Passion. Pleasure. Pain

It is one year since I made the decision to walk out of what is commonly referred to as  ‘gainful employment.’ When I asked google what it meant, this was the response I got. ‘Employment situation where the employee receives consistent work and payment from the employer’

Never mind that I thought gaining can be in other ways, you know, knowledge, dream chasing, etc? Well, I was wrong-“serving to increase wealth or resources”

wealth, wealth and more wealth. I could argue though that wealth is more than just assets, right? Perhaps,another day.

One Monday two years ago, I opened something that would change my life-forever. At that point, I did not know this, only the author of life did.

Before I knew it, I was in love with these children who fit perfectly in my heart. It seems like their spot had been there all along.

I found myself spending lunch money on a boda boda ride to visit them, work hours to plan for them and weekends to do all the above with anyone who was willing.

40-40 was quickly becoming my life and although I recognised this, I needed to work, survive and be ‘normal.’

It wasn’t very long before I realised that I was biting more than I could chew. By day, I was keeping the social media pages active, running to hospital to visit a sick child, meeting potential partners and countless things in between. By night, I was writing business plans, editing marketing strategies and looking over proposals for the job that paid my dues.

I always told my boss “I will have it sent to you by end of day and by this I mean midnight.” As a result, my emails to him usually had the 11.58pm time stamp. I felt like superwoman. I was chasing my passion and doing my job, surely it couldn’t be that complex, right? Wrong!

My system began to crash physically and emotionally, relationships quietly crumbled and at any one time, I was under pressure from not one but both ‘entities.’ It was a nightmare!

Crossroads

Most of the people who cared about me expected me to ‘snap out’ of this ‘charity thing.’ Explaining my predicament only proved them right. “Focus on your job,” was the easy response.

Here I was-a journalism graduate writing business plans after failing to find work in ‘my industry,’ a ‘mobile mind’ that jumped at any opportunity to work out of office and ‘multi tasker’ who could not even realise when to ‘give up.’ Something needed to change-fast.

Decisions…decisions

I decided that I would not think about how to survive or what the future held, not too much at least.

I had not consulted anyone before starting the 40-40 journey. I took it then invited people to take it with me. It somehow worked.

I made up my mind to leave the job on my own and hoped that those who mattered would understand my decision and support me.

When I sent that resignation letter, I felt a strong sense of peace and a similarly powerful sense of panic. I am all about the optimism so I had to make sure the positive outweighed all other depressing thoughts. *breathe*

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

What next?

I needed some time to think, take a journey of self discovery and come back ready to do the job I was made for.

That was not to happen, not quite at least.

I no longer had ‘work’ as an excuse so structures had to be set up, plans made and as much as possible and we needed some evidence of progress, right? Okay. *breathe*

The Marathon

The events that followed were mostly miracles and if you believe in signs-these were the ‘loudest’ signs you could find.

I do not take credit for these. Many nights I went to bed and had this to say to God. “Really?”

When I quit, I barely sat for a week, ‘scattered brains,’ as we like to call them were at their best(worst?)

We planned a team building at one of the team member’s homes. While there, we had a speaker who among many things said, “ Why do you keep acting like a small organisation? You have grown, by now you should even have an office.” The irony! When I leave work is when you bring up such things? Thanks!

That night I went home and told mom. She knew someone who was leaving an office just next to theirs and gave me the contact.

Within three weeks, together with my friends and family, I had the ‘millions’ required to pay for 6 months rent. The rate would be ‘good’ because the former tenant put in a good word for us.

That was just the beginning.

Most of our events brought in about 5 million shillings (total) by then, Hoops for Grace that September brought in 5 million UGX as the surplus..

We would then have our most successful online campaign the following month, dubbed #BuyABrick- for a dormitory we were building. It raised 8 million shillings (cash) in 10 days on facebook and twitter. Period.

The following month (November) came with the inaugural social media Awards. 40-40 scooped the award for “Best Campaign” in a category we were certain we would not see light of day in. Why? The household names we were up against-Coca Cola, MTN and Airtel. How??!

As the year came to an end in December, I would be recognised as the “Heroine of the Year 2013” by the Young Achiever’s awards.

In three months,40-40 had had more ‘action,’ than I could contain. If the universe was sending a message, I had received it loud and clear. Wouldn’t you agree?

What lessons can I share? What do I wish I knew? What does this experience mean?

If at least one person can believe with you and go the extra mile, you are onto something

The 40-40 greater family is in thousands and that looks good-on paper.

The naysayers are lurking around, perhaps even one in three. To keep the main thing, the main thing amidst life’s hurdles is extremely difficult but NOT impossible.

Two years ago I met Joseph* In fact, he was one of the only people on the team whom I did not know from ‘my past life’ (Everyone else was a friend or at least an acquaintance)

He was dedicated,you could see that. Him and I were (are) also very different.  It took a while for me to get used to him, one of the reasons being >> ‘tasemba na kyo’ (loosely translated to mean, he always has the last word) even when it is obvious he is wrong. (in his defence, I also drive other people mad so…)

Let me even give a ‘real’ example. This one time he knocked a policeman (poor boy was on his way to a 40-40 meeting) and as he narrated the story to us, he seemed to suggest that the policeman (who was on foot) is the one who knocked Joseph’s car 😀 <<< see?

Well, he happens to be one of the most loyal members of my team

For almost two years, he braved Entebbe road traffic and a demanding bank job-to attend our weekly meetings(in Kampala) that often end at 9.00p.m as well as having a key role at all our events.

A couple of months ago when African Hope Network offered to support me and 40-40, my opening request was that they facilitate me to hire an accountant.

The first time I mentioned it in a meeting, a few people nodded, some weren’t sure. Joseph*  on the other hand sent me a message that night saying he would quit his job and join me- full time.

What? how? why? when?

I spent the next fortnight giving him all the reasons why he should not make this drastic decision.

I needed him to be sure. I was living a precarious life and did not want to carry any ‘casualties’ with me.

He did not budge.

Well, as I speak, he is my first real ‘employee’ and we haven’t killed each other…yet.

So you can say I am a boss-ish.

Speaking of bosses…

I do not consider myself a boss, it will take some time before I get the hang of it. When I was younger, I knew I would support a cause like ours, not be at the helm of it. See the universe playing tricks again?

Even with the titles Afande, CEO/ED/KCCA/UPE etc that we joke about, I see my team as equals. Some older, some younger but nonetheless, we are all 40/40.

My friend Gloria introduces me to everyone as ‘My boss Esther.’ The most awkward one was recently when I was at her ‘actual office’ and her ‘actual boss’ walked in. “Meet my other boss, Esther,” she calmly said. The expression on his face-priceless!

It’s all about the money, money, money…NOT

For the past nine or so months I have had interviews on t.v, radio, print and several occasions where I have been invited as a speaker.

This is what always happens when the opportunity avails itself, in this order.
Me: Oh what an honour!
Me: On gosh! What am I going to say?
Me: In front of all those people? I can’t.

Me: I do not have anything to wear.

You would think I would be used by now. I shock myself too. Same nerves, same panic, same fear of falling and stuttering etc.

At the end of all this, I will look at my closet, grab something, head out (almost always on my trusted boba boda) and then present myself and my dream.

I do not like audiences or speaking to them but I do enjoy telling people about 40-40 and hoping for at least one convert.

There is always that person in the audience who asks malicious questions so the poker face must be intact (I struggle)

After one talk, this gentleman asked “So how do you keep your hair looking like that if you are saying you are still growing and thus can’t afford salaries?” Before I could respond he insinuated I had a rich man taking care of me *yawn*

I do not know why  people are so myopic. They barely ask what drives you or how you have come this far. When they do, it is after a snide remark about charity and giving too much of oneself to others. Frankly, it is exhausting, but when you want something badly- you begin to gnore even the greatest humps.

Let us think of a business. You borrow money from friends to start it. You ask your family to let you use the garage because you can’t afford rent. You let your employees know you will pay them when things are good but they may go without salaries sometimes. You also assure them that you will understand if they need to go after ‘greener pastures’ because they have to survive. One day, you catch your lucky break, and the rest is history. Does this make sense?

Okay, now replace business with 40-40 but envision it as non-profit but with possibilities for it to employ the brightest and the best and one day actually pay those salaries. To be honest, my team is already all these things, only difference is they are not doing it for the pay cheque- which makes it that much more awesome. Plus of course, they will be repaid ten fold.

So whereas one might recycle outfits and forego vacations or seemingly incredible employment opportunities, there are few ‘real’ things money can buy, if any..happiness and peace of mind do NOT make that list.

Now that I mentioned opportunities, I have remembered my ‘excruciating conundrum.’ After reaching the two year mark at my old job, I figured it was time to move on. I decided to apply for this one job. I actually did fit the part to a large extent.

During the interview the interviewer seemed impressed by the fact that I had managed to balance work and 40-40, until she turned it around. Wouldn’t I give her organisation less time because of my dream? I decided that would be the last job interview I would initiate.

 

After I started to do 40-40 full time, the calls started to come in. The weird bit was that most of them were management positions. I leave my ‘baby’ which is what made you think of hiring me in the first place, come and (hopefully) ensure yours succeeds and then what happens to mine? Best believe their response came with more 000,000’s than words. It was then that I would say thanks, but no thanks.

I did actually try to take part in gigs that could be done part time and at my convenience…Hmm, let’s just say it is not them, it’s me.

From my S.6 vacation when I volunteered as a teacher at an international school where most of the children were snobbish and it rubbed off on the teachers too ,(or is it the other way round?) to the internships I did for four months, every year during my holidays at University, to the office where I watched our pay being swindled and realised I can’t keep silent in the face of corruption to the jobs I have done for pay and the life that I live now- I can safely say that I have never before been as comfortable in my skin as I am now. In the past year, I have felt more ‘useful’ than I have my entire life and that is something that has no price tag.

 

 “I like the night. Without the dark, we’d never see the stars.”

Your script is different

I have friends whose lives have escalated quite ‘differently’ from my own. We are the same age, perhaps even come from a similar background. Our stories might be somewhat intertwined but often take different turns. Angella* is married with kids, Emily* is steadily rising up the corporate ladder and drives a car that costs the equivalent of what I spend in three years, Jane is in a new city each month and Brian* just got an international job that promises practically everything we dreamt of when growing up. Is this their story? Yes. Is it exciting? Yes. Is it mine? No

If society decides to judge you, their examples shall be simple and yet close to home. “Why can’t you be like your friend who……?”They will go on to tell you things about this friend whose story you probably shared in the first place. It is now ‘their’ story.

The truth is that everyone has their own story and there are no stories that can be identical, similar-yes, identical not a chance! For every ‘achievement’ {because this is subjective} you ‘should have’ attained by now, you are aware and possibly beating yourself up enough without any room for ‘concerned parties’ to add their voice.

The trouble is, though, that we often pay too much attention to the voices. These voices tell us everything we are NOT instead of reassuring us about everything we ARE.

In the end, we do not even remember our dreams or what we loved to do. We are stuck portraying everyone’s definition of success but our own. This is a cancer that can eat at you for the rest of your life if you let it.

Let your story be yours. No matter how dull, dramatic or painful it is-as long as it is yours, all else is secondary

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.”

lonely

Before I go

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking at our accounts and realised they could be better. You know how when you are broke and you remember all your debtors? It was a bit like that. I remembered that this organisation had made a 1,000,000 ugx pledge that wasn’t fulfilled. When I contacted them they said their boss had been out of the country (never mind that he was in the papers and on t.v (United States of Kololo perhaps?)

24 hours later, the money was miraculously ‘ready.’ All I had to do was pick it up, and give the 3 people who ‘helped process’ it their cut, take the 40-40 share and go. What is 1,000,000 divide by 4? Yeah. Exactly.

I told them to give us all of it or keep all of it because we would rather close shop than lose integrity. After all, dividing it amongst themselves without us, would mean more for them.Their response? “We’ll call you back.” That call has not come through since.

The truth is that so many organisations and people operate like this in this country and many others- from the lowest level to the top. That does not mean that we should condone this nonsense because it is the ‘done thing.’

On the other hand, we can’t use blanket statements like “That is why I will never help people, they are all crooks.” There is always an exception to the rule.

Change does not have to happen at once. No amount of change is insignificant.

We need to support each other and help those around us grow.

There are some bits of African culture that do not sit well with me.  I will illustrate.

A woman is beaten by her husband for years and never lets the children know, she is the best mother but most depressed human being. Very soon her daughter is 25 and engaged to be married. It is a huge celebration. After the ‘honeymoon phase,’ daughter returns home. She explains that her husband is a monster. He beats her up like he is trying to kill her. Mommy raises her dress and shows her scars. “My child, guma” (hang in there). She goes on to share the stories of what she went through.

We need to speak up..!! NOW not tomorrow.
This year has been an incredible experience for me mostly because it has opened my eyes. It has not been easy and I acknowledge that. That does not take the beauty from it, in fact, it makes it that much more worthwhile.

If I am blessed with children or people to mentor, I would like to tell them things as they are, no sugar coating- only facts!

I would like to illustrate that it is not always black or white, it can be grey.

I hope that I will teach them to understand that passion is a beautiful thing and whether you find it at 13, 24 or 60- the best gift you can give yourself is to harness every last inch of it.

discover you

God has been good. I have no doubt he put me here and gave me amazing people to ensure his work gets done. I will serve him for as long as I live.

Thank you for reading up to this point! I know just typing all this out has exhausted me.

Just remember;

winner

To dreams and more, xoxo

passion

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On becoming a champion

On November 9th last year,I watched this young lad perform. His song was fairly new and not many people knew it or him for that matter. About a handful of people were singing along while the rest quietly watched or chatted with friend.

After his performance, he walked up to me and said “Thank you for the opportunity to perform here.” I do not know if he could see the shock on my face.  Whereas it wasn’t the first time 40 days over 40 smiles had been in contact with artists at our events, it was rare that they would be the ones to show gratitude and not the other way around.

He later added that he was so impressed with the work we did, he wanted to have a concert and have proceeds dedicated to the cause on May 8th 2014.

The Champion Concert was indeed held on May 8th 2014 and Benezeri fulfilled his promise.

Big dreams

How does a 20 year old choose to have a concert on a Thursday at the MTN arena and expect people to come? There is work/school the next day and this is not the most convenient location. Also,it is Hip hop for crying out loud, it isn’t even that popular. What? You want people to donate books too, and carry them to a concert? I knew you were crazy but that is plane insane.

There were over 500 people who came out that night, they sang, danced and screamed. They watched artists who have been around for a while and then got a taste of some ‘newbies,’ they were were the first audience to listen to Benezeri’s maiden album and they were given exactly that.

Books? Oh yes, people carried books to a ‘Hip Hap’ concert, about 120 of them to be exact, in boxes even.

benezeri with gloves

There are several Ugandan artists who are comfortable with having a few hits that they are known for, which they shall perform at ‘grand events’ but the best position they can take is that of a ‘curtain raiser.’ They have no album to their name and that isn’t such a big deal because they still make money off the hits and remain popular. Other have made great videos. You look at them and can’t remember what the song was about but you know that this person invested in his product. Others shall have album launches every other day, it doesn’t matter if there are 8 songs including remixes of songs from the one before.

A couple of days ago, Benezeri decided to put his entire album online for free. That is right, all of it.

You don’t believe me? Check here Champion or here yup, FREE!

I caught up with him to find out why he decided to make such a bold move and also picked his brain a bit on music and life.

benezeri 1

 

A little over one week later,how do you feel about the show- the support the hip hop fraternity gave you and the fans that showed up for the Champion concert?





The night of May 8th seems like a dream. A recent dream.  It was such a glorious night. So many people to thank. Every musician that came through and spared a few hours to be, and perform, at the concert, I’m really grateful. I can’t remember any time I saw all those people in one place, especially just out of love and support. It was deep. Im forever grateful to the people that came through to attend the show. It was such a humbling and satisfying feeling to see each and everyone of them. The support I received after too, was special. It’s like everybody was genuinely happy for me . It’s been a rewarding experience.

 

What were some of your biggest challenges as you planned this concert?

I think the biggest challenge was finding the resources to pay for the venue, the events company and many other costs.

Lessons learnt?
I learnt so many lessons. But one of them was that if you believe and trust in God, and you back that up with persistence and a good team, nothing is impossible.

You have decided to put your album up for free download, this isn’t something you hear everyday. What drove you to make this decision? What has the reaction been so far?

As expected, I have received a lot of condemnation and criticism, but mostly from “industry” people. I have got tonnes of calls, whatsapps and messages asking me whether I’m in my normal mind frame. The consumers though, are very happy and are listening. They like the songs which is such a huge reward for me.

I put up the album for free download for many reasons. The main reason being, I really wanted people to listen to the album and share it. When I made this album, I wasn’t thinking about how much money I wanted to make. I was thinking about how much I wanted people to hear it. 


Secondly, if Kanye West or Chris Brown or even Ice Prince releases an album, I will be able to access and download it the next day.It  doesn’t matter whether or not it’s the artiste that puts it  up for download. What matters is that it is accessible and it indirectly benefits the artiste because people are able to listen and that is every musician’s greatest reward.

Next, the people that buy CD’s  don’t do so because they can’t find the song somewhere else. An avid fan will first download the songs and then if they have the money, they will purchase the CD. The 2 are not mutually exclusive. Actually, people that buy CD’s in this day and age consider the CD a souvenir or something they can look at and be proud of and keep. That’s why the “Champion” CD can also be bought at Soundcup (Garden city) for UGX 20,000.
Finally, ‘it’s not about the money, we just wanna make the world dance.’ Of course not literally, I’m not a dancehall artiste. But, I definitely will not let money cloud my judgement and decisions. As somebody said in one of the online debates that ensued after my announcement, “Open your eyes, money is not the only reward in life”

What is next for benezeri?

The next thing I’m working on is a few very nice videos for the songs I have recorded. Look out for those.

Slowly by slowly,I shall also be working on  my next album for 2016. I’m also hoping to graduate in early 2016.

What message do you have for young dreamers?

My message to young dreamers is, no one else will ever see your vision as clearly as you, so stop wasting time debating it with people and seeking their approval. Instead, get started. Also, people are fond of “advising”and discouraging. One of my favorite quotes from Kanye West is “How are you going to convince me that I will not succeed in something, by giving me an example of how you failed in another?” There’s always a first time for everything.

There you have it, follow the links for Benezeri’s free music and purchase a copy of the CD ‘for free’ at only 20,000 UGX. Sound Cup (Third floor,Garden City Mall)

Happy Listening!

Writer’s Note: If we look close enough,we shall realise that all the role models we are looking for are right here, at home-doing extraordinary things with the least resources. If we support them, their limitless potential shall have limitless results-

 

 

Against all odds

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” 

 

A confident 30 something corporate lady walked into the board room at an investment firm. She was one of four short listed candidates for a top job.

She was asked several questions among which was the popular, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” She didn’t hesitate. She explained that she could not see that far and would rather discuss the ‘now’ because it is more realistic. She went ahead to add that her past five years had been filled with impulsive decisions that made her who she was today and she would rather not play the game as it should be but rather re-invent the wheel. Her job experience was impressive and her eloquence matched it. The panelists exchanged looks and promised to call her back as they parted ways.

She was the last interviewee and upon her departure, two out of the three panelists scoffed and sneered. In short, she was not traditional enough. Only one defended her ‘out of the box’ thinking.

Yesterday as I was filling an application I got into a similar mental dilemma. I was asked for my 5 year career plan and I quickly filled all the dreams I have for 40-40. I re-read the question and realised it was personal. That meant my replies needed to begin with ‘I’ instead.  As if that wasn’t enough, the next question was “What is your long term career plan?” I am sorry, 5 years was not enough? I closed the page and moved on to other things hoping I would later be inspired.

It is about 8 months since I got out of gainful employment and it seems there is no limit to what can possibly be learnt about people and life in general. I have had to ‘cram’ responses to questions like ‘What next?’ because to them what I am doing is temporary and I should soon snap out of it.

On Saturday a close relative said to me, “ Why don’t you go back to school and do something with your life, you are not Mother Theresa, you know? ” Hehe,  the comeback for that one took a little longer than usual. However, yesterday poor Mother T (rest her soul) ‘came back’ for me. A concerned well wisher asked me what I wanted to do to grow career wise. We discussed options before he remarked, “I understand if your purpose in life is to be Mother Theresa and inspire people. I shall not hold it against you.”

He must have wondered why I burst out laughing after. It was just a weird coincidence that she had come up one more time. Is it strange that I am discomforted by this ‘association’? I haven’t even sacrificed 0.000000001% of what she did for the poorest of the poor. This is not even up for discussion (shakes head), let’s move along.

Why do we have to label everything? Why can’t someone just be who they are?

You are single or married, rich or poor, employed or unemployed, a believer of God or an atheist. When are you just you, a human being?

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” 

Joy, is 36, unmarried and more independent than anyone I know. She has had a series of bad relationships, the most recent being the most peculiar seeing as guy X ran away with several household items because he was apparently broke. She has more money than she can spend so this not so wise gentleman might as well have swallowed his ego and asked. No? Theft works better? Yes? Okay.

Before that she went from one guy to another simply to ‘fit in’ wit the married lot but she has decided to take a well deserved break.

She has reached the peak of her career, takes annual vacations and has pretty much anything money can buy. Is it her fault that she isn’t ‘settled’ yet? What is settling any way?

Society does not want to know her past. This person called society is more concerned about the ring-less finger and her poor ovaries. How shall she manage? Bambi..

Eve, on the other hand, played by the book. We graduated from University at about the same time. Months later she got married to her High School sweetheart and has two adorable children. This is how it should be done, right? She is settled and ‘knows what she wants,’ yes? So how come her and Mark only appear at church and parties together but don’t share a room in their own house? Why does she want to get a divorce but is afraid she will not get custody of her children? Is it her fault? Did she not do what she was ‘supposed’ to do?

Joy and Evelyn represent a world of women and men stuck in situations that are not new or surreal. It is just life being life and male, female, millionaire or pauper, we all have a story and it is even more beautiful if it is uniquely yours!

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” 

You, dear reader, know countless stories of people that are living a life that is not theirs, heck you might be too. The decisions you make are entirely yours to deal with. God knows all the mistakes I am constantly making are copyrighted. I shall not let anyone take the blame let alone consciously blame them!

“Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”

The business executive who might not get the job because her responses weren’t conventional enough sleeps a lot better than the rest of us who walk with our heads up high because we are conforming to society’s idea of who we are or must be.

I can’t emphasise enough the value of being true to oneself.

If you find people struggling to label you, to explain where you belong or even ‘force’ you to belong somewhere because it will make them feel better, make them understand you or worse still make you just like them, that will be a good time to slowly walk away.

The road to the top is lonely and also narrow, you decide what or who gets to take it with you.

“Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love.” 

be you

The Price of a dream

“Your dream is not big enough if it does not scare you.”

Last year I met someone who said he was interested in hearing more about 40-40. During our conversation he said something that startled me. “Sorry you lost your parents,it must have been difficult.” I was confused. “Did I say I lost my parents?,” I asked, trying to find a polite way of getting to the bottom of it. “No, but I figured the only reason you would be interested in helping orphans is because you are one yourself.” he replied matter-of-factly.

I politely explained what I was driven by and could feel the ‘dissatisfaction’ from across the table. He thought he had cracked the code but now needed to know what my ‘real’ reasons were. He kept probing. I kept cringing.

It is unfortunate, sad actually that society has led us to believe there must be ulterior motives for good deeds. Worse still is the fact that when people fail to find this motive, they will make up one for you.

I will try to ‘briefly’ (because I can’t exhaust this topic) use real life examples of incidents that ‘dreamers’ have experienced and why you have to keep paying the price to see the finish line.

 

When a NO will suffice but….

“I am thankful to all those who said no to me. It’s because of them that I did it myself.”

A musician who is starting out and needs airplay in order for the world to hear her music. She takes her music to a radio station and asks a DJ to play it. After a quick listen, he looks up and says “This is rubbish! The fact that you even thought I could play this on my radio is disrespectful. I suggest you  concentrate on something else because music is clearly not for you.”

Lies often have to be followed up with more lies so I understand why this DJ couldn’t promise to play the song then later bin it, but why not just politely say no instead of using ‘colourful’ language? Well this ‘rubbish’ musician is actually doing quite well, with several hit songs that have been played on several radio stations including the one that was once too good.

Philanthropy on the other hand is probably twice as difficult. You are forced to ‘sell’ feelings like love and empathy and then mix it up with the business angle so that the entrepreneur feels like he too is benefiting. Unfortunately, honesty is a trait that is heavily lacking among several players within and outside the corporate sector.

I was once scheduled to meet a brand manager of this company. He had made promises to support us at one of our events and verbally, the deal was as good as signed and delivered. That is until he constantly made his phone busy, sent messages that read ‘In meeting, will call back’ and generally ignored all my attempts. It is not surprising that when I used a different number, he picked up. I eventually gave up, which is what he wanted.Months later, I met some individuals who had work with him complaining about his behaviour and the scenarios were almost ‘copy and paste’.  When I gave them a brief, they told me to find comfort in the fact that he does this to ‘everyone.’ This was actually not comforting at all! Hope is good but false hope is harmful. Imagine how much time he would save himself and everyone else if he just said ‘NO.’ The brand. He is messing up a brand that he is hired to protect. He knows what budget his company has for particular projects and can explain this in one sentence but no, that isn’t as fun as sending people on a wild goose chase.

“People who lack the clarity, courage, or determination to follow their own dreams will often find ways to discourage yours. Live your truth and don’t EVER stop!” 

Oh, another offer? Yaaayyyy- Right?

Several people shall come up with incredible offers, promises and pave paths for you. They will sound pretty great and you may even start drawing your budget based on these promises. They may even go so far as to put it in writing. Hold on to that champagne. If you don’t, you may have to pop several ’empty’ bottles.

At the beginning of this year, we struggled to complete the dormitory we were constructing. We had had several campaigns and had decided if by December we didn’t have the full amount, we would just have to find other ways to raise it. So behind the scenes,I started to tell everyone I could and on this random day I got a call. A friend of mine wanted me to write a letter requesting his boss for the balance, which at the time was 5,000,000 UGX. He said he had a ‘very good’ feeling because the boss had been impressed by our work. I made sure to follow the instructions. The problem with being ‘in need’ is that you are not sure what is too much or just enough so I tried not to push too hard but still remain in his mind. Each time we spoke, it seemed like the cheque to ’40 days over 40 smiles Foundation’ would be signed that day. I only told one other person (thankfully) and then prayed and waited. Last month this friend told me the boss had been out of the country and was now back.” He approved it,” I was assured. Well, four months and a complete dormitory later, I am still waiting. Champagne does not expire, right?

 

“If you want to be comfortable, don’t try to live your dreams.”

You are no longer just an individual, you are also your product,your dream.

You have to accept that you are now Ashley the fashionista, if you are into selling clothes. People who haven’t spoken to you in years will call when they have a hot date and ‘nothing to wear.’ Never mind that they ignored all your pleas to come check out the new shop.

If you are in the entertainment industry, be sure to anticipate the ‘Can you get me a free ticket’ messages even from that guy who drives past you in his BMW on a rainy day as you walk to the taxi stage.

I can’t count the number of times I have met someone or called just to check on them only to be invaded with ‘Sorry I didn’t come to see the kids with you guys’ or ‘I know I haven’t been contributing but I follow 40-40’s progress..’ and other related disclaimers. When I can, I re emphasise that it is okay for us to just talk about ‘normal’ topics but sometimes I just listen and let it go. Speaking of normal topics, the 40-40 team which is made up of friends often diverts from fun to ‘work’ without intending to. We are at a birthday party and the food is good, music even better then suddenly you hear “I have an idea we can use to improve our data collection.” and just like that, the next few minutes shall be spent dissecting this idea and coming up with many more. *See why I always need a notebook 🙂 *

“Don’t you find it odd that when you’re a kid, everyone, all the world, encourages you to follow your dreams. But when you’re older, somehow they act offended if you even try?”

If you are doing something that isn’t conventional, then you have to get used to people telling you it can’t happen and asking you when you will grow out of it..

Once you are done with school, people don’t expect you to come and say “I have decided to make art pieces by recycling rubbish.” Your parents expect you to get value for the money they invested. Next on the agenda, is the climb on the corporate ladder. When the dreamer in you decides to make the announcement that you believe your calling is to dance and teach people to love their bodies trough dance, do not expect a round of applause. In fact, keep your armour close by just in case. Aisha (not real name) got 24 points at ‘A’ level and got a Government scholarship to study engineering. After graduation, she got a job but also  started to write more and more. She got to recite her poetry and even came out number one at some competitions which she entered. She listened to her heart and tried out contemporary dance which she loved and decided to do part time. To earn a living, she began making jewellery that she sells to friends and through her networks. All this while, her father was flabbergasted while her mom was supportive, or so she thought. Before long, her siblings called her for an intervention and explained that her parents were worried. “Not my mom, she interjected.” It turned out her mom was just not bold enough to tell Aisha to her face that she didn’t support her life choices. Aisha isn’t driving a sports car or working for a top engineering firm but she is happy. This is what should be important to her parents and everyone who loves her , but it isn’t.

Of course they mean well. Their expectations are high and they feel like she is ‘wasting’ her brain away. I am biased, for obvious reasons. I believe if you are tired  of that office that has constant  AC,scrumptious lunch and crazy benefits 😮 and want to trade it in for a life of ‘hustling,’ you should, if only to now what it feels like. If the hustle fails, you can always come back.

“I believe ardently that you should drop everything and run toward your true self.”

I have interacted with many dreamers and they have experienced all this and more. Here are a few truths that I have learnt along the way.

 

You are going to starve so you can feed your dream.

You will forego several luxuries

It is great if your passion can sustain you

If it can’t, work until it can-

You will often stand alone

Sometimes you will cry tears, seen and unseen

You will lose friends and make new ones

You will also make false friends-

The world will give you many reasons to give up, they might even be more than the ones to keep trying

Truth is there are many great ideas, but not enough people willing to risk

The fact is the world needs you

It needs more eccentric, crazy, passionate and genuine dreamers

It aches for faith, hope,strength and dedication that only dreamers have

You need to know that what you seek is seeking you too

You have to keep telling everyone who cares to listen so the dream keeps alive

But also remind your heart, for it hears you speak-

You were born to honour your calling and if it is the only thing you ever do, you will have done enough.

Don’t find faults when you can find remedies

Allow yourself to be in the dark as you wait for the light

Share your sparkle and be so bright you can’t be ignored

At the end of the day, you are on you own.You answer to only you and the one answer I hope that you can give after it is all said and done is “Yes, I dreamed and I lived!”

sky 2

Step by step

Recently the 40 40 team and I had an opportunity to spread the word about our cause and sell some of our branded merchandise that helps us raise funds.

It was one of the most difficult crowds we have had to deal with.

Below I share some of the highlights and ‘low lights’ of the evening.

Team work

I got there a bit early and didn’t see any face I recognised so I started to make some calls.

In a short time, I had the merchandise delivered, found the table we were to use and was joined by a friend to help with the set up. Company just makes t all a little easier.

Good Samaritans

The sun was blazing and if you have been in Kampala lately, you know that is a bit of an understatement.

My friend and I camped under a tent with some ‘strangers’ and tried to get comfortable.

Before long we were joined by some familiar faces. In a short while, we had a gazebo lent to us and could start to set up with some smiles.

We hadn’t carried our banner but when a Good Samaritan gave us some manila, we improvised. It was given a personal touch with….*guess what*….lipstick! Cool friends, yes? Yes.

Panic

When we thought we were ‘ready,’ some of the merchandise mysteriously disappeared. Thorough searches and a police dog later and voila- the badges, mirrors and wristbands re-appeared! Phew

Bloopers

This is the ‘fun’ part. We tried to attract as many people as we could to our table as they passed by or generally share info about the cause. Some were polite, others…not so much.

  • This gentleman walks towards our table at a point when sales were pretty low; serious face, wearing spects and looking pretty sure.  We immediately prepare ‘the speech.’ He leans over and asks “Where is the bathroom?”  It was so sad and extremely funny.
  • This other not-so-gentleman came by and picked a badge. We told him it was 4,000 shillings. He threw it and mumbled ‘I thought it was free.’ Believe it or not, several other people thought like him or at least pretended to.
  • Two members of my team were engaged in a conversation when I noticed two guys peeking over them. I sent them away, told them to find someplace else to talk. They obliged. Then the ‘customers’ asked  “Is this where we buy the cocktails?” Hahaha, really? Right behind the t.shirts and wristbands, we were mixing cocktails according to these guys?

Not over yet

Just when I thought we had seen it all. Someone I shall call Peter came over to our table. He seemed to be tipsy, with a lot to get off his chest.

I began to tell him what we had on offer and that is when the outburst began. “You must be millionaires by now. How did you even manage to get into this event? You are such a business woman Esther.”

Me: Uhm, all the proceeds go to charity, We simply wanted to reach more people.

Peter: Shya, you are just getting rich. I heard you built a hostel and are now building classrooms.

People take years to do those things and you have done it in such a short time. Do you expect me to believe you?

At this point I realised defending myself wouldn’t help.  I simply listened and tried to smile.

His banter lasted longer than I wished. When he left, another member of the team told me she knew him from a past event. He had given her trouble because he didn’t want to pay the 3,000 UGX entrance fee and kept swearing unnecessarily.

I am not sure if this made me feel better or sorrier for him.

At the end of it all, this evening had so many lessons for us to learn from.

I was particularly pleased with the team effort and how everyone withstood the tough crowd to actually make sales and network while remaining pleasant through it all.

We exited after midnight but the learning shall probably go on for a lifetime.

step

 

 

BE Santa this Christmas

Every year, 40-40 has both an Easter and Christmas drive to make these days more special for disadvantaged children in the country.

These young people(40-40)  are even cooler because they make other ordinary days special too but you know, these just stand out more 😉

A few months ago we embarked on a project to build a dormitory at Happy Times Junior School, Luweero. It seemed like an impossible task at first but well….See what we had to do;

Ninjas be like

Ninjas be like

After all that,this is what came out of it….Not to say I built alone, but just leave me to have my building moment of fame, thanks 😀

Dorm-

So we were like ‘WOOOOOPPPP!’, Dreams come true!Let’s finish this by end of December and then we can begin on a clean slate next year.

We can’t do it alone. This is where you come in.

#BuyABrick and #BuyABag raised 10 million shillings in 12 days and gave us so much hope. This time after 8 days, we don’t even have 1,000,000 shillings 😦

It is not about the money by the way, it is about the hope, the promise, the joy when we realise this dream and  this building that can be a home to over 200 children.

What do we need? Well, I am glad you asked. 😀

Item Quantity Price Total
Doors 4 300,000 1,200,000
Windows 10 250,000 2,500,000
Concrete Stones 5 Trips 120,000 600,000
Sand 16 Trips 50,000 800,000
Cement 80 bags 26,000 2,080,000
Glasses (Windows) 400,000 400,000
Paint 12 Jerrycans 1,200,000
Labour 2, 000,000
Total     10, 780,000

We have to throw a massive party for the kids this Saturday and plan for logistics so that brings our target to about 13 million shillings.

If you can get the actual materials, we shall be amazed as well. Feel free to contact us on facebook, twitter or numbers 0777499991/0773152701.

Most importantly, we would love it if you joined us. Your time is the most important resource you can ‘donate.’

Meanwhile, this post wasn’t meant to ‘beg,’ its real purpose is to represent the before and after. Today I am ‘weeping’ because the campaign is so slow but at the end of it all, I shall have a testimony! We all shall.

Find us at Kyadondo Rugby Club during Power Fm’s ‘Phatfest’ on Friday and then  join us Saturday for a Christmas party with the kids in Luweero.

It is going to be one big celebration I tell you! Can’t wait!!! 🙂

See you before and after we have our complete dormitory and a generation of change agents!!

This is how to join in

This is how to join in

Merry Christmas 🙂

Winners: Best Campaign at Social Media Awards

“We would like to thank all our haters for getting us here.” These should have been the opening remarks of my speech at the Social Media Awards on Friday 15th November, 2013, right?

I am only kidding! We all know who got us there and we shall thank him for all of our days 🙂

The two nominations 40-40 got for these awards were a pleasant surprise. Faith said we would get the accolades, doubt shouted ‘Never!’ We on the other hand, didn’t know what to expect.

The atmosphere that evening was bright and breezy. I am not sure if I should be confessing the bit below but here goes 😉 *Types with eyes closed*

The terrific organisers of the event had an invite for me, uhm, yes, just me. I could not imagine being at the Hub ‘on my own’ at the time we were announced winners, or mourning solo in the event that we lost. We had to devise semi crafty measures *No further details* to get a few more invites.

If I had my way, the room would have had about 20 members of the team(or more) in one LOUD corner but, we got a good number nonetheless 😉

image

When I got to the venue at 6.00pm, which was starting time according to the programme, there was some activity but at the back of my mind, I figured the event would start an hour or so later. That was the case. However, with the drinks and tasty little bites at the cocktail, I am certain very few people had a chance to look at the time..Perhaps after the treats were done 😉

Roy, the entertaining MC of the night eventually got the ball rolling, and Patricia Kahill, one of the judges later got onto the stage. At this point the short but eventful evening started to unfurl as we watched and listened expectantly.

The first award was for the best blogger category. Bernard aka Beewol, who is one of our teammates, was up against some credible writers like Ruth Aine. We had our moment of ‘loud silence’ as we held our breaths to hear who the winner was. Beewol scooped the award and in trademark 40-40 fashion, we ululated and probably got ‘those looks.’ Still…yaaayy 🙂

Girls who chill with  winners be like ^^

Girls who chill with winners be like ^^

After this, we knew that only two other categories were close to our hearts, the Social justice award and the Best campaign.

We followed the programme religiously, got mini-heart attacks, pre-labour pains, short breaths and other conditions that I am afraid to put in writing for fear of being blamed for exaggeration:p

Just when it was time for the ‘Best campaign Award,’ as we held our breaths, it was cleverly skipped, leaving us disturbed and possibly numb.

Entertainment went on and I forced myself to sing along to songs, laugh at jokes and make small talk, anything to forget the ‘trauma’ ahead.

Eventually we got to the ‘Social justice’ award. We had each secretly believed this was the one we had a possibility of bagging. If anything, it defined us and the competition did not seem that stiff compared to the other but ALAS!

“And the winner is…… Barefoot lawyers….” Everything after this was a blur.
Some people took to twitter to ‘rant’ others ‘researched and gave stats of the traffic on the winner’s twitter and facebook page to understand why they won. It was too much to take in. My friend Ritah simply walked out.

We did NOT look like this at that point

We did NOT look like this at that point

Through all this, I sent whatsapp messages to tell everyone I knew had voted that we had missed out on one but would have faith for the next. That kept me occupied for a bit, then reality crept back. “What if we walk out of here without an award? I thought.

We had recently incurred losses at our Charity Bazaar. How was I to explain to the team that we had failed yet again? I needed some air so I walked out as well.

When I got to the bathroom, I found a disappointed Ritah. She told me she would stay in there till the event ended. She could not take the pressure and wanted to weep in private. “It is not fair, we deserved that award,” she said. All I could tell her was we had one more to go. I gave her a big hug and hoped to God for a miracle.

I went back inside. I wondered why we had finished the complimentary m n’ m’s. The chocolate would have been a good distraction.

In time, Seanice Kacungira , CEO Blu Flamingo came on stage with Nancy, her sister and their entire team. She gave an emotional speech which left my friends and I going ‘awww.’ This did not stop me from noticing the last three awards of the night ‘chilling’ on the side. “Would one of them be ours?”

The torture was colossal but there was nothing left to do. Breathing into the little ‘SMA’ paper bag did not do much for me either. Judgement day had come later than expected but it was still coming.

Finally it was time to announce the winner of the Best Campaign. I have no idea who handed it over or what he does, to tell you the truth I was in a daze for a while.

Who were we up against? Coca cola, MTN, Airtel and Malaria free Uganda. That must have been the first time ever those names were used in the same sentence. It most certainly won’t be the last. :D. Did I mention we are going to stalk them for sponsorship? Well….uhm, you know 😉

I do remember the camera man focusing on the scan which later unleashed a long-ish name. Could that be ’40 days over 40 smiles?’ It could be…and it WAS!! We won!! How/ When/Who/Where Which? Uhm, who cares, we did! 🙂

The pressure my goodness! I saw everyone around me get up but I couldn’t feel my legs. I let out a loud scream. For a moment, the room was empty except for the 40-40 team.

The Lord never fails his own, never!!

We went to the front; I said a few words (yawn) Let us go back to the real matter. WE WON!! The MC remarked “Indeed there are over 40 smiles!” In that instant, it felt like each of us had 40 smiles independently.

No one had screamed that much for their award, or had a crazy team smiling ear to ear until we did but let’s face it, we are not like anyone 😉

sma box

We were too excited after the ceremony to network, even when we spoke to the MTN marketing manager, there were just smiles, the photo op with the judges, also a blur, Navio in our photograph asking to also do the 40-40 sign (woah!!!) all went by too quickly.

We walked out with our excitement and had a mini celebration. I doubt I shall forget this special night any time soon. The award was great but everything it represents is so much more amazing.

Perhaps, another blog post shall be written for that bit.

In the meantime, (Didn’t get to say this in the 20 word speech), we thank Blu Flamingo for the initiative, and all the sponsors that believed and came on board, the amazing people that nominated and/or voted for us-family members and ‘strangers’ alike, the awesome 40-40 team that works tirelessly like they are expecting a reward simply because it is the only way they know how…and God who has NEVER forgotten us, as we come close to our second birthday.

ASANTE!!

Blessings 🙂 🙂 Love…love…xx

Wululu!!

Wululu!!