While
interning in Northern Uganda as part of her master’s degree in 2009, she saw an opportunity to
help four women start a cooperative that would become the Ogolo Women’s Banana
Project (OWP). Her steadfast determination and proven results demonstrated that
you start small and still make difference with those you serve. She was an
inspiration to me to start doing something no matter what with Uniting Distant

Jill at the left sitting with the four women she partnered with to start the agricultural cooperative. Photo was courtesy of Ogolo Women’s Project Facebook Page.

have known Jill since 2010. We are both active volunteer leaders with the Minnesota
International NGO Network
, an organization serving individuals and
organizations working on global issues such as poverty, education, health, etc.
She also has been a faithful supporter of Uniting Distant Stars. It was through
working with her at MINN that I got to know about her project in Uganda.

was exciting to watch what she was doing from the sidelines. Her vision was
clear when she returned to Minnesota and quickly developed a plan to raise
funds to launch this project. Though she did not have a registered organization
or fiscal sponsor, she was confident that she could reach her goal. She
carefully strategized her approach that led to her success in raising the
capital needed to get started.
Ogolo project has been steadily growing these last few years and is showing
great promise. In 2012, she partnered with a local NGO–Community Empowerment
for Rural Development (CEFORD)–in Uganda to oversee the program. CEFORD is
committed to this project and reports on its activities quarterly.
the recent quarterly report, it showed that this collaborative effort had a
membership of 85 women including Jill’s 4 by the end of 2012.  It seems that there is a growing interest
with this project, because it provides savings and
lending opportunities through Village Savings and Loans training in financial literacy,
business skills, reading and writing, and banana production.
it was the women of the Ogolo displacement village, who saw how growing bananas
would improve their economic standings while providing for their families.
Ogolo was one of many areas in the Northern Uganda that is still recovering
from the brutal war waged by the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) for nearly two
decades. It was during LRA’s reign under the leadership of Joseph Kony that
caused a great deal of disruption for these women and their children. The LRA
was notorious for kidnapping and conscripting children as soldiers (see the
documentary Children of War to learn more). 

on all they endured during the war, the women were looking for something that
would not be so labor intensive and that is why they chose banana production.
The women shared in the recent quarterly report that the “banana is both a food
and cash crop that has ready local and external markets.” They easily saw the
potential of growing bananas as a viable business opportunity.

June 2013 it was time to start one-year cycle for the Ogolo Women Improved
Banana Project that “was implemented by Ama-Alu Ogolo Women Group through
CEFORD and Arinyapi Sub County Local Government Production Department.” The
funding for this project has come from Jill and her supporters. Some of its
goals were to increase banana production by 15% and have its members adopt this
project as a food and cash crop by 50%. 

This was taken early February 2014 and it shows how tall the banana trees have grown. Photo was courtesy of Ogolo Women’s Project Facebook Page.

In following the Ogolo Women’s Project Facebook page, the banana crops are growing despite lack of
rainfall and occasional fires from the February 2014 post. On April 5, they
posted about farmers from two sub-counties–Ciforo and
Dzaipi—visited Ogolo banana site as part of a learning tour. As cited in this
Facebook post, the farmers saw “firsthand the good agricultural practices and
group farming techniques. What a great boost to OWP farmers to know they’re a
model across the region!”


Here are some of the local farmers who visited to the site to learn more about the Ogolo project. Photo was courtesy of Ogolo Women’s Project Facebook Page.

project cycle ends May 2014 and it appears that they are on target of meeting
their goals. It is great to see how Jill had a vision based on discussions she
had with the four women she met in Uganda in 2009. This then evolved into a
collaborative project with CEFORD and other entities to boost the economic
welfare of the women in the Ogolo village. Through the effort of all the Ogolo
Women’s Project stakeholders, they were able to implement the banana production
and soon will see the “fruit” of their labor.

passion and commitment to the women of Ogolo is another example that no matter
how small the effort, the results can have a big impact on the community it
serves. Clearly her vision helped her look past the hazards in the road to
where she saw that the path less traveled was the best route to take. And
within a few years she was able to find her destination for success.
Jill on all that you have accomplished with the ever growing Ogolo Women’s