Meet Rebecca Apicha: Lifeline’s Senior Program Officer, Environment

By: Nupur Savani

All of our work here at Lifeline is made possible by the incredible passion and drive of our team. We’re proud to introduce you to the talented individuals who power our work and mission. First up, Lifeline’s Senior Program Officer – Environment, Rebecca Apicha.

“In Uganda, women bear the burden of the household and are more exposed to environmental risks. My goal has been to help women and female children avoid exposure to risk when engaging in household activities.” – Rebecca Apicha

What brought you to Lifeline?

When I was at the Red Cross, I worked in disaster prevention, gender protection, and emergency responses which are all short-term approaches to complex problems. I came to Lifeline looking for a different approach. I saw that the communities were equipped with self-sustaining solutions that incorporated environmental protection while also employing and empowering grassroots level actors.

What are the primary functions and goals of the Environment team?

Our team works on the production and distribution of fuel-efficient stoves, with a goal of reducing on the environmental, physical, and health hazards [of cooking]. All our stoves are produced and sourced locally in Uganda . Lifeline’s stoves are called EcoSmart and Okelo Kuc. Okelo Kuc means “peace bringer” or “peace maker” and was named by the users who attested that the stoves had brought peace in their homes. Our stoves are designed to meet the needs and fit the lifestyle of Ugandans. Having sold and distributed over 200,000 stoves to date [in Uganda] and I can proudly say that we are one of biggest manufacturers of fuel-efficient stoves in Uganda.

Lifeline has created jobs for over 120 local artisans, almost half being women. These stoves are distributed through partnerships with local vendors – creating jobs for over 200 local entrepreneurs – as well as through NGOs, community groups, and local governments. We also directly distribute and sell these stoves to communities. It is through these direct sales that the team and I get to engage directly with the end users of our products.

The stoves reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the security risks for women that come with collecting firewood. The warm smiles of community members make the work rewarding. I feel proud to be part of such an initiative.

As the Senior Program Officer of the Environment team, what are the most important tasks of your role? What are the most challenging aspects of the role?

I oversee operations of the program, ensure production and distribution targets are met, and ensure product quality. I am also responsible for making sure that customers are receiving stoves on time and that they know how to use it and gain access to maintenance services.

The most challenging aspect of this job is community behavior change. It is difficult because it takes time. It is challenging to go out into the communities to convince community members to see the value in investing in these stoves when their traditional stoves that use firewood are nearly free. However, the benefits that the stoves bring are their biggest incentives.

 

What aspects of your role push you to wake up in the morning?

I love engaging and connecting with community members. After working at Lifeline for so many years, I can see how effective (and rewarding) community engagement is for successful programming.

What are the most important lessons about the field of sustainable development that you have learned in your time at Lifeline?

At Lifeline, we engage and work with communities through two-way knowledge-sharing relationships to build mechanisms of capacity within the communities. When you have a development model that is framed on giving handouts it does not reinforce sustainability.

What do you hope to achieve through this role? What are some ways in which your values and goals align with that of the organization’s?

My overarching goal is environmental protection and reduction of degradation through clean cooking solutions. Through this goal, the risks of sexual exploitation and abuse are reduced for women and children. Both are near and dear to my heart.

As a leader, how do you motivate and inspire your team?

When we encounter challenges, the first thing I do is listen to all of them and give them a space to vent. Then we have a space for collective involvement in finding solutions. I set targets and goals for the team and reward the achievement of goals. Appreciation and recognition are important in keeping up the team spirit. As a team, we are always keeping the bigger goals in mind, which is serving the community.

When do you laugh with the team? Where do you find joy, both in and out of the office?

As a team, we find joy when we meet our targets (which are quite high), when we going out in the communities and see our work having a positive impact.

As an individual, I love traveling, seeing nature, exploring different cultures, histories, foods. Connecting with people is what gives me joy.

Rebecca Apicha is from Lira, Uganda and pursued her education in Kampala, graduating from Makerere University in 2012 with a degree in environment management. Rebecca’s first love is nature and she finds fulfillment visiting and studying ecosystems with little or no human interference – a passion that has driven her to become an advocate for the protection and management of the environment. Rebecca previously worked for the Red Cross before joining Lifeline as an intern in 2013.