Be yourself. No, not like that

Do you choose your friends because of who they are, what they do or where they come from?

I get disturbed when I have a conversation whose path I can clearly tell is headed for a stereotype or two.

Some of our parents (and most of  their generation) find these conversations ‘normal’ and sadly there are many of us who have caught the bug. I will illustrate.

I met a lady I know who is  in her early 60’s and this is an excerpt from our dialogue.

Her: Where are you going?

Me: To a friend’s wedding meeting

Her: Oh, that’s nice. What tribe is her husband?

Me: I don’t know

Her: How long have they been together?

Me: About a year, I think

Her: He must be rich then

Me: I don’t know

Her: Is your friend pregnant?

Me: No

Her: What does he do?

Me: I have never asked

Her: What do you know?

Me: That they love each other and that is all I need to knoW

Even if I had answered the questions ‘correctly,’ she would have found fault if she wanted to.

What followed was a semi-fight. She lectured me on the perils of marrying someone from a different tribe and went on to give me several examples of everything that could go wrong. I told her  all the things in the world that could turn a marriage sour which trounce your spouse’ tribe.

Of course the conversation ended up being about me and why I was taking my time. “Leave that charity of yours and find a man before it is too late, people will even start to think you are the problem ” she said. “People will talk no matter what I do, at least let them talk while I do something I love,” I replied.

I know for a fact that many people think like her but they don’t always get to speak their minds. When they do, be sure to stuff a nice round object into their mouth and then give them a piece of your mind. Okay, that’s a bit much, but you get the point.

society 1

Have you ever met those people, who ask you for advice only to do the exact opposite of what you said?

Anne is just like that. She asks. “Which works better, the blue bag or the red one?” You respond with all the reasons why she should actually carry the red one. Shortly after, she walks out happily with the blue one.

A few weeks ago, Rachel called me at about 1:00 a.m. She sounded so heartbroken. She was sick and tired of her job and simply wanted to quit. Her passion has always been music and she figured now would be a good time to pursue it.

I was really excited for her because she sings beautifully and there are few things more amazing than the joy of waking up to follow your passion.

She told me about all the issues she had at work and how depressed she was.

We spoke at length but I was later quite amused by some of her worries. Even if she called me out of everyone else, (maybe because I quit my job to follow a dream with nothing. No?)it seemed her intention was to actually convince herself that her life is great and needs no alteration.

She explained that she could not face her parents whom she lives with after making such a decision (‘Oh my God Esther, how did you manage? They will kill me’) *No, they won’t but hey that is just me.*

She further told me that her ‘image’ needed to be maintained because she is smart and from a good family of professionals so ‘people’ will never understand the change (Erm…)

“My goodness, how will I survive without a monthly salary that always comes on time, on the 28th?There is no way I will miss a shopping spree or vacation because I quit my job.Also, how does an adult even live a life of uncertainty, not sure when the next big break will come? *Yes, how do those adults do it?*

This back and forth went on for almost an hour till I realised that she did not want to hear the  “Follow your dream” speech. She wanted the ‘blue bag’ that she would pick whether or not I shared my opinion.

There will always be someone who drives a better car, has a fancier job title ,makes marriage look easy,gets all the acclaim, goes to all the great vacation destinations (and takes even greater photographs)…….*insert that which you most desire*

And yet, there is a certain comfort in humble beginnings, stupid mistakes, crazy ideas coming to life because you dared them too.

I guess it is ‘okay’ to want a good life and do everything possible to get it even if it means maintaining a dead-end job as you wait for the next best thing or getting stuck in certain relationships because the other party is of the ‘right’ tribe and has the ‘right’ kind of status. Whatever it is, do it for you, not society because not only do they not really care, they also do NOT matter. (unless you let them of course)

society 3

A drop in the ocean

My cousin Jane is studying at a vocational training school in the neighbourhood. Within her first week of lessons, you needed to hide your lesu, kitenge or any other piece of cloth you had. If she got her hands on it, it would be quickly be transformed into a skirt, dress or purse. I am always amazed at how effortless she makes it all seem.
A couple of days ago, we got to talking about school and she mentioned the chores they have to do. I was particularly disturbed by the tale of Racheal*,her classmate who is living with a disability. She has to use a wheel chair for movement and can’t quite take part in most activities. Despite her obvious difficulties, she had recently been told to get off her wheel chair and mop an entire block as a punishment for being ‘lazy.’ The other students looked on in shock and when they tried to speak,(in her defence) they were given their own punishments. Why does someone who has probably got enough torture from society and inner battles have to deal with bullies in form of administrators in a place where she went to learn?
This is just one story out of many such occurrences countrywide.
Jane was still on my mind when I received communication from Joyce, the Director at Happy Times, Luweero. It started well. They got a new entrant to the school, an 8 year old girl.

I was in for a shock when I read the rest of the message.
Mutesi lived in a small village called Kamira with her mother and step father. On one fateful day, she returned from school very hungry.(many schools do not offer lunch which is an extra cost to the parents)
She tried to roast some maize but ended up fainting and falling right into the fire. When the parents got a whiff of the smoke from the kitchen, they got in to find their daughter unconscious. She was rushed to a health centre and later referred to Mulago. She lost both arms. The scars on her face are healing though the one on her chest still developed wounds. The poor girl became distressed and it didn’t help that her parents became negligent. Last Wednesday her mother committed suicide and left her with a step father who is already known for domestic violence.
It is for this reason that a volunteer rescued her and took her to Joyce.
If having to type this tale is this painful, I can’t imagine what little Mutesi has to deal with in her heart and mind at such a tender age! Life has dealt her blows that no one, let alone a child should endure.
She requires corrective surgery. The team has since followed up the case to ensure that she gets the attention she requires and deserves. Thank God for Joyce who has now taken her in!
Almost every day you read or hear about a story of someone who is dealing with pain that is bordering on surreal. Sometimes you can do something, other times it seems like a hopeless situation.
My take is simple. Try.
We are all fighting a battle whether it is evident or hidden for one reason or another. All we need is at least one person willing to say “take my hand.”

kindness 1
It is a difficult place to be, you know, wishing you could do everything for everyone who needs help. What is not as difficult is doing something no matter how small.
If what you do is simply a drop in the ocean, great! That was a drop that would not have been there without you.

ocean 2

After the dorm

“When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.”

Over a year ago when we did our research to decide which community to work with, we were rather overwhelmed by the fact that our best fit desired infrastructure worth 28 million UGX.
At the time, we did not even have a bank account. After months of relentless campaigns, we achieved our goal and put up a dormitory for 210 children.

dorm complete
I overheard someone ask on that very day when we opened the dormitory “What about beds?”
When you work for an organisation like 40-40, it is easy not only to succumb to pressure from the outside world, but also to slowly realise that almost everyone has an opinion regarding what you can do better, when and how. You may attempt to do everything and end up doing nothing at all. Striking the balance between following your heart and taking advice will often seem like rocket science until such a time when structures are stable, responsibilities are apparent, funding is stable and activities are streamlined. That day is coming soon.
I knew at the back of my mind that eventually, an ideal situation for 40-40 would be one in which; a community identifies a need. They decide on a nursery school for example. They are not in position to raise all the funds necessarily but they realise their children need a firm foundation. We ask them what they can provide. They agree to offer land and man power. We then find resources to make their dream a reality. Along the way, health workers within the area agree to visit weekly to deal with any health conditions the children may suffer. Before you know it, one of them has been employed as an in-house nurse. A single father who long since gave up on his teaching career recognises the need within his community and decided to volunteer time at the school. 40-40 partners with an organisation which focuses on early childhood care especially for disadvantaged children. They come in to give the teachers in this area skills and training specific to their situation. The list goes on. By now I believe you get the drift.
We told and retold the dormitory story. One of my favourite memories of this occurred when an article was published days after we commissioned the dorm. Evelyn was at the salon half paying attention to the music on the radio. The presenters spoke only Luganda and she didn’t even know the frequency. She would soon realise they were speaking about ‘abavubuka a’ba zimbye e’Luweero’ (youth who built in Luweero) She became attentive and contacted me immediately. I was thrilled! Brenda on the other hand stopped asking people “Have you heard of 40-40?” and started to ask “Do you know about the youth who built a dorm?” That should catch your attention! 😀
We stayed in contact with Happy Times Luweero but lent a hand to other projects we thought deserved our time and attention.
Then it started to happen!
Students who belong to AISEC, more specifically from China and Japan visited the school. They fell in love with the kids although they could barely speak any language besides their own. One 16 year old boy got malaria and his Japanese parents told him to catch the next flight home or they were coming. He was adamant. He asked to be treated at the same hospital the kids went to and stayed around for another month during which he recovered completely, feasted on posho and beans and helped with the chores.
The students then purchased beds, mattresses,bedsheets and blankets that filled the dormitory. All the children had to do was carry the other school requirements! What a beautiful sight.

Made in Uganda, in fact- in Luweero :)

Made in Uganda, in fact- in Luweero 🙂

beds
One of the reasons we built the dormitory was because the school was taking in many abandoned babies who had nowhere to go yet the space was not enough to accommodate them and the older children.
Looking at the babies’ section, it is difficult to believe that all those children were once squashed in there but then again, there is a time for everything.

Baby Harris (named after a 40/40 team member) was abandoned at 4 days. He has a home now!

Baby Harris (named after a 40/40 team member) was abandoned at 4 days.
He has a home now!

Tunyumila mu pair :D

Tunyumila mu pair 😀

When Hudani Manji Holdings Ltd (Yo Kuku) contacted Brenda about how best to partner with 40-40, we were especially excited to find out that their 64 acre factory was located close to Luweero. The natural option was for their support to be directed to Happy Times.
Since their primary product is chicken, their donation would be in kind. Fresh frozen chicken, for the kids, straight from the factory! When we informed them that the school had no fridge, they replied ‘Let there be a deep freezer that can contain 100kg!’ (not in those words but you get the drift)
Wululu! The excitement! Yes, 50kg of chicken for the children monthly. A meal they only anticipated over the Christmas holiday.
The first batch was delivered on Monday- public holiday just!

yo kuku 2

yo kuku 3

I am hungry!!

I am hungry!!

meal 2

The P7 pupils cut and cooked their own chicken after the exam. No jokes!

The P7 pupils cut and cooked their own chicken after the exam.
No jokes!

One of our findings with people who are looking after vulnerable children in this country is that they want to remain pitiful and show no sign of development in order to attract donors both local and international. Little do they know, it simply makes them ‘less attractive’ candidates for whatever help you have to offer. Sometimes they don’t know better, most times though, they are driven by greed. Like Michael has asked before ‘Can you teach initiative?’

Changing a mindset is certainly a full time job that requires years of patience.

“And sure enough, even waiting will end…if you can just wait long enough.”

The director at Happy Times, Ms. Joyce Namigadde though, tells things as they are and makes it a joy to give. Why? You get to see the developments almost immediately.
In two weeks or so, the school shall be pumping clean water after an Australian family raised $10,000 for construction of a borehole at the school. At the beginning of this year we were working on a proposal to a corporate company whose CSR was directly for water. We soon found out about the Australians who have clearly  kept their word.

borehole
As if this News is not good enough, three of the babies from the home are going to be adopted and given a chance to grow up with a mommy and daddy *clapping incessantly* 🙂
The adoption fees have been used to purchase land near the school that will be used to build a self contained house exclusively for the babies and toddlers.
There is little else to do other than give God the glory.
Hard work, dedication and perseverance pay off. Granted, sometimes it takes a while but your patience will yield fruits.

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”

What is your dream today?
#Iam4040