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KARAMOJONG - A PEOPLE OF INDOMITABLE SPIRIT

Caroline Kuno is a member of the Karamojong Tribal Nation of Uganda, and she came to New York for the 2013 Project Access Tribal Link training; held for the 12th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII).

Caroline is a representative of the Women's Environmental Conservation Project (WECOP), which formed in 2001 as a non-governmental indigenous women's organisation - aimed at improving the plight of the indigenous People's of Uganda through education on HIV, domestic violence, and sustainable living. Caroline's role at WECOP focuses on conserving and promoting the practice of indigenous traditional knowledge, training on human rights, issues; and self-sustaining projects for her community.

Unfortunately, Caroline's people - the Karamojong - are the most marginalised tribe in Uganda; and even other indigenous tribes often look down upon them as being less 'developed'. The National Illiteracy rate in Uganda is 33%, but 88% of Karamojong people are illiterate...and a full 90% live below the National Poverty line of a mere US$1 per day. The Karomojong are also ranked the lowest nationally on the Human Development Index....but the sad state of Affairs does not end there.

The Karomojong also have the highest school drop-out rate, the highest infant mortality rate (currently a shocking 105 deaths for every 1,000 live births - or a 10.5% mortality rate!); and the lowest life expectancy rate - with 47 years being the average maximum age her people can expect to reach.

Most Karamojong can only afford to eat ONE meal a day - the morning meal, before leaving home to work all day.....few in the Western World can even imagine having 'only' one meal in an entire 24 hour period!

Historically the Karamojong were ardent pastoralist, but climate change which is severely degrading traditional cattle pasture grazing lands, is compelling more and more of these proud people to also become agriculturalists.....but there is just one problem...the same climate change phenomenon is causing un-precedented flooding due to severe rains in what was previously semi-arid lands - and the very crops which they are attempting to grow to supplement their livelihoods are likewise being destroyed....a real 'catch 22' situation - or perhaps better explained by the expression "caught between a rock and a hard place".

Still, as Caroline said to me in her soft sweet voice: "It does not matter, we have always been pastoralists - and we shall always be pastoralists; we will never abandon our culture."

I asked Caroline what she thought about her Project Access - Tribal Link training that she received this year, and this is what she had to say: "Well, the training was very good, it helped me to understand a lot because before I came I did not know how the UN process really worked. I especially liked the training on the Nagoya Protocol and the Nature Conservancy - as well as segments from Columbia University, because these were very interactive, and this format helped me to feel more involved and thereby I grasped the information faster. I definitely feel more confident and informed as a result of this Project Access training - so I think it is really invaluable for any indigenous leader or worker to have."

Damon Gerard Corrie
Founder & President of the Pan-Tribal Confederacy of Indigenous Tribal Nations, Co-Founder and President of the registered non-profit Caribbean Amerindian Development Organisation (CADO) - which was itself created as a direct result of 2012 Project Access Training - the motto of which is "Dedicated to the Preservation and Promotion of Amerindian Cultural Heritage, and the Hemispheric National Implementation of Internationally recognised Rights of Indigenous Peoples"
He is also the CARICOM Commissioner on the Indigenous Commission for Communication Technologies in the Americas (ICCTA), a member of the Working Group on the American Draft Declaration with the Organisation of American States (OAS) since 2000; and a registered participant of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) since 2008, and Chief of the Barbados chapter of the United Confederation of Taino People (UCTP).

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