Join the first annual #BoscoDinner on January 31st!

“Join us” virtually on January 31st to celebrate the 8th anniversary of our work on BOSCO (Battery Operated Systems for Community Outreach) in Uganda and forthcoming expansion into South Sudan.

Groups are already set to gather locally for dinner in Gulu, Uganda, Washington DC, and South Bend, Indiana. You can join them by simply sharing a meal with your loved ones, wherever you are, and sending us a greeting on Twitter with the #BoscoDinner hashtag.

On January 31st 2007 – the feast day of Saint John Bosco – the first equipment arrived in northern Uganda to launch emergency solar-powered internet and telephone stations inside six refugee camps. Over the past 8 years we have continued to accompany residents in Uganda as they rebuild communities after conflict and overcome isolation. We’ve now built 28 solar-powered computing centers, three solar microgrids, and curricula that has helped more than 100,000 lifelong learners learn to harness technology to protect human rights, promote entrepreneurship and preserve historical knowledge. In 2015 this work will expand into South Sudan.

This #BoscoDinner is a chance to celebrate stories from the past eight years, and reflect on what the future might have in store. It is also a chance to honor the 127th anniversary of the death of Saint John Bosco, the Catholic Saint who spent his life educating disadvantaged young people suffering the ill effects of early industrialization in Italy that very much inspires our work with BOSCO.

If you would like to support our work financially, simply hit the “donate” button at the bottom of this page and follow directions from there. No donation is required to participate in the dinner.

BOSCO participates in Rural Electrification Workshop

Tonny at UN conference

BOSCO’s CE3 Program Manager Tonny Okwonga recently participated in a workshop highlighting off-grid electrification in Northern Uganda.

The workshop, Towards universal energy access: Uganda, organized by the United Nations Foundation (UNF) and World Wide Fund for Nature-Uganda Country Office (WWF UCO) was held on July 22nd 2014. The workshop was aimed at highlighting the progress of the private sector actors in bringing off –grid electrification solutions to Rural Uganda and mechanisms to leverage private capital that can bring decentralized energy solutions to scale.

The workshop drew participants from all over the world: civil society organizations (CSOs), private sector, and government agencies. The stake holders shared their practical experiences, challenges and lessons learned in the provision/servicing the energy needs of the approximately 29 million people who currently lack access to electricity in Uganda.

Lacor SolarFrom the Press release: Energy solutions provided by members of the Network help electrify hospitals in hard-to-reach rural areas, improving maternal mortality outcomes; light up schools and improve educational outcomes for children; light up opportunity through clean reliable energy for households and communities; and – together – help make the difference in countries like Uganda in the effort to reach the goal of “Sustainable Energy for All.”

In partnership with the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development (NDIGD) and Uganda-based Educate!, BOSCO-Uganda is a strategic and implementing partner for the Accenture-sponsored CE3 project, which has electrification-and-entrepreneurship pilots at the sub-county headquarters in Pabbo, at Saint Mary’s College in Lacor, and at King James Comprehensive School in Lira. Among the uses for electricity provided at these sites are ICT labs; entrepreneurial efforts such as grinding mills, electronic repair shops and lighting for small businesses to remain open longer; and lighting and water pumping for schools. Computer-based training in ICT, mentored entrepreneurship, and renewable energy is offered
 at each of these pilot sites toward the promotion of an integrated economic ecosystem.

Pabo Energy ProductionRevenue from electricity users at each site is recaptured and held bank accounts jointly administered by BOSCO-Uganda and each community partner, with proceeds remaining in the community for future expansion and sustainable replacement of equipment.

Energy use is monitored remotely to explore useage patterns and new opportunities for efficient use.

Find more images from the Workshop here.

“Engineers Without Borders”

By: Maureen Connelly

Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is an organization that creates sustainable engineering solutions for communities in need across the globe. My EWB story begins in the Gulu District of Northern Uganda.

As a member of the Notre Dame chapter of EWB for 3 years, I have become very passionate about their mission, and want to do my part to contribute to their growth and influence. After learning about the involvement of Notre Dame Global Development with Battery Operated Systems for Community Outreach-Uganda (BOSCO-Uganda), I knew the communities in Gulu would benefit from the introduction of an EWB program as well.

The purpose of my travel was to identify problems faced by the community, and assist with the community-submitted application to become an official EWB program.

Through collaboration with Akiteng Stella (Project Coordinator for BOSCO-Uganda) we found the Coope Information ICT center fit the criteria for a successful program. The Coope community has struggled since 2007 to keep a permanent residence for their ICT center, but have been donated land for such a purpose. With support from EWB, and collaboration with the Bardege ICT for Education & Research Centre-Bardege Division, Tam Pi Diki Child & Youth Support Organization in Bungatira Sub County, and the Acholi Muslim District-Layibi Division, the community will be able to construct a permanent center on this land.

This ICT center will be open to all members of the communities to learn basic ICT skills (such as internet, Microsoft Office, and other computer software). It will also act as a central point for livelihood activities for the community, and will be a vital resource to mobilize the youth in the area and encourage them to become social advocates for themselves.

One of the most important aspects of EWB is sustainability. To this extent, all programs must be largely community driven to ensure success and future development. The Coope community has proven their determination for this project, and I am excited to see the benefits this new ICT building will bring for them in years to come.

I am very excited that I will be able to leave after my short 10-day trip having helped to complete and submit their application. Upon approval by EWB, the program will be open for a chapter to adopt, and collaborative efforts will begin between BOSCO-Uganda, EWB, and the Coope community.

This project will enhance the lives of this community, and I am very glad that EWB will be able to assist them with their future development.

For more information on the Coope community and/or Engineers Without Borders please visit the following sites: http://coope-information-centre.bosco-uganda.wikispaces.net/www.ewb-usa.org

(Special thanks to Father Joe and the BOSCO-Uganda staff, Akiteng Stella, Patrick Murphy from Notre Dame Global Development, and the Notre Dame College of Engineering for making this trip possible)

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Stella and I hard at work on the 501 application for program approval
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BOSCO and EWB Collaboration
Coope Information Centre
The room (right) previously used to house the ICT center in Coope

Towers for northern Uganda: BOSCO-Uganda Aims to Expand ICT Infrastructure

Obstacles We Face are Daunting
A typical communications tower in northern Uganda

He’s installed, repaired, or maintained 339 communications towers worldwide, has a patent for a certain type of cellular tower structure and, already this year, he’s logged over 80,000 miles of international flights. Jim Hulse and his wife Connie have endured extreme temperatures, tropical diseases, and even para-military kidnappings in their career as missionaries; a career that has brought them to nearly every continent.  Hulse, a successful communications tower entrepreneur, turned missionary tower-builder, has seen his fair share of success throughout his career. And he’s not quite ready to stop yet: Even as he nears his retirement years, he has big plans in mind as he aims to team up with BOSCO-Uganda.

Hulse, born in Goshen, Indiana, graduated from technical college and acquired several licenses in the communications field before going on to serve in the Army in the 1960’s.

Blessed with an entrepreneurial spirit, he went on to create three profitable communications businesses, including a tower business which brought him acclaim in his field as well as financial security. However, on a November evening in 1992 at his church, his life was turned upside down; a new normal would prevail for him and his wife.

“I arrived early for the evening service and was looking at a mission magazine about short term mission trips when it happened. All of a sudden a strong power from God filled the body and a vision appeared,” Hulse recalls.

“Jim, I am going to use you in the mission field,” Hulse recalled God saying to him.

“It was an awesome experience.”

After the revelation and newly-provided direction in his life, it took Hulse and his wife a whole year to completely shut down their successful business ventures. Hulse says, “It took a huge step in faith to let God provide [for] our needs and totally rely on him, not knowing how we we’re going to pay our bills.”

Life as a Missionary

Towers for Jesus was established by Hulse to build communication towers for Christian radio stations around the world. He has been told by engineers in his field that Towers for Jesus is by far the most successful and expansive organization for constructing, implementing, and maintaining Christian radio towers around the world. Committing to this work full time has come at a tremendous financial and physical cost for Hulse and his family: They have invested all their retirement savings into their missionary venture and have had numerous near-death experiences in the process.

Hulse was captured by the KGB in both Russia and Moldova, has been bitten by poisonous snakes, rescued while adrift at sea, and survived three emergency airplane landings, including an off-airport landing in Siberia. His wife lost vision permanently in one of her eyes after enduring a long and painful fungus infection which was contracted in the jungle during a tower build in the South American country of Suriname. A testament to their physical stamina, Hulse and his wife have endured dozens of long intercontinental flights every year to remote locations around the world. His work has taken him to the Amazon jungle, the most remote places in Africa, and even tiny, remote sea islands.

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Jim and Connie Hulse founded Towers for Jesus, taking them on missionary tower-building pursuits around the world

An unassuming man by nature, Hulse treads quietly with a humble, yet confident spirit. He needs some prodding before launching into missionary stories that can, at times, seem to leave his listener in a state of disbelief. It’s clear that one would need dozens and dozens of hours to hear the full breadth of experiences he has had as a missionary tower builder. Besides simply building Christian radio towers around the world—an accomplishment on its own—Hulse insists that the real work has been through his direct encounters with the people and cultures he has met along the way.

“We have helped bury the dead with shovel in hand, prayed for people with leprosy in India, fed the starving, helped the injured, given clothes to the needy and have done our best to serve the Lord,” Hulse says.

A Vision for Retirement

Having served as a tower-building missionary for over 20 years, Hulse and his wife are ready to stop traveling the world. However, unlike many retirees who envision living in a warm climate somewhere in the southern US, Hulse thinks northern Uganda is just the right fit for his golden years.

After a spring trip to Gulu confirmed his desire to spend his retirement years working in northern Uganda, Hulse plans to (quite literally) set up shop in Gulu, renovating a workshop space provided by the local Archdiocese. This space will become his hub for training a local workforce in the kind of engineering skills which are so rare in rural African communities.

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Hulse constructs the base of a communications tower.

Hulse’s primary objective will be to guide this local workforce to provide high quality construction for a network of communications towers and water wells throughout northern Uganda and possibly into South Sudan. BOSCO-Uganda will be a primary beneficiary of Hulse’s work as they look to expand their ICT and long-range Internet network further across the northern Ugandan region. To expand, BOSCO-Uganda will need a network of towers built, capable of connecting the point-to-point network which relies on transmitted micro-wave signals to share the Internet connection across all of the rural ICT sites.

Hulse’s retirement dream is not yet a reality, however. BOSCO-Uganda and Towers for Jesus are currently seeking funding that would cover startup costs for Hulse and a local workforce to establish their base in Gulu and get started on communications related construction projects.

Hulse clearly is a big dreamer and has an uncanny combination of know-how and endurance, helping him achieve his objectives in the most remote, difficult, and unlikely of places around the world. Throughout his career, he’s simply tried to go where he’s been called.

“I know we can start a great tower ministry in northern Uganda. I see the Lord opening many doors [and] I’m ready to start in Gulu any time.”

There’s no doubt that if the doors open in Gulu, the towers will begin to rise.