Two hundred and fifty Notre Dame Students attended a one-day student-led symposium on human development studies at Notre Dame on February 23, 2008. Mr. Ray Offenheiser, a Notre Dame graduate who is now the president of Oxfam America, offered the keynote. What started in September 2006 as the Millennium Development Initiative at Notre Dame University has become the Ford Family Program for Human Development Studies and Solidarity. Now in its second year of development, this symposium was the first public event of the Ford Program.

The Millennium Development Initiative was to be the vehicle through which Notre Dame would participate in the Millennium Villages Project, inspired by the work of Professor Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. It was also foreseen as a creative way to promote solidarity and human well-being with Uganda Martyrs University in Nkozi subcounty, about 50 miles west of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, and the Catholic Church’s development arm, Caritas. This moves the program beyond the Millennium Villages Project framework.

The Ford Program encourages an interdisciplinary approach to the study and practice of human development that emphasizes the inherent dignity of the human person. This is guided by the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. In this way, the Ford Program affords Notre Dame the opportunity to serve the Catholic Church through scholarship and to strengthen the Catholic Church’s service and outreach to the wider human family.

A very unique and powerful direction of this program is its appreciation for the interaction of culture and religion as well as the economic, political, social and environmental factors in the context of human development, in its service to the Church, and in its objective to build community across cultures. The Ford Program aspires not only to advance knowledge and promote innovation that makes a positive difference in people’s lives, but also to build a transnational and interdisciplinary alliance of scholars, researchers and public servants that will be devoted to alleviating extreme poverty for many years to come.

The Ford Program has three foundations: Teaching, Research and Outreach. The director of the program, Fr. Bob Dowd, faculty member at Notre Dame and president of the AFJN Board, stated recently that the outreach component – grounded in the Ugandan context, partnered with both a university there as well as the National Caritas Program, is what makes this program unique, exciting and practical. As the program grows, it may extend its outreach beyond Uganda.

Notre Dame’s efforts in Uganda are strengthened by the relationship Notre Dame is developing with Uganda Martyrs University, Uganda’s Catholic university, and the Catholic Church through Caritas. As Catholic universities, Notre Dame and Uganda Martyrs University share common values and a similar view of the human person. Uganda Martyrs University has strong programs in agriculture, public health, development studies, good governance and business. Notre Dame has strengths in engineering, the biological sciences, the social sciences and business. Caritas is at work throughout Uganda in areas of agriculture, micro-finance, civic education and justice and peace. The partnership has the makings of a multi-dimensional approach to promoting human well-being.

Research and participation by the students in internships and faculty in fellowships will directly contribute to human welfare in Nindye, site of the Notre Dame-UMU-Caritas effort and Ruhiira, site of the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) partnership. Nindye, located in Mpigi Distirct just 20 minutes from Uganda Martyrs University, was selected by a team of Ugandans that included faculty members at Uganda Martyrs University Ruhiira, located in Isingiro District near the Uganda-Tanzania border, is the site of the MVP where it was launched in March 2006. and experts on development at the United Nations Development Program-Uganda who found Nindye to be a place where there is both dire need and good local leadership.

Projected plans for the next three years include: offering research assistance positions to students from both universities, conferences on Human Development both at Notre Dame as well as in countries experiencing extreme poverty, curriculum development towards an interdisciplinary minor in human development studies, and visiting fellowships between these and maybe other universities.
This initiative speaks of mutuality and shared learning. It is the kind of engagement that we at Africa Faith and Justice Network encourage all universities and churches to follow. The human ties between the people of the United States and the people of Africa are at the very root of AFJN’s mission. The Ford Program is a win/win for the two universities, faculty, and students and a win/win for the people who are part of the outreach in the two Ugandan rural communities of Nindye and Ruhiira.

Compiled by Fr. Rocco Puopolo