Associate Professor of Regional + City Planning John Harris, along with faculty and students from across the University, traveled to northern Uganda this past January. The trip was a continuation of many collaborations between the OU Center for Peace and Development and local peace-building organizations.

The OU team worked with the Women’s Advocacy Network and People’s Voices for Peace to help these organizations learn more about their members. Faculty and students engaged with more than 100 members of the peace-building organizations and asked the members about their goals, the obstacles they face with regards to peace-building efforts, and their personal stories.

Harris plans to take another group to northern Uganda in June of 2019 to repeat this work with two additional grassroots organizations. At that time, the Center for Peace and Development will also sponsor its second annual Peacebuilding Conference. The conference provides valuable networking opportunities for peacebuilding organizations across the Greater Northern Uganda area.

A focus group in action

The OU Center for Peace and Development was established in Fall 2017 to consolidate many interdisciplinary projects by OU in northern Uganda. Professor Harris is co-coordinator of the Center, along with Dr. Sally Beach, Professor of Literacy Education.

The mission of the Center is to understand grassroots peacebuilding and development and to advance local groups’ capacity for these efforts. The Center’s underlying vision is to ensure that local groups are setting the research agenda. To accomplish this, critical reflection is built in to the beginning and end of every project the Center sponsors. The researchers want to ensure that the grassroots organizations are leading all of the projects in the region, not outside interests.

OU students with Ugandan collaborators

Harris says his work furthers the mission and goals of the Gibbs College of Architecture through its emphasis on “connecting with the human spirit and improving conditions for communities.”

Sister Rosemary Nyrirumbe, one of the Center’s partners in Uganda and one of TIME Magazine’s 2014 “100 Most Influential People”, states that Professor Harris “is truly leading the way for University of Oklahoma students to develop and improve our way of life here in Uganda.”

[Featured photo: OU collaborators with Ugandan partners, January 2019]