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How social design counters misconceptions about Uganda and the Netherlands

By Emilie Dewitte

Two wooden booths, two phones and two headsets. That’s all it takes to bring Ugandans and Dutchmen a bit closer to one other, according to three design students from the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten (HKU) in the Netherlands. They organized an unusual, long-distance Q&A between Kampala and Amsterdam and baptized it TruthAgency.

The feeling that led to the inception of TruthAgency is Shame. During their design internship in Kampala, the expectations of Lynn Smit (22), Tessa De Boer (22) and Lizzy Steller (25) clashed with the Ugandan reality. They quickly realized how ignorance can lead to blunt stereotyping.
“Our decision to come to Uganda was criticized by our family and friends,” Tessa admits. ¨Everyone was worried about Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab. And upon our arrival, we realized that we also had an incomplete, wrong picture of the country and the people.”

Shameful indeed, but it turned out that Ugandans know close to nothing about the Netherlands either. High time for some myth busting, the design trio decided. Their graduation project took the shape of an agency that offers participants “a journey to the other side of the story.”
The idea is beautiful in its simplicity: let Ugandans and Dutchmen counter misconceptions about one another by asking each other questions and by offering answers. Before asking a question, both parties get to see a one minute movie on a phone in a booth, showing impressions of the city on “the other side”.

The booth in Ntinda, a neighborhood in Kampala.

The booth in Ntinda, a neighborhood in Kampala. (Photo by Realiteitbureau)

An entirely new initiative? “Similar concepts exist, like the app Ask Me Anything,” Tessa explains. “But the innovation with Truth Agency is that Ugandans who don’t have access to internet can also ask or answer a question in our booth.”

Embarrassing misconceptions

Over a period of five days, Tessa and Lizzy set up their black booth in bustling spaces in Kampala: Kyambogo University, Ntinda, Acacia Mall, old taxi park. People are curious and open.
“I would like to know if anybody in the Netherlands can do the business I am doing,” Juliet asks, looking into the iPhone camera while balancing a basket of mangoes on her head.

Juliet asks her question in the booth in Ntinda

Juliet asks her question in the booth in Ntinda. (photo by Realiteitbureau)

Many Ugandans ask how to get to the Netherlands, or stress their competences and willingness to work with Dutch businesses. “These questions deserve clear answers,” stresses Lizzy. “It would be nice to find a Dutch politician or policymaker to explain this in our booth in Amsterdam.”

Turns out that this is easier said than done. Lynn, who set up a white booth in various places in Amsterdam, has a harder time finding people who would like to ask a question to a Ugandan. People usually say they are in a hurry, or they think she is selling something. “A man just passed by and said he was very interested in culture and arts, but not today,” she tells us over the phone. Moreover, the questions coming from Amsterdam have a more random feel to them: “Do you have cheese in Uganda?”, “Is there higher education in Uganda?

In less than a week time, the designers gather 100 questions from Ugandans and 56 questions from Dutchmen. The questions coming from both booths reveal an embarrassing amount of misconceptions, which explains the general enthusiasm of the booth visitors.

Lynn with an interested passerby in the booth in Amsterdam

Lynn with an interested passerby in the booth in Amsterdam. (photo by Realiteitbureau )

“Stop f****** around”

Two night before they left the country, Tessa and Lizzy hit Que Pasa, a crowded Mexican bar at Kisementi (a Kampala neighborhood), with their smaller portable answer booth. They showed the questions from Dutch participants to Ugandans. Videos were watched with astonishment, disbelief or amusement. People picked out questions they want to answer.

At Que Pasa: Lizzy shows Charity the video of the Dutchman asking Ugandans to “stop fucking around.”

At Que Pasa: Lizzy shows Charity the video of the Dutchman asking Ugandans to “stop fucking around.” (photo by Realiteitbureau)

“I’m answering this one,” says Charity Atukunda (27) determined. The cultural coordinator at the Alliance Française just watched the video of a Dutchman telling Ugandans to “stop fucking around and do something.” Her answer is a well-expressed, nuanced explanation of the difficulty for so many Ugandans who, without government support, try to uplift themselves daily from poverty. She smiles in the camera, thanks the man for his question and invites him to Uganda, and feels relieved afterwards.

This is the aim of TruthAgency: creating an experience of semi-live participation in knowledge exchange, and offering this experience to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic background, nationality or educational level. Humanizing information goes a long way in establishing connections with “the other side”. Let’s see in which countries the booths will pop up next.

All of the questions and answers are coming soon on
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This Woman Has Designed a Map for Visitors to Explore Kampala with Confidence

Kirsty Hendersen is an accomplished explorer. She now has three African city maps to her name that are making foreigners settle in their new cities with ease. She is the brains behind Map of Kigali, Map of Addis and now Map of Kampala.

“Many cities of the world are well mapped, and often you’re given an excellent map on arrival at the airport. This isn’t the case with most African capital cities and I wanted to create quality maps aimed at new arrivals for the cities in the region that I know and loves.” Kirsty explains

According to Kirsty, capital cities of African countries have been neglected a bit by the world of mapmakers who focus on fun, tourist-oriented maps – something that she is working hard towards changing.

In 2010, she started Living in Kigali, a popular website in Rwanda that is fills a hole in online information about Kigali for both expats and tourists. The site is a one stop centre for all things Kigali and Rwanda in general. From there, she saw a need for a good map of her adopted city and she created The Map – Kigali, the first in what has become a series of maps in the region.

The map has almost all significant landmarks in the city. (Photo by Kirsty)

After the success of The Map – Kigali, she then turned to Ethiopia and did ground work to create a map of Addis Ababa. Ethiopia proved to be a very difficult place to do business, so the map wasn’t printed in as large numbers, but it was still a success and won a ‘Highly Commended’ award from the prestigious British Cartographic Society in 201.7

“The Map – Kampala is the third map (after Kigali and Addis Ababa) in what I hope will be a series of maps of African capital cities aimed at making life a little easier (and more fun!) for foreign residents, tourists, and even lifelong locals.” Kirsty explains.

The Kampala map took around a year and a half or work involving a baseline survey of the city, moving around the different corners of Kampala to get to know neighbourhoods and discover interesting places, asking the locals about key restaurants, lodges, tourist attractions, landmarks and learning about everything in the city that might be helpful to a new arrival or someone who wants to get to know Kampala a bit better.

“I’ve tried to make this map professional, user-friendly, fun, and super useful. It’s the map I wish I had when I arrived as confused a visitor many years ago.” She explains.

The map is sold at key shops around the city (Photo by Kirsty)

The map has hundreds of pieces of handy information crowd-sourced from all kinds of Kampala residents and researched in-depth. It aims to show a whole new side of Kampala including eating recommendations, information on what to do, tips for new arrivals, and anything that will give people the confidence to get out and explore the city in the hopes that visitors will venture beyond the usual expat and tourist hangouts.

“It’s printed on water- and tear-proof paper, so that that it doesn’t disintegrate in your hands as you wander around town. I hope that it’s clear that the map shares my passion for Kampala and I’ve put a lot of effort into making it a beautiful product worthy of a place on your wall,” Kirsty explains.

The map costs 30,000 UGX and is available in major bookshops, restaurants and coffee shops around town for example Endiro Coffee Shop, Bushpig, Prunes, Definition Africa, Aristoc, 22stars, Fang Fang Hotel, Design Hub, Explorers Hub and Kona.

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How Kakooza is changing perceptions about mental health in Uganda

Liz Kakooza has struggled with depression herself.  She has had it ever since she was a child. She never knew depression was a very big issue until 2015 when she was diagnosed with it and had to be in constant monitoring by a psychiatrist.

However when she recovered, she realized that there were no organizations doing work to address the mental health issue in Uganda at a time when many cases of depression were on the rise.

“I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and having experienced stigma first hand and with the lack of access to adequate mental health care in Uganda, I made it my life’s purpose to raise awareness around it which in turn will address the issue of stigma.” Liz notes.

The mental health situation in Uganda

In 2006, The Principal Medical Officer in charge of Mental Health at the Health Ministry, Dr. Sheila Ndyanabangi, had predicted that there was going to be a significant increase in mental health illnesses over the next years. In 2016, The IOGT International reported that there had been 500% increase in mental disorders in Uganda.

Globally according to the World Health Organization, One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

Stigma associated with mental illness also is a significant barrier to care. People with mental health problems are amongst the least likely of any group with a long-term health condition or disability to find work, be in a steady, long-term relationship, live in decent housing and be socially included in mainstream society.

Liz Kakooza’s past experience fighting depression inspired her to start Tumaini Foundation

Founding Tumaini Foundation

“I started the Tumaini Foundation after identifying a need in the Mental Health space in Uganda and the continent as a whole.” Says Liz Kakooza, the Founder and Executive Director of Tumaini Foundation, World Economic Forum Global Shaper for Uganda, A Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Fellow 2017 and a LéO Africa Institute‘s Young & Emerging Leaders (YELP) Fellow. 

Tumaini Foundation’s approach is threefold aimed at raising awareness and address the stigma around mental health, improve access to health care for people living with mental health issues and influence and implement policy and legislation around mental health.

“In my journey of recovery, I have learnt that true recovery comes from helping others going through the same challenges which is why I started Tumaini Foundation.” Liz states as she recalls her story.

Tumaini Foundation’s focus is also on addressing stigma. Liz through her foundation believes that stigma comes from a place of ignorance and by educating people about mental health, everyone will be able to address the stigma around mental health which will have a ripple effect and open doors for our initiatives.

However the journey to launching the foundation and starting her work has also not been easy. Liz has not yet been able to identify many stakeholders in the mental health space in Uganda as the topic remains not talked about

Uganda on the other hand, has only one psychiatric hospital to handle all mental cases from across the country which becomes a very big challenge for individuals like Liz.

As Daily Monitor reported, Butabika National Referral Mental Hospital (commonly known as Butabika hospital or Butabika) is Uganda’s second largest hospital and the centre for mental health treatment and education in the country. The hospital may house anywhere from 700 to 800 patients at any one time, although it was built for a capacity of 550 patients.

Kakooza is giving hope to people going through depression to open up for help.

But that has not stopped her from achieving her goals.

“I have used crowd funding techniques and engaged partners in my networks to get the ball rolling to change the conversation around mental health in Uganda. The message has spread further than anticipated to even different parts of the continent.”- Liz notes.

Currently, the foundation has a number of projects it is running. Recently, the foundation was able to start work on its first treatment center Africa Retreat Center (ARC). ARC is an intensive out-patient facility and rehab center. It offers different treatment and rehabilitation programs for people living with mental health disorders and addiction issues.

Other programs by the foundation include; Tumaini Combat whose aim is to work with the army, Tumaini Woman which addresses mental health issues prevalent among women, Tumaini Ingane which addresses the onset of mental health challenges among children and Tumaini Lifeline; Which is a suicide & crisis counseling hot-line.

“We plan to roll-out an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) where we will work with employers (corporations & private businesses) to address mental health challenges in the workplace and to develop mental health policies.

With the Tumaini Foundation, Liz believes that it is through sharing of personal stories that the foundation will be able to change the conversation around mental health. In this spirit, the foundation is slowly rolling out several communications initiatives e.g. a blog that will be live soon to share stories about mental health that are within the African context.

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Meet the Ugandans on the TEDGlobal 2017 Fellows list

A playwright, an Investigative Journalist and a former refugee living in Uganda are among the new class of the TED Global Fellows class of 2017.

The three are among the 21 fellows, ten of which are from African countries like Somalia, Nigeria, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Egypt and Liberia that will each, deliver a talk at this year’s TED Global gathering this August in Arusha, joining 436 other fellows from 94 countries around the world.

Below, get to know the new group of Fellows who will join us at TEDGlobal 2017, August 27–30, in Arusha, Tanzania.

Judith Adong

Adong is a Theater/Film Creative Director, Writer & Producer, who creates captivating plays and films that provoke and promote dialogue on social issues affecting underprivileged groups. Judith’s outspokenness has led her to create work that provokes dialogue and social change on issues ranging from LGBTQ rights to war crimes. She is also the artistic director of Silent Voices Uganda, a not-for-profit performing arts organization.


Yasin Kakande

Kakande is a Ugandan journalist working undercover in the Middle East to uncover the human-rights abuses of migrant workers. His autobiographical novel The Ambitious Struggle, is a fascinating and gripping account of life in the United Arab Emirates, as seen and reported on by a Ugandan journalist resident for over a decade in Dubai. The first such account of its kind, in outlining the duties he was assigned (in print and broadcast media) and the news events that made it (or did not make it) into the print and and broadcast media, one gains a keen look at the points of sensitivity in the complex society of the UAE.

Robert Hakiza

Hakiza is of DRC origin. He is the Co-Founder of Young African Refugees for Integral Development (YARID) an NGO based in  Kampala that is uniting urban refugees through avenues like sports, English classes, and vocational skills training in order to address social issues like ethnic conflicts, unemployment, public health, and lack of access to education.

Refugees that YARID serves mainly come from the Great Lakes Region: Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.Hakiza and his colleagues are helping these urban refugees learn new skills.




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