NAME: Geoffrey Omongin
LOCATION: Kampala, UGANDA
PROJECT: KITEZI Brick Making Venture
Who is Geoffrey Omongin, ISEE’s newest partner?
Geoffrey is a veteren school teacher in Uganda with over 15 years experience as a teacher and headmaster. He is currently employed at a junior school — Alpha and Omega Junior School — but due to lockdown restrictions he hasn’t been paid since March 2020.
“Unlike government school teachers,” he says, “We private school teachers have not received any form of payment or salaries.”
Geoffrey’s wife, Miriam, is also a teacher and so is also without income. They have three sons and are also taking care of two other children.
How did Geoffrey get involved with ISEE?
Alpha and Omega Junior School was one of the schools that Erika and team presented at in 2018. The clarity and frankness of the reproductive health presentation made a deep impression on Geoffrey.
“I remember that ISEE Solutions and the team spoke and helped answer … some of the sensitive questions that we as teachers fear to answer,” he says, especially regarding issues such as menstruation and birth control. “In Uganda, (the) majority of … adolescents get confused around this time… the problem is that (in) some traditions and cultures … (they) think that when this time comes, they are ready for marriage.”
Geoffrey says the presentation were excellent for teachers and students alike — “… our eyes were opened and it helped us deal with the challenges and question(s)… that we came by in 2019…” — and so when the lockdown occurred and he was searching for ways to feed his family, ISEE’s other programs occurred to him and he reached out via email to Erika.
After several weeks of talks, ably shepherded by Andrew Echel in Uganda, the Kitezi Brick Making Project was born.
What is the Kitezi Brick Making Project?
Geoffrey started making bricks when he was a young man with dreams of education but few resources. His uncle taught him the skills and techniques for brick making in 2001 and provided him with some of the profits from his efforts. He eventually hired Geoffrey to help him whenever he could. This work provided enough income for Geoffrey to pay for his schooling and even sustained him after college and before he found his first teaching job.
After finding a suitable location — a “…small portion of swamp land that had enough space to make, dry, and … burn (bake) them…” in Kitezi, Kabaga, Geoffrey hired ten local youths to help him. Like his uncle before him, he teaches them the skills and techniques and also provides them with a wage for their efforts. In a country battling massive unemployment even before the COVID-19 lockdowns, the jobs are highly desirable.
Geoffrey pays them 10,000 UGX a day (approximately $3.60 CAD), a small sum but enough to provide them with food. Many economically disadvantaged persons around the world live on less than $2 CAD a day.
When the bricks are finally sold, Geoffrey will provide his workers with fair shares of the profits. The result is a sustainable venture that feeds Uganda’s never-ending hunger for building materials as well as providing training and income for local youths. There are other benefits, though.
“The project has also helped these young people to avoid bad groups or gangs, who most of them will join because of being idle, “ Geoffrey says. “The ten students are now settled in the project and during the brick making … I take time to talk to them… most of them are … 18-25 years old and (the) majority are school dropouts.”
“They have a chance to do some work for themselves and learn some skill(s) for basic survival during this time. Then each of them actually walks away with some cash on a daily basis.. by training them, we are taking them off the streets, …(preventing)… them from joining bad peer groups that have led … most of the youths today into drug abuse and theft.”
What issues has Kitezi Brick Making Project faced?
Like any agricultural product, brick making is at the mercy of the weather. Unpredictable rainfall and the upending of the traditional rhythms of the seasons due to global climate upheaval means that Geoffrey has had numerous challenges in the first few weeks of the work.
“It (the rains) hinders the progress in making, but also drying, the bricks,” he says.
Another issue has been outside interference, due either to jealousy or perhaps a lack of understanding of the job training aspects of the project.
“… My biggest challenge came a week after our work had started when my group of boys was visited by an unknown gentleman who tried to ‘sway’ them, “ Geoffrey says. “He was telling them I was under-paying them and that they needed to demand more.”
A few of the boys chose to take this interloper’s advice, thus cutting themselves out of any future profit from the sale of the bricks as well as losing a chance to make some immediate cash in hand.
On the plus side, the vacancies allowed Geoffrey to hire new candidates, including three girls. The girls join in at stage three. After making the bricks, the boys lay them to rest and dry, then the girls came in to turn the bricks so they dry more thoroughly. They also stack them up to create more space for drying new bricks. Geoffrey says that the initial two stages involve heavy lifting of the wet clay from the ditches and then mixing it with water, which is a bit harder for the girls to do.
What happens next?
Geoffrey hopes to expand the project in order to increase production. The obvious way is automation.
“I want us to get a machine that will double or even triple our daily production numbers,” he says. “We want to save money (to get one)…because…if we get a machine that can boost production to 5-7K bricks per day (from the current of ~2.9K), then we will be able to meet the ever-growing demand.”
He also hopes to expand the Kitezi Project into a full-fledged vocational school one day.
“I see myself expanding this project and maybe having a small vocational school… We would like to begin enrolling maybe 50 students at a time.”
“Our biggest challenge in Uganda is that school has been designed to produce white collar job-seeking people rather than skills development. My dream is to establish a school that will help young people who have dropped out of school and can’t continue, to develop some skills to create themselves a sustainable livelihood.”
A teacher at another school in Uganda once told Erika that one of the biggest problem with the curriculum of Uganda public education is that “… we are still training people to be chauffeurs, cooks, and translators inside a colonial system.” A practical and in-demand skill like brick making, on the other hand, is an up-stream job that provides immediate income to the workers as well as helps provide materials for later down-stream use.
Any final comments?
Geoffrey hopes that the venture will be successful. He credits much of the initial success of the project to the efforts of our Director of Programs (Uganda), Andrew Echel.
“I want to thank Andew who has been with me from the very start of the project,” he says, “From identifying sites to buying equipment… he has offered great support to me on the ground.”
Geoffrey is also thankful to the entire ISEE family for their support and belief.
“I’m very grateful to all the ISEE Solutions members and the board, (to) the donors out there who have given their money, energy, and time to see to it that you change the lives of people like me and our families.”
ISEE is happy to work with Geoffrey Omongin on this project. Keep checking back to this space to see updates on the progress of the work. Geoffrey has been excellent about keeping in touch with us about the goings-on of the project and he frequently sends pictures and emails. We will post them here as we can.
— Initial interview by Andrew Echel, edited by Corey Mazurat —