Adult education (3)

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*Third and last installment*
After a difficult first year, I dealt with a dreadful second year.
If there is anything I have learnt over time, it is resilience. You can fake it at first but eventually it becomes who you are; you hang on to hope even when reason tells you not to, you somehow manage to drown out negative energy from external sources (not always I must add) and you get up nonetheless.
You get up and you try again.
I did just that. I persevered, painfully.
I was often my best friend and worst enemy, sometimes in the same breath.
When it came to time to write my thesis, I had an opportunity to pay tribute to the reason I had got the scholarship in the first place.
I chose to write about volunteer motivation and guess what my case study was?
Yup, you guessed it! Forry forry(4040)
Even better, I excelled. Yes, this story ends well.
In a couple of months I graduate with an M.A in Education, Gender and International Development from a University that ranks amoung the top 10 worldwide.
That isn’t as big a deal to me as the mere fact that I completed amidst all the trials.
I will not be able to go to London to show my maalo and wave my ‘degree’ incessantly at strangers..but when that transcript appears in my mail, I intend to give all the glory back to God, celebrate him and find a small way to mark this milestone.

 

“I am sure of this, that HE who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Adult education (2)

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When I received the email that I had made the shortlist, I was in shock! How?!

Then the second round came and I was elated to find that I was one of the 15 East Africans chosen. Euphoria!
We went for a training session in Nairobi, to get to know how to use the system, interact with alumni and get ready to begin.
I was the youngest least qualified person in the room. Some people were doing their second or third Masters,others were speaking of PhDs; They worked in established institutions and here I was trying to explain the mothful that is “40 days over 40 Smiles Foundation.”
In the afternoon, one of the Professors who had flown in for orientation asked, “How many of you got permission from your bosses to pursue further education?” Hands went up.
He turned to me and asked why I hadn’t put up my hand..then added “I forgot, you are the boss!” Everyone laughed. I didn’t. Deep down I felt intimidated and undeserving.
It was the continuous joke from then on. I perfected my poker face.

One of the requirements for the scholarship had been to explain how you would develop your country after the degree and I had given an elaborate plan; my vision for 4040. It was all I had. It had to work.

Little did I know that getting in was the easy part.
We received our first major assignment and boom, another blow. I fell sick and doctors could not figure out how/why despite tests. I hated to be the new student asking for extra time but I had no choice. It was granted and I literally
The next assignment came with it’s challenges. I mistakenly used a phrase without crediting the author-plagiarism! I received a stern warning thereafter. My undergrad hadn’t prepared me even by 20% for this new system.
I continued struggling though. After year 1, I was convinced I would fail.
I said it to myself and anyone who asked.
Whenever results were about to come, my body went through pretty much everything but a stroke.
I knew if I had been paying my tuition I would quit but I kept telling myself this scholarship could have gone to anyone and I was privileged, how could I ruin this? I decided to hang in, albeit painfully.
The work load was crazy. I didn’t really have a break in my own life and there was no one who understood. My classmates were miles away, dealing with their own issues. The few times I tried to reach out didn’t yield much.

I had no clear time table because there was no physical class to go to. That meant, more often than not, everything else came before school.

I jumped in and out of depression. Some weeks I simply stayed in bed all day, cut off the world and then eventually willed myself back up again.
Trying to work in this state was futile which in turn frustrated me and left me feeling like a fraud, a failure completely unworthy.

Trying not to write books under the pretext of posts😞
3rd and last installment comes tomorrow.

Adult education (1)

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The year was 2012. I was the only one at the company who didn’t have any post-grad qualifications. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to study but since it was a marketing firm, I thought perhaps I could do that. I spoke to the boss about the company contributing to the cost and he was supportive.
I enrolled for the Chartered Institute of Marketing(CIM) I remember being so busy that Gilbert helped me bank the tuition. Bless him
Shortly after the first class, I became extremely ill. I was hospitalised for a while and came out almost a different person. I had enough time to acknowledge the possibility of death and ponder how fleeting life was.
I asked myself if I wanted to do marketing for the rest of my life. The answer was no. That’s how I became a ‘drop out’ without looking back.

I went back to balancing office work and 4040. I promised myself the only courses I would do, would tie into my bigger purpose and would have to be at my own terms. My own terms included paying for whatever it was that I wanted to study. I had savings but they weren’t that grand; not grand enough for the UK universties I later applied to anyway. Whereas I got admitted into the universities, I was always late for the scholarship grants which needed to be almost concurrent(Requirement was to apply for the scholarship after admission)
I decided to let it go since I secretly did not want to leave my baby (4040) for an entire year.

Several months went by. One day, as I was looking through the papers, I saw an advertisement. Commonwealth scholarships for a distance learning program. The MA was two years long, with 3 months of face to face classes in London. The MA options were perfect for me and the development work I was doing with 4040.
“Hello, is it me you’re looking for?!”
I stashed the cut out in my bag, decided to keep it to myself for a while and prayed about it. I looked at it from time to time.
I pretended not to care about it to protect my heart from hurting if I didn’t get in.

Finally, just before the deadline, I decided to apply. It was so haphazard that I didn’t even first write out my information offline,edit, share with a confidant then send. No, I just filled in the essays on the spot and clicked ‘send’ then forgot about it.

End of part 1.

T.I.R.E.D

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Originally posted on  27 March

Today I got up in the morning and heard what sounded like a crack in my back. I immediately lay flat and waited.

I have had a long month so I mentally dismissed it as a result of the work load.
A couple of hours later H called me and shared some not-so-good news. I told her that phone call was my cue to get up and face the day. I got up. A few minutes into my morning routine, the first person I was meant to meet cancelled. I wasn’t sure whether to be mad or happy. I decided to take it as a sign. I would get up in the afternoon for my errands. Back to bed I went.
As if the universe read my mind, the skies opened generously shortly after this decision.
I covered my head to ‘sleep.’

 

I generally don’t sleep much. I can’t nap unless I have been drugged. I can however,close my eyes and pretend to nap.
It wasn’t always like this.

I am an active person and when I don’t have anything to do, I get restless. When I have too much to do, I am in my zone but doesn’t mean I don’t get anxious.

By the time an event comes, I have lived it in my dreams, awake,half-awake and asleep.

I realised that the only way I can truly rest is when I leave the city, better still when I am out of the country all together-preferably without a good connection-phone and internet.

This lack of rest eventually catches up. You can’t fool the mind or body for too long. When the fatigue sets in,certain systems begin to crash,slowly. Sometimes, it comes as a single blow.
Most of the time I can sense it. In most cases, I manage the symptoms as they arise; other times I keep going because I know; There is no one having sleepless nights about how to make it all work. I do my best knowing that if this fails, I will only have myself to blame.

The truth is, I thought by now, things would be easier. 5 years is a long time to hustle day and night. It is a long time to still be going through certain routines you thought would be long gone. It is a long time to always get so near and later realise how far you are. This doesn’t mean I do not value the wins. I truly do.

The truth is,it could take 5 more years, decades even to get to that place where I can comfortably sleep,take long vacations and still know that everything is under control.

Maybe it won’t even get easier at all and I will just get better at dealing.
What I want to share with you is that it is difficult, in an inexplicable way.
Blood, sweat and tears-that’s not an expression, it is REAL.
When ‘they’ say nothing worth having comes easy. It is true. Of course there will be some ‘easy’ wins along the way but overall it is not for the faint hearted.
This applies to starting anything really, a business, a relationship, a family.
However, some responsibilities consume you more than others.
True leadership is taxing. It is cold. It eats you up. It wears you out and tosses you out in the wilderness to fend for yourself.

What people want to see and share is the success story and I think that’s awesome;I just wish more people were truly honest about how they got there,what they went through, what they sacrificed;what they would do differently given the chance.

Sometimes it is so gruelling you want to quit and go to a new city and start over-
Many times you will even forget to eat, or remember but still find that food is tasteless because your mind is wandering constantly-
You will get so tired that you can’t rest and the exhaustion will seep into your emotional and spiritual life; it will affect your thoughts and productivity
Often you will be alone, so alone that you will hit rock bottom;you’ll cross the line to depression and even consider taking your own life-

Your loved ones will not always be there, they will not always understand,they will fall short of being enough. They might even be the cause of your pain from time to time-

Sometimes, you will be envious of others who seem to have it easy-
You will not bother to determine if they are just better actors-

During tough days you may consider dropping the dream to take the easy route
You will weigh your other options

You will receive a lot of crappy advice,some of it dispensed with a lot of love
You will encounter naysayers often
You will lose friends
You will face betrayal
You will be misunderstood
You will second guess and ‘tenth guess’ yourself
You will need to be your own cheerleader,more times than you can imagine
You may drown in self pity once in a while
It will probably not end well
You will cry
And cry some more
Even if you aren’t a ‘crier’-

You may find other ways to deal
Drugs
Alcohol
Binge eating
This will probably soothe some of the pain, mostly psychologically anyway
But your reality will still be waiting when you are done.

You might become hard
You will still be fragile.

You will need to feel EVERYTHING and allow yourself to.

Embrace ALL pain.
It is fuel for learning,for growing, for inspiration,even for healing, as ironic as it sounds.

“Every man dies but not every man truly lives”.
Your struggle,your pain all because you want to do more than just exist, you want to live.

Do that, severely.

Actions speak louder than words

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A number of people have asked if 4040 is a Christian organisation; others have assumed. Many a time, I have heard expressions like “That 4040 event is for balokole (born again Christians) I can’t go.” Or been asked ” How come there was alcohol at your event? I thought you are saved.” The responses don’t vary too much. I don’t see reason is constantly justifying my beliefs.

I remember a 5 aside (soccer) event at Bush court a couple of years ago, vividly; Dora walked over to me,Guiness in hand, visibly tipsy.
She was yelling my name. Earlier that afternoon, I had been attacked by John* because he felt his team was cheated during a game. He had downloaded profanities, one after the other and left me feeling both insulted and repulsed.
While I later found out he was a perpetual trouble causer, his breath betrayed another reason for his increased confidence.
A friend had whisked me away in time, as John was threatening to beat me up. I could not wait for that day to end.
The tone of Dora’s voice simply made me think “Not again!” I turned around anyway.
She gripped my arm and said “Thank you.” I was puzzled. Although I had seen her before, I could not imagine I had done anything for her to warrant gratitude. That is when she told me that she herself had had a troubled childhood and was glad that 4040 was helping vulnerable children. She added that she was excited to also be supporting in a small way and was thinking of ways to do more. My eyes welled up. I spent sometime talking to her and blocked out the earlier incident with John.

What I am about to say can be interpreted and debated in several ways but I hope that the message shall be well articulated anyway; I subscribe to a brand of Christianity that encourages Doers. The word is important and so is sharing it especially to those who most need it(we,sinners);but I believe that if we spend all our time preaching, it will keep us from actually practicing that which we preach.
While the organisation upholds Christian values, we also do not turn away anyone-after all, we are all sinners alike.

Atheist,Agnostic,Traditionalist;so many of these individuals are more Christ-like than those who shout ‘Lord,Lord!’
( “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”)

Millions have died at the hands of people practicing ‘religion,’ and using God’s name for these atrocities; It’s about time we stopped casting stones,and spent time saving our brothers and sisters so that by standers can see/feel the power of the mighty God we serve.

Money matters

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There are some figures that are ingrained in my mind, from this journey. These amounts are not necessarily the highest or smallest, but it is their significance that has stayed with me.
Over the years we have raised approximately $100,000 from individuals and entities (mostly the former) Here are some special moments.

In 2012, during the very first campaign,
Opolot, whom I had gone to school with (but wasn’t close to) reached out. He wanted to know how to lighten the load. Contributions were slow and I was worried. I jokingly asked for half a million shillings. He sent it to my phone, no questions asked. That boost made things so much easier and I always remember him.
I met a little boy of about 8 years old after the Young Achievers awards in December 2013. He came over to me with his mum. He said that after hearing my speech he was compelled to contribute the money he had. He handed me Ugx 5,000 (less than $2) I hugged him really tight. I have never forgotten him.

 

In the same year, two of Ritah’s nieces saved 20,000 (a little over $5) from their pocket money. They handed it over because they had met the children we were working with and were touched by their plight.

There are two Ugandans in the diaspora, Tom and Tim; they send through a contribution for pretty much every 4040 campaign. I have never met Tim personally and I only met Tom because of his support for our causes. These gentlemen humble me.

I barely knew Lucy when I opened up to her. We had been running campaigns to raise money for the dormitory we were building in Luweero at the time. We were out of options because a had organised events, ran campaigns and still weren’t hitting the target.
She invited me to meet her when she visited Uganda and handed me Ugx 1 million in cash. I was blown away. Lucky for us, she was present at the opening of the dorm later that year.

28 million. This was the amount we needed to raise for said dormitory. When we looked at it, we were certain we could never get it. We dillydallied,suggested we contribute half, second guesses ourselves-everything but admitted we were more capable than a have ourselves credit for. Finally, we decided to give it a try.
We organised and event and unveiled #BuyABrick. This campaign helped us raise 8 million shillings in 10 days, just on Facebook and Twitter alone>>with the help of mobile money for deposits to be made.
We succeeded, scratch that, we conquered! The dormitory is still up and running, capable of housing 210 boys and girls.
We were nobodies and people trusted us. We started with zero and somehow raised millions for a worthy cause.
These people are the unsung heroes.
As we grow, our needs increase and expectations are higher..but this 28 million was nothing short of a miracle.

All these people, their stories and their hearts, all of them are blessings without whom we’d be nothing.
I will never forget that.

Silver linings

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Yesterday I made some follow up calls again, to potential sponsors for our anniversary dinner. Indeed, some people avoided them-again.
Cathy picked up.
She knows who I am but she let me go through a lengthy introduction. That was fine.
Finally, I reminded her that I had been following up and needed to know when the best time was for me to check in for the verdict.
Her: Don’t call me. I am the one who will call you!
Her tone! Gosh,not even the tinniest ant was bigger than me in that moment.
I said thank you, hang up and looked up to the heavens like ‘WHY, God, WHY?!
It seemed like for every two steps made, I go back 10.
A few hours later, I went to the 4040 meeting and we discussed our plans. The memory was fresh in my mind, along with all the disappointments that seem to occur daily. Then during the meeting, I had a moment.
I looked around, I was in the company of 4 friends, two of whom had their babies back at home.
Each of these individuals could have been anywhere else but here they were brainstorming away, past 9pm on a work day. The staff of the restaurant started to clean up as a hint, but there we were planning away.
Them,together with several others have sacrificed a good chunk of their time,resources, skills,emotions and so much more to make the dream work.
Some have come and gone but their impact is still felt and they made their contribution.
In the beginning, I did almost everything single handedly because I couldn’t bear to be let down by another;to have someone else to blame. But here we are, 5 years later; still meeting weekly;bonding over that black tea🍵 and doing whatever it takes to stick together like the family we now are.
I do not take that for granted.

 


So, of course these ‘worldly disappointments’ will knock me down now and again..but I hope I never lose sight of all the little miracles that have come my way along this journey. One of these miracles at the very top, is this amazing team that I am proud of, now, always.

Originally posted on 24th March