Happy tears :)

While I was chatting with Barns last night, after we won the award, he ended with “I will await the blog post.” So..here it is!
For the past couple of years I would see the advert for the NSSF torch awards but I felt we were not ready. We needed to have something to our name and present a good plan. This year, when I looked at it, I felt it was time.
Thankfully, when I shared with the team, one of the members, Benjamin said he had a plan. It was then that a small team came together (virtually) to concretise this plan and send in our proposal. We joked about winning for a bit but then went back to work and ‘forgot’ about it.
A little over 10 days ago, I received a call. We were shortlisted and they needed to visit our offices to shoot a video as soon as possible. I was unavailable and found most of the team was too.  Trying to put  all of it together took the joy out of the News. We agreed to do the shoot that Saturday (18th) We participated in a charity walk organised by Wakisa Ministries to raise awareness for teen moms and then walked slowly to the office (because we had so much energy that need to be exhausted) to await the Nssf team.
When we saw the camera crew, it began to sink in. We asked about the other nominees and I can swear my insomnia worsened from that night onward . What if we win? What will this mean? Can we actually do this?
Fast forward to last night. I was glad we were able to secure invites for everyone who worked on the proposal so they could at least have a nice dinner if we didn’t win. We noticed early in the evening that we were the ‘wohoo’ table. We made more noise for the other winners than they did for themselves.
The past winners shared their testimonies and renewed our hope in humanity. Then came this year’s nominees and their incredible work from making sanitary towels for school girls to providing training for secondary school students left us in awe.

I am a bowl of nerves whether it is a competition or a celebration so you can imagine what was happening. It was so bad that Zindzi, a team member said she had felt nothing from the start but our anxiety quickly spread to her as well. We were leaving no one behind!
Different regions were awarded as we tensed up and held hands, cracked stale jokes and sang along to the band’s music. Anything for a distraction! Finally, they got to Central region and we were NOT mentioned. The young lady who won happens to be called Esther. She is only 19 and working to protect young mothers under her organisation Child care and Rescue Program. I was amazed by this teenager!

We celebrated her while trying not to think about our own disappointment. Only one award was left, the national award and that couldn’t be us. Could it?
There was some suspense and finally they mentioned that the next organisation had impressed the most and would win the coveted Ugx 20 million cash prize handed over by the First lady, Hon. Janet Museveni. That group happened to be…Yes, you guessed it 4040 !
What happened next is still a bit of a blur. We pretty much broke into tears at the same time. There were cameras, people and.. more cameras and more people. Somehow, we got strength to walk up to the podium.
I kept crying and the handshake with the First lady quickly ‘evolved’ into a hug. There I was weeping and she took me into her arms and it was not awkward at all (really?) The team that had gathered around hugged her in turns. *this was all normal*  She handed over the award and dummy cheque (for 20 million shillings!!) along with Hon. Bahati, the NSSF Managing Director Mr. Richard Byarugaba and his pleasant Deputy, Geraldine.

 

gloria hug

first lady
We were ushered off the stage for the guest of honour to give her speech. She spent the first few minutes applauding our work. I can’t confirm this for sure because I was high on emotions but amidst my astonishment, I think I heard her say that ‘Uganda’s future is secure if it has young people like these (4040) doing such work.

This was the exact moment actually. No lie! She is gesturing towards us on the left. Nope. I t wasn't a dream.

This was the exact moment actually. No lie! She is gesturing towards us on the left. Nope. I t wasn’t a dream.

 

After a few photographs, she left the function (before we could exchange phone numbers, sigh)

group
A three course meal was served but you can’t pay me to tell you what that tasted like. I also have no idea what I said in the acceptance speech.

These were all side shows after we saw that cheque.
Breaks into song “It’s not about the money money money, We don’t need your money money, money.” *NOT!*

I kid. That moment itself, in its entirety was really everything.
While at the washrooms, a lady came in and said “Congratulations.” Just as I was completing my thank yous, she added “But you are so emotional!” Neither her tone nor facial expression suggested this was a compliment (Apparently washrooms are not free of judgement) While the other ladies who were with me exclaimed at her reaction, so many thoughts quickly went through my mind. Wouldn’t she be emotional if she had gone through what we have? Does she know how many proposals we have written and been turned down? Could she comprehend the gravity of this win for us? Well, I guess my questions shall remain unanswered and it’s okay because I certainly do not think anyone needs to justify their tears, or laughter for that matter.
We stayed and danced to every song the band played and when they were done, we turned to the DJ’s music. Thankfully, Mr.MD stayed for a while so we had more time to ‘celebrate’ but sadly, every good thing does come to an end. What an amazing Monday it was!
I barely slept and my poor mother has confessed that after we spoke just before midnight, her sleep did not return till much later. I did realise in that moment, as I do now that not everyone gets an opportunity to chase their dreams, have a great support system and also live to tale. It is for that very reason that I will share this story for as long as I can talk, write and breathe.
Unlike many of the previous awards, the public’s vote did not count. A panel chose us from the over 350 applications received from all over the country. However, if it wasn’t for the public’s support up till now, we would never have achieved enough to achieve the level of credibility we can now boast of and for that we are eternally grateful.
Our (winning) proposal *yaay* was for a children’s community library in Luweero because we believe in education and strongly advocate for literacy. Even if this amount can have us complete our dormitory in days (literally) we have to stick to what it was meant for. The good News is, by the end of this year we shall have a dormitory and a library up and running. How awesome is that?
This award means more to us because a Uganda company is supporting us, a Ugandan organisation. This represents one of the core messages we like to share which is that we are perfectly capable of writing our very own happy Ugandan tale, and essentially African tale by supporting our own. It takes a village to raise a child and we have plenty of villages..and children, so why not?
Thank you NSSF for believing in us and other local organisations. I am also grateful to everyone for supporting us thus far and the amazing behind the scenes 4040 team.

To God be the glory 🙂
A luta Continua!

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We came. We fell. We got up.

By this time last week, my situation was ‘a calm state of panic.’ We were at the Uganda Museum for our third edition of croak and rhyme. While many things were going right, an almost equal number of irregularities seemed to come up every now and then.
The funny thing about being a leader is that you have to strike a fine balance between optimism, realism, patience and unwavering determination during the most demanding situations. I do not think I am even half way there. Therein lies the beauty of time, experience and the lessons that come along the way!
The concept of croak and rhyme, like many of 4040’s ideas was random and uncomplicated, during one of our many meetings over two years ago. As one of the group members suggested the name, we laughed and then fell in love. Just like that, it was adopted and here we are. When I saw the bold words ‘croak and rhyme’ in one of our dailies this week, I grinned as I reminisced. Humble beginnings can surprise you!
This year’s edition was quite taxing. We came up with a theme and then needed to figure out how to work around it. Our wish list was loooooonnng (yes for emphasis) In fact, last year we toyed with the idea of bringing Sauti Sol for the event. *mental note to review my sent items folder for good laughs years from today* The irony that this blog post is coming out when they are in Uganda already for tomorrow’s show! Eh! Perhaps I could get a word with them. No? I digress.
We contacted tonnes of artistes. Some said no, others yes, a few said maybe and some simply led us on because they did not know how to articulate their negative response. I can look back and chuckle now but when it was happening, it was far from funny. We had legends with us though :D. This madam made my waist do things, good times!

These were 'our days'

These were ‘our days’

This event comes with a lot of pressure because of the expenses involved in putting it together. It is nothing short of a gamble and I must admit some of the lessons have been learnt the hard way.

Our first edition brought in a full house at a small venue. The management expected a small crowd and gave us few chairs that they did not expect to fill. Before long, we were trying to create space for the overwhelming crowd. At the end of the event, after realising the profit from their sales that night-they were asking when our next event was and more than willing to provide the venue.
The second one was taken to a bigger venue to accommodate the growing numbers. While we paid attention to that detail, other factors came into play. The World cup quarter final fell on the same date. Additionally, both traditional and social media were awash with announcements from the police about a terror threat to the city. I cannot count the whatsapp forwards I received on D-day warning me and basically asking that we discontinue our plans. These factors worked against us but we still had a sizeable crowd. The event was well organised and raised the bar for us. Armed with these lessons we set out to do even better this year.
The rain during the day got us on our knees, some of us even started yelling at the skies (yelling at God really) and thankfully the weather behaved. The drizzles during Maddox’s performance were hardly felt as the crowd sang along. Blessings just 🙂

maddox 1

crowd 2

 

 

I realised the ‘power of alcohol’ when I was confronted by a reveller who said he could not stand to look at me, knowing beer had run out at an event I organised. Eh, I took cover immediately. We must admit the crowd overwhelmed us and found us under prepared. We take full responsibility. There were other faults that we have certainly taken note of. Be sure to see changes next time 🙂
Despite the massive turn out at the event, the figures were not as exciting as we anticipated. We found out that an unscrupulous individual stole ‘tags’ from our entrance and started selling them to attendees before they reached our team. As a result, payment was made to him and sadly, it will never reach our dormitory.
That Sunday night as we tried to count, recount and then count the proceeds some more, we silently hoped that some of the coins would morph into notes and the ‘1K’ notes would transform into ‘50K’ notes in the process. This was not to happen. BUT. It could be a lot worse! We could have made an investment and then failed to break even. We could have planned this event for months only to have 50 people attend. That did not happen. Yaay!
The artistes gave energetic performances, moreover at no cost. One of the artists’ managers on our wish list insisted that we were making stuff up. There was no way any Ugandan artists could perform completely for charity. Oh ye of little faith! I hope one day they’ll understand that- *It’s not only about the money*
So, as I type this I am over the ‘we could have done better’ and now onto the ‘we shall do better’ state of mind. Everyone who attended and supported us even when we erred, the artistes who resisted the urge to become ‘divas,’ simply offering their talent and the service providers who have stuck with us, you made it possible.
Special thanks to those individuals who could not make it buts still sent entrance fee or directly contributed to the dormitory.

To the team that was behind the scenes, having pre-event nightmares and fighting then making up, then fighting again because you believe in 40-40 and what it stands for- you are invaluable.
We are now Ugx 11 million away from completing the dormitory. It seems like a little. Or a lot, depending on how you view your glass.

Nonetheless, I will be back here with pictures after we complete that building. Until then, please do not tire of answering our call. We are doing all of this, together for Uganda’s future, for a generation that will outlive us and learn from our dedication.
Till then, keep being the change, even when it hurts!
X

Fresh start(s)

Today, 2nd July is the date which actually marks the middle of the year. We have completed 182 days and have 182 days to go. Congratulations! If you are reading this then you are alive and well. Well is quite relative so maybe we shall just go with alive. That is an accomplishment in itself, we might not be responsible for it but well, we are here.
“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” If you lived by this mantra, it would be possible to reinvent yourself and make changes every day. It’s easier said than done, though, right?
Like most people I set out to achieve a few things this year (notice the deliberate absence of that word..that rhymes with solution?) I noticed recently that some of my goals were a trap for me to fail as they were not in my control. What if you want a promotion at work and then you end up losing your job because Boss X brought his wife’s sister’s boyfriend’s son to take your position? Is that your fault? Do you then get to December and put an ‘X’ against this box? That’s a bit unfair. However, even as we made all these plans there was no guarantee we would still be here. It is important to do ones best but still remain realistic. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself.
The beginning of a month, or a week seem like easier times to start a routine. Although if we refer to a certain quote above, you can decide to close your business, withdraw your savings and travel the new world on a random Wednesday after deciding that ‘this is the day.’
According to Maxwell Maltz, who was a plastic surgeon in the 1950’s ,it takes a minimum of 21 days to form a habit. Apparently, the world chose to edit the ‘minimum’ bit and went on with a myth that indeed 21 days are enough. This article explains that after more research was done, it was found that it in fact takes about 66 days. Woah!*Hands on head.* Apparently it was inspired by this study.

Nonetheless, there’s an exception to every rule. Not to mention the researcher didn’t necessary study people living your kind of lifestyle in your city for that period of time. Every individual’s uniqueness certainly plays a role in the result.
Last month, I decided to make some of my year’s  goals a reality by taking little steps. My focus was mainly on health. I made it very simple and achievable. Take a glass of water before breakfast,and as much as possible throughout the day, do a few exercises at home and ensure my diet includes either a fruit or vegetable (or  both) every day. All these were in my control unless of course for some reason  I got ill and could not walk or suddenly there was no water supply. Lucky for me, ‘healthy food’ is usually available at home unless one chooses to ignore it.
I can’t say I formed the habits for sure because I faltered a few times. I missed out on my morning glass of water twice, the exercises I also skipped a couple of times but made up for them by doing double the next day. For the fruits and vegetables, if I had errands out of home, chances were high that I did not care to incorporate them. Thankfully, these days weren’t many and were relatively apart. Not too shabby, I think. The cherry on top is that I have all these things at the front (not back) of my mind and that pushes me to do better. Additionally, I think this is great practice for when I grow my list to include more difficult tasks.
According to ’66 day article,’ this is how to divide your time.
• Day 1-22- Be vocal about your resolve. Apparently, It is more difficult to disappoint people than yourself.(mmhh) It’s easier when you are accountable to them.
• Day 23-44: Look inward. Ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing and remind yourself about the importance
• Day 24-66: Keep moving. You are getting there
• Day 66: Celebrate. Oh and not by doing that which you set out not to do. Yes, they are saying if you were trying to get off alcohol, find a nice virgin pina colada in a colourful glass with a straw and be content 😛

I think these steps are great, if you alter them to suit your personality and routine. I only just read about them and yet I think I did fine-ish. That said, improvement is always an option even if you are at the top.
I think mid-year is a great time to reflect on your plans and even make new ones. I don’t know what works for you but I suggest a journal/notebook, reminders on your phone/PC/bedroom wall. Generally, anything and everything that will get you to where you want to be.
I am going to continue on my quest to make these ‘habits’ stick as I incorporate new items on this list that I hope will outgrow me in my pursuit for a better all-round life.

Go ahead, fly.

darling
My mini-celebration shall take place tomorrow. This is fate, I tell you! As we begin the next part of the year, I am only more determined to do more and better the old me.
My team and I have organised a night of music and poetry dubbed ‘Croak and Rhyme.’ If you are in my circles then this >> #CroakAndRhyme is very familiar and you might even be on the verge of chocking or blocking my team and I. If you do not feel like this, what a patient person you are! Also, ignore all those ‘suggestions,’ they were a bad joke.
This event is different because much as well-known Ugandan Artists will take the stage, ordinary fans and music lovers like you can have your moment of fame. It’s all for the fun of it really, that’s why it is called Croak and Rhyme and not Uganda’s finest musicians.
While you will hear ‘old hits’ performed by great artists like Joanita Kawalya of Afrigo band, the legendary Maddox and Qute Kaye, you will also see several recent favourites.
From Hip hop, to Rn’B and acapella groups, we have it all. Naava Grey, Mun G, Richy Kaweesa, Ruyonga, Benezeri, The Mith, Maro, Nutty Neithan, Shine, Canaan Gents and Sauti ya Africa.
Poets will also hit the stage to give us a dose of their talent. The event will cost you Ugx 10,000 and will take place at the Uganda Museum.

collage
All of this sounds awesome, yes? Well, I am excited even as I type! What’s more exciting is that the proceeds shall help build a dormitory for 30 girls at Elohim Children’ centre Bombo. These children also have a performance actually so you get to see them for yourself.

Please note, they are quite talented so you might leave your wallet, visa and car keys with us 😛

Elohim kids
If music and poetry don’t tickle your fancy or you are unable to make it, contact us on other ways to support the cause. Email info@40daysover40smiles.org or call 0704816607/0777499991
Good luck forming new habits, you have 6 months to go. Scratch that. You have the rest of your life. 21, days, 66 or even 10? Whatever works for you, go for it! Let me know how it goes? Also, see you tomorrow 🙂

3: Still here

It is said the two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.

I ‘accidentally’ found out my purpose at 24, as a passionate, curious, naive and mostly unstoppable woman.

On February 27 2012 when I opened that 40-40 page, I could not have imagined that three years later, we would still be here. Yes, I became we and to me, that is the biggest achievement thus far!

This year a friend even bought me a gift on this special day. It was heart-warming knowing that my baby was being celebrated. Best of all, it was by somebody other than myself.

This weekend also holds special meaning. It was during the Easter weekend that a group of friends whom I had collected over the years came together for what we mostly believed was a ‘one time thing.’ For two days I had people I had been with years ago in Primary school up till my ‘working life’ all gathered together-celebrating these amazing children that barely had family but had a whole lot of love.

Over the past three years, I have changed. We all have.

I will be the first to admit that it was easier then. There was no pressure of an organisation and all its structures, being young(er) helped because there was less to worry about and people were mostly gracious because it was a ‘casual’ arrangement. No one had signed up for forever. Wait a minute. No one had signed up, at all.

According to an article I read on one of those days when I was fretting about the future, it takes about 18-24 months to determine if a start-up shall succeed/fail. We are past 36 months (yaay!) but I am quite certain my definition of success is different from that of the business books. Thankfully, I am not running a business 🙂

Which brings me to my next thought; I do not know another Organisation doing what we do, exactly the way we do it. If you have any leads, do point me in the right direction. In the meantime, this ‘virgin land’ means that many mistakes are bound to be made out of ignorance but also because of sheer lack of a manual.  Needless to say, it has been a whirlwind that is difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t been part of it. Heck, it is even challenging to explain to people who have been there since the days when we were merely attempting to crawl.

This week I was privileged to be featured on NTV’s women and power.  The first thing 50 year old Mr.M asked me was “Who paid the other, you or NTV? That is what it shall always come down to for many people, now and in the future. It is sad. Nonetheless, I doubt any leader ever performs their roles expecting to convert ‘everyone.’ That would be dooming oneself to failure before even beginning. What do we do? We continue no matter what.

The past year has turned emotional pain into a physical reality and vice versa, brought out the worst in people and also challenged almost everything we know and believe-but that is just the grim part.

It has also allowed us to grow as individuals and as an organisation, given us the opportunity to fall over and over again and get up.

For the past couple of years, I have given a recap of the journey in my anniversary blog post as seen here and here but this time, I am compelled to simply celebrate. To celebrate the fact that we are still here.

I still pinch myself when a stranger strikes up a conversation because of our story. Seeing a 4040 tee or wristband, especially on someone I don’t know makes me smile. I am inspired by everyday people who simply believe and go on to act. I am especially excited by children and teens who take part in our activities-they give me hope in abundance. I am overjoyed by the fact that we have to change lives, and work towards it everyday.

Yesterday someone asked me if I am living my dream. The short answer is/was yes.

However, none of it would have happened if I simply stood tall. Alone.

As I reminisce over this three year journey, I would like to give special thanks to the amazing people whom God has placed in my life; Those who joined at the start and never looked back, those who came by along the way and made 4040 home and those individuals who show constant support even across the miles, watching and waiting for an opportunity to help; I celebrate the believers and dreamers whose ‘invisible’ hands picked us up and continue to.

Although love is patient, kind and is not jealous or self-seeking, the world is not complete, it is not without its adversaries. I am glad we had those along the way and hope that we shall always have the wisdom and courage to understand their purpose and fight them off respectively.

To God be the glory for starting all of this and continuing it. I am confident he will carry it on to completion.

May the Easter holiday be glorious and fulfilling for you-no matter what your beliefs are.

Love is universal. No?

Happy 3rd my baby. You scare me. In a good way; mostly.

penda 4040

After the dorm

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

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

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

Made in Uganda, in fact- in Luweero :)

Made in Uganda, in fact- in Luweero 🙂

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

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

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

Tunyumila mu pair :D

Tunyumila mu pair 😀

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

yo kuku 2

yo kuku 3

I am hungry!!

I am hungry!!

meal 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your dream today?
#Iam4040