When people ask Christin Oldebraaten (39) where she comes from, she answers: the village of Mitandi in the Rwenzori mountains of Uganda. ”That normally triggers their interest”, says Christin, who spends her spare time raising funds for development projects in the area.
July 2002: Christin asks the driver to let her out below the village. She wants to walk the last bit on foot. Crossing the sloping fields, she approaches a woman, hard at work. The woman sees her, puts the pickaxe down and squints. Then she shouts: “Masika Christin! Masika Christin!” and runs towards her shouting to the other people working the field to join her.
“It was very emotional”, recalls Norwegian-born Christin of her return to Mitandi, five years after her last visit. She was only 11 years old when her family first moved to the Ugandan village, perched at 1800 metres on the lush slopes of the Rwenzori Mountains –the Mountains of The Moon. Originally, her carpenter father Tore Oldebraaten was hired by an aid agency to build 10 primary schools in the area. The year was 1987.
“The plan was for all of us to leave when the schools were built, but we all fell in love with the place,” says Christin. So the family stayed on, continuing to assist the local community on a private basis. In 1990, Christin left to attend secondary school in Norway. In 1997, in the wake of spiralling violence in the entire Great Lakes region, her parents and younger sister Anette were forced to leave Mitandi too.
Upon her return in 2002, Christin found a devastated community. Years of recurring violence and instability had taken a hard toll on the people of Mitandi.
“On my first night, people gathered in the remains of my old family home. Those who did not find room inside were standing outside, in the pouring rain. The atmosphere was subdued, as the villagers told me about all the people who had been killed and everything that had been ruined since my parents left”, says Christin.
From nostalgia to action
She was travelling with three mountain climber friends. The trip to Mitandi was just to be a nostalgic stop on the way, between climbing the more than 5000 metre high Mt. Margheritha and other peaks in the region. But seeing the devastation in her beloved childhood village, and the complete lack of assistance from the Ugandan government and the international aid community alike, she new she had to do something.
Since then, Christin and her parents – who decided to move back to Mitandi in 2004 – have assisted the people around Mitandi through various privately funded health, school and energy projects.
“We began with a sponsor-a-child scheme, that allowed private individuals to pay for necessary school supplies. Then we decided to expand. Currently we are re-building the old clinic, adding a brand new maternity ward. Giving birth in a health centre greatly improves the chances of survival for both mother and child,” says Christin.
Midwife Norah – who was working in another part of Uganda, but had roots in the area – heard about the improved Mitandi Health Centre, and wanted to return to her homeland to work there. Thus the next project was born: Sponsor-a-professional – a scheme providing funding for salaries. During 2014, Christin is determined to make arrangements for doctors to come to Mitandi and work for a few months at a time.
The latest addition is a small library at the Mitandi primary and secondary school, promoting literacy and providing class sets of books supporting the national curriculum. The librarian’s salary is also paid through the sponsor-a-professional scheme. All projects are developed in close cooperation with the local community. “My family works entirely on a voluntary basis. Administration costs are zero and we raise money on a case by case basis,” explains Christin. Her parents earn a living from letting out three small cabins to visitors, but spend most of their time managing the projects.
Christin works with digital communication in a Norwegian finance and insurance company, and promotes the projects at Mitandi in her spare time – in between caring for her young daughter and enjoying the mountains and great outdoors in Norway. She travels to Mitandi as often as her schedule allows, and manages the Mitandi web site – actively utilizing social media to raise funds, as there is no marketing budget.
Clean, renewable energy
“Now we must bring stable, renewable electricity to Mitandi”, says Christin. This is where ECOHZ comes in.
“What Christin and her family have done in Mitandi, shows how much you can accomplish with tons of dedication and a just little bit of money. I find that very inspiring”, says Managing Director in ECOHZ, Tom Lindberg, who has been following the work of the Oldebraaten family for several years.
“This is a project very much in line with our thinking in ECOHZ, and have over the past few years made smaller contributions, including support for a solar light and charger pilot project. ECOHZ has now decided to support the financing of a complete solar energy system for the Mitandi Health Centre. The installation will be complete early in 2014,” continues Lindberg.
For a company wowing to “change energy behaviour” and contribute to a swift transition from fossil to renewable energy, it makes sense to support the introduction of solar energy at the Mitandi Health Centre.
“One thing that Uganda and many other developing countries possess is an abundance of renewable energy sources. All they need is the means to harness it,” says Lindberg.
“During power cuts, the midwife must sometimes use torches and the light from mobile phones or candle when assisting women giving birth at the clinic. Stable electricity will make a world of difference to the centre,” says Christin, pointing to the fact that, for instance, medicines can be refrigerated more safely and the laboratory will not be dependent on erratic, expensive and polluting diesel generators.
Read more: www.mitandi.com