ON THE POWER OF UGANDAN STORIES AND THE PROBLEMS THAT CLEVER CHILDREN FACE

This week is all about children and Ugandan books at the 4040 camp. To be fair, it is also always about the children 🙂

Here is what Ernest Bazanye thinks about Ugandan stories.

The problem with being a child is that no matter how clever you are, still, a lot of your thinking is being done for you. You still depend on other people to interpret things to you and you don’t know yet how wrong so many of them are so much of the time. If you are a clever child this is even worse, because you ask a lot of questions, and you ask people who aren’t as clever as you are, and they tell you things you would have been better off not hearing. Things you would have been better off figuring out for yourself. You are bombarded by perspectives and views and opinions and ideologies from all angles and, especially if you are a clever child, you won’t even be satisfied with these, you will seek others. And so you will read books. That is where the problem with being a child, particularly a clever one, becomes even more intense. There is a vast selection of books for children available now, and it’s great. It opens doors to so many different experiences that one may never have otherwise been able to benefit from. Books are great, not just because they entertain, but because they show you parts of life other than your own, and show you more of life that way. You learn. Not just “education”, but learning. Each book is a different eye through which we see a different angle of this multifaceted thing called the world. And we can put these together in the back of our minds to build a cohesive picture of this world. That’s how you get clever children to become educated and cultured adults.

Because we get so many of our books from America and Britain, what we tend to see is an American or a British life. An American or a British world. It is already apparent among grown up generations that this sort of thing takes effect and doesn’t let go. Many of us now think of modern Western culture as the default. That is how the world is. October 31st is Halloween, marriage is monogamy, kings are noble and wealthy, boys ask girls out on dates, intelligent people become scientists, buttocks are things to be ashamed of, physical beauty is a virtue and other cultural tropes which are in actuality uniquely western, are taken as universal. Then it gets worse. That is not actually our world. We fall in step and sync ourselves with it, but western culture is not really ours. There are resemblances and places where we borrow and share, but it is not really ours. It is theirs. And so when these books rarely mention our Ugandan or even African lives, and when they mention them only in regard to how they fit in with Wisconsin, Winchester of Wyoming or Westeros life, we will feel as if we have been relegated to the margins. We assumed that we were fully certified members of the world, full participants in it. And this is a portrayal of the world. Why is it that in this picture we are cast to the margins? It can cause some subconscious self-bigotry, a feeling that African lives are in fact incidental, less significant and inferior in the great scheme of things. Our literature and especially the literature that our children read is partly responsible for the idea that we are less than the rest of the world. But can you ask yourself why? Did any writer, or did any group of writers decide to create and present this ideology to us? Was there a plan to ruin our children’s faith in themselves? There have been councils and conspiracies against us, yes, but I don’t think this was one of them. I think CS Lewis, Enid Blyton, JK Rowling… all did what storytellers do everywhere. Including here in Uganda, and in Africa. They told stories, they drew a picture from their point of view and shared it and added it to the general tapestry of the planet’s stories.

Which means that the mishap was here, on our end; that our own storytellers were not doing the same. There are many reasons why so many of the fifty five years of Uganda went by without Ugandan children’s books. Now, finally, we are able to change that. We have not just one writer, but several writers, not just one book but several books, all here to tell stories, to show life, to define the world, to help shape our children’s view of it, to help them see that they count in it, that they are just as much a part of this planet’s people as every other child, and even to teach children from America and Britain a little about Uganda.

On the 11th of November, 40 days over 40 smiles Foundation will be launching a series of children’s storybooks written by Ugandans, for Ugandans and telling Ugandan stories. I was asked to write reviews, but please forgive me, I am skeptical of reviews. Too many critics get it wrong. They say a book is bad, and then the book brings joy to readers. Or they say a book is a masterpiece but the public loathes it. Ultimately, I find that you should make your own judgment for yourself. I love Wimpy Kid, but I don’t like Harry Potter, so what do I know? I loved Moses series, but I wouldn’t recommend them to younger children. Those boys used to escape from school to drink. I enjoy Winnie the Pooh more as an adult than I did as a child, and I find Famous Five flaccid and charmless. So no reviews. But I will say this. It is about time this happened. And we should be glad, proud and grateful that it did. This is a time when we need a generation that will think better than us, one that will be keener, more conscious and more ready to make the changes the world needs.

 

book launch poster

 

 

We need Ugandan books for Ugandan kids.

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My birthday wish

Every little bit of me is excited and full of cheer not because everything is going my way but because I have life and oh what joy that brings me, especially today! 😄

September is a special month for me for two reasons; it is the month I was born and also the same one I chose to take a leap of faith and leave formal employment to build my dream.
This post has a little something to do with both.
Four years after quitting my job, and 5 after starting this 40-40 journey and it is still such a struggle, so much fatigue and heartache. I am still mostly clueless and some days are longer than years.
That is the truth.
The other truth is that it is an extremely rewarding gift, that keeps giving. So many lives have been transformed, including my own and I am convinced that the best is yet to come!

This year I thought I would travel to an exotic destination to mark the passing of a decade. After a while, I joked to my friends that all I wanted for my birthday was money. I have a long list of needs and I would help them help me. They gift me with cash, I buy stuff I actually want/need instead of a gift I might just look at, unable to re-gift it or use it. In my genius plan,everyone wins😛
Buttttt…there are some things more important to me  than the Maldives and Jimmy Choos.
One of those things is the dream that is 4040. A chance for all of us to play our part to make the world a better place.
I now have a birthday wish that is less about me and more about some beautiful children, some of whom I am yet to meet- getting more resources to make their lives better and we can get them there-together!

A month ago, I signed us up to this platform called Global giving. It presents an opportunity for people all over the world to contribute to causes they believe in and you stand a chance to have your donations matched.

The catch is that we need to raise a minimum of $5,000 (approximately 18 million) to stay on as permanent partners and receive access to new donors.
The other catch is that we have until 29th September to make this happen.
This $5,000 will bring us closer to our dream of setting up learning centres for vulnerable children. These centres will have books,toys, computers and learning aids availed at absolutely no cost.

You can watch a short video that summarises our dream here

These centres will also give individuals an opportunity to train children in different skills.
You get to spend your free time and weekends teaching the children an a centre near you how to play guitar, code or fix a car. The opportunities are limitless!
These children will not only learn but also get exposed and hopefully inspired by your success stories. These activities will also keep them occupied instead of being engaged in child labour or crime.

The first centre will help us test various interventions, learn and improve so that we can put up many more for children who most deserve it.

So how do we do this? We do it together!
You can follow the link and make your donation here. 

Will you be our first? 🙂

Donations can only be made online using a debit/credit card.

I do have another suggestion though. If your preference is mobile money and it is what you can access easily, we can make it happen too.
I am happy to share my number (which is registered in my names so your heart is at rest) 077-749-9991

Every donation that will come on there shall then be converted to dollars and I will find someone to donate the equivalent on the platform.
I will then send you evidence of your donation on the website.

We need 500 people donating $10 each/250 people donating $20 dollars, 100 people donating $50 dollars each or 50 people donating  $100.
That is approximately Ugx 36,000,72,000,180,000 and 360,000 respectively.

Lucky for me, I believe in the impossible; Not only because I am a dreamer but also because I have seen the power of people almost daily, for the most part of this beautiful journey.
We can do this!💪

Check out our Website, Facebook and Twitter to get acquainted with our work if this is the first time you are hearing of it.

Also, here is a picture of me doing that which makes my heart leap for those who don’t know me personally but will come across this blog post.

Es black and white

Please join me to make my birthday wish come true.  So many lives will be better for it.

Thank you in advance!

Angaza

I have not written here in so long. What better way to come back into the game than with a piece of writing about something I hold so dear?

For context, ‘Angaza’ is Swahili for shine/illuminate. We chose it to represent all the light the children we work with will beam into the world. Our Angaza program is not just about children learning to read and write better, but also changing the world in their own little ways.

I will not say much more. Let me go ahead and share this beautiful piece by one of our volunteers.

 

Let there be light that burns like the midnight oil

Like candle wax that drips like sweat

Or the tears of a parent

Or the glint of rainbow hues

Sparkling through the dews on morning grass – bare cracked feet swooshing past

Wading through swamps – feet lifted dainty like the hem of a skirt

Trudging over hot sand – one eye out for snakes and such…

It is said that in the olden days, finding knowledge was harsh

Now we realise that it’s gotten much worse

But beneath the light of Angaza –

Watch how the ground is compelled to split in half

How the seeds that fell along the path and on the rocks and among the thorns-

Sprout and curve

Stop a moment and make low bows to the clouds

Discern then how their branches rapidly spread

How the roots reach for further depth

These roots of seeds that refused to be eaten by the birds;

Or scorched by the sun, or choked at the neck

Like a tenacious truth

First whispered in a quiet room

Swelling and gaining strength and attaining shape

Till one day they’ll hold sway over cities and hills and plains

Casting their shade – dropping their leaves in a gentle hail

Healing the turbulent;

And spelling doom to fear and ignorance.

 

So let us then;

We Guardians of this Light never let it blaze in vain

I too by the power of Angaza have been compelled

Heartbeat, quickening in tune with the way our minds race

Fist pressed close against the chest

Glance lifted like the chin

Hallucinating in retrospect

Writing this vision like a letter and spreading the word

 

Thursday..

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Originally posted on Thursday 6 April

It is Thursday, my most ‘predictable’ day of the week because I am sure how it will end- with a 4040 meeting.
I often schedule appointments around it..If anyone wants to have wedding meetings with me involved, I ask that Thursday isn’t an option; if there is an invitation on a Thursday, I make an exception only if it is really important or if I know my presence will make a difference.
Everyone who knows me, knows this bit of my schedule. *If I owe you money, this is all a joke👆*
This bond has lasted longer than some relationships. We stick together. Before the meetings we are catching up, during the meeting we’re being a menace to the chairman and after the meeting we are saying goodbye but really staying. <cue song- Everytime I try to leave, something keeps pulling me back…🎼🎶🎵>
Even when I am unwell, I force myself there. I know that a night fight or disagree, but we all want the same thing-to create change and that is priceless.
Today it rained in the evening and there were some cancellations as expected but still 14 friends were there to discuss over tea and snacks, sharing ideas that we hope will change lives.
We used to meet on Tuesdays, then two members enrolled in a Master’s class that required them to study on Tuesday. We moved days and never looked back.
We have had ‘5 homes’ where we have met for 5 years.
Some members have settled down and stopped coming, others have settled down and still come; some are single and searching..others are single and being searched..and some..we don’t even know..and it doesn’t really matter. What we know is a have each other.

I don’t know what this picture will look 5 years from now and to be honest, that doesn’t make me lose sleep at night (as much as it used to) I am basking in the now..and the now is beautiful!

It speaks of dreams and rainbows, pain and lessons, love and loss, hard work and loyalty. It provides so many things I never even knew I wanted, that fit right into this life of mine.

 

I probably didn’t do much in my own power, to deserve this blessing that keeps on giving..but one thing is for sure; I will do everything in my power to keep it, to keep them.

Past joys

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Today’s entry has come so easily.

On this day, 3 years ago; I posted this

Originally posted on 5 April.

It is the ordinary days when you get up early, run a few errands and try to make all ends meet that turn out extraordinary.
Yesterday was one of those.
At lunch time a stranger asked if he could pay for our meal (my friends and I) When he noticed my puzzled look, he simply said “Thank you for the good work you do in the community, I am 40-40.” He paid the bill and left.
We were mesmerised, to say the very least!

Later that evening, after jumping from one appointment to another-literally, I honoured an invitation to Sales pitch Night where 40-40 had a slot to speak. I arrived late, made my 5 minute pitch and joined my team at our table.

At the end of the night, it was mentioned that there had been ‘secret judges’ throughout the event and we were handed an award for “Best Pitch.”

 

The shock and elation, I can’t even explain..plus people generously donated to 4040 just based on my pitch- at very short notice!
Here I am still wowed..and amazed!
Let everyday be exciting even if it is ordinary-for God, the maker of all will add an extra to your ordinary.

Thank you Jamila for organising this event and successfully pulling it off.
40-40 team, you rock.

Bless you all.

Limitless blessings

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Real time update; From an email I received.

 

Dear Esther

Greetings from *Renewed hope family to the 40/40 team. Hoping you are all doing well. I am happy to inform you that we are doing well, the children are doing well too.
I am glad to inform you that *Renewed hope* has of late gotten a partnership with an American based organisation called *New day international. They purposely registered to work with us and in this they have committed themselves to raising money to help the running of *Renewed hope which is going to include salaries, food etc.

They are also thinking about constructing a medical facility that will as well serve the community, construct a secondary school and also buy land for *Renewed hope for farming. They hope to work with us on this in phases.

We are praying about everything they tell us as we waiting on God.

Keep praying for us. Here is a reminder that it was because of the partnership that we have had with you that the world got to know more about us, reaching this stage is a great success that is attributed to your support and good relationship with us.
Thank you.

P.s: *I edited names of people/organisations to protect their identity*

Do you see God? Always working overtime for those who love and serve him🙏

Of legends and fans

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In 2014,We were looking for a way to re-invent our music+poetry event, “Croak and rhyme.” It had been an unexpected success the year before and we needed to be more innovative.

One night, during a 4040 meeting at (now defunct😳) Cee cees restaurant,we made a list of possible artists, mostly the ones who seemed unreachable because that’s the only way we would have an edge.

Then we came up with the name “Maddox Sematimba” and suddenly there was no need for further debate. He was ‘the one’ and we needed to get him.

Some context; At the time, Maddox was living a quiet life and had not performed in ages. In fact, it was not easy to track him down because it did not seem like he wanted to be found.

For some reason, we love a challenge and the search began during that very meeting as people called people, who called other people that could lead us to the main man.

Our very own ‘Nalumansi’ took the lead on this. After several days of searching,connecting dots and a road trip to Busabala, he was tracked down. The next task was to convince him to get onto the big stage. He accepted😊

We had the headline act we were looking for and nothing could possibly go wrong, right? Wrong.
While he had many fans and 4040 was slowly growing its numbers, the cost of putting on the show was quite high. Not to mention the background drama that comes with venues and difficult people who are always looking to give a problem for every solution😥

Nonetheless, we persevered. Many other amazing musicians got on board and all agreed to perform at no cost. In fact, after making our ‘dream list,’ the only factor that would get someone off the list was their inability to accept our (zero) rates.
We didn’t hold it against them, we just couldn’t afford them and were open about it.

D-day arrived and we prayed for a successful show despite the anxiety.
That event was arguably the best organised we have had in recent times Incidentally, other people in the entertainment industry also noticed this.
A small dedicated team had put it together, under the outstanding stewardship of Nalumansi. The results showed.
Just before Maddox got on stage, Collin stood beside me assuring me that Maddox would never come for this event. We argued although I knew very well that Maddox was already in the building (technically in the gardens, at the museum)
While we were having this argument, the man himself got on stage. Walalala! Collin disappeared without a word. I, too ran to the front, to get a better view. It was the first and last performance I watched that night. The performers did a commendable job and then there was Maddox.

 


His laid back attitude as he belted those lyrics, that moment when he gave Nalumansi a shout out and the 4040 team burst into laughter wherever they were; the pause when the DJ played a beat and Maddox told him to please move on swiftly to another song; when Frank got onto the stage and sang with Maddox word for word, a if he had been part of rehearsals; it was all beautiful!
We were in the presence of a legend and he got everyone together, effortlessly.

We didn’t raise much from that event. In fact it the surplus was nominal but we did a lot more, things can’t be priced even if we tried.

Since then, Maddox has performed at several events and even released a music video after a long hiatus.
In 2015, a few friends and I tracked him down at a random bar in Munyonyo, to pay homage. By 1a.m, the stage was still rife with ‘curtain raisers.’ We sang along to songs we had never heard, got to know new artists and yawned from time to time as we awaited the presence of “our man.” We later went backstage to introduce ourselves and ask why he wasn’t coming on stage. “Mani promoter y’atutegeka..” he explained.
I really dislike starting things and not accomplishing them so I could not imagine going back home without watching at least one song.
Meanwhile, all of us stayed in different parts of Kampala and only one of us had a car that we were planning to squeeze into. This was before omulembe gwa uber😦
I remember my neighbour’s reaction vividly as we got up to leave. “Sweetie naawe togenda b’ano abalala babowa.” (Please don’t leave, these other attendees are boring)
I smiled.

I can’t say that we re-awakened his career but I would like to believe that our genuine hope, belief and interest in him sparked something within his heart, to remind him how special he is.

I hope he can release an album or two before retiring. I look forward to purchasing the copies and getting as many people to do the same. He has an upcoming show meanwhile. Everyone needs to watch him in action at least once.