When 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.

Jill 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 Stars

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.

I 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.

It 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.

The 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.

In 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.

Furthermore, 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). 

Based 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.

So 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.

The 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.

Jill’s 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.

Congrats Jill on all that you have accomplished with the ever growing Ogolo Women’s Project!