Tomorrow’s leaders

31

Originally posted on Friday, 31st March.
‘Real time story (stories?)’

Today we had the last Angaza (literacy program) session of the term..
Before heading over to the school we work with, I had a meeting with an Education consultant who has decades of experience. She is quite intelligent and exposed and yet she has the unique ability to make you feel like she is learning from you; all the while being warm and humourous.
Do you also get that feeling when you meet someone and wish you met them way earlier in life? She makes me feel that way. We spoke about a wide range of topics. I told her I was considering doing training to become an educator. Guess what, she mentioned a school that is coming up and is willing to recruit professionals in different fields and then train them. (Is this you? Get in touch) I have always thought teachers have a huge impact on our lives (bad or good) and perhaps I can get a chance to impact young minds. This is an exciting prospect and even if it doesn’t materialise now, I know its time will come and I will look back like ‘remember when this was only a mere thought?’

Well, when we got to Merowa Primary School,the energy was crazy. I was wondering ‘who can be this energised at 2:30pm on a hot Friday afternoon?’ Well the children were.
We had different professionals speaking to the children about art, medicine,journalism,photography, law and entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, our policeman speaker got stuck in traffic and couldn’t make it. I must confess, I was excited about the children’s potential excitement when he took them through drills and such. I hope I shall be present for when he can make it.

The children were excitable. Grace even had them do a mock presentation of News during her journalism talk and it was awesome!
It was amazing to note that some of the children came out of their shells even if they were sometimes withdrawn during our sessions.
Another outstanding moment for me was when I met volunteers who had no idea who I was. Most of them had joined weeks after orientation and thus we had not met before.
Sharon’s jaw dropped as she asked a volunteer, *Ali “You mean you don’t know the founder?” He was so unruffled and went on to explain that he had volunteered twice at the school and never seen ‘Esther’ there. He was right!
My smile was so big while Sharon stared at me in shock. After he walked off we discussed this encounter. Frankly, I was really glad. Most of the volunteers had responded to a call we made but Ali didn’t. He found out about quiz night but failed to make it so when he saw a tweet about our sessions, he made his way. Not because he knew anyone, not because of FOMO but because he genuinely wanted to impact children’s lives. This is what it is about.
That is what I have always dreamt of, that 4040 will get wings and fly so far that it is no longer attributed; for us to have a network of change agents anywhere and everywhere,who are driven by purpose and social impact; for young people(especially) to be motivated to do more for their communities not because they are called to, but because there is need. Period.

Ali is pursuing a medical degree at Makerere University and spoke passionately during his presentation, about dreams,freedom to change/tweak them and the need to be unapologetic about who you are.
I was engulfed by too many feels.

As if that wasn’t enough, when i walked out of class, one of the nursery school teachers, *Anne, opened up to me.
She explained that as a struggling single mother she couldn’t even give her children the education provided by this school. Her children are under the care of her mother in Pallisa. When I asked about the children’s father, she broke down into tears. How to give her a hug when the little children were pulling at my sleeves and craving attention😦
Anne told me that she got into teaching because her parents could no longer afford her school fees after S.4 and a nursery teaching course was the most her sponsor could fund.
Perhaps if she had had career guidance and the support of people like our volunteers, she could have pursued her dreams.

I left in reflective mode with some mixed feelings,and an incredibly FULL heart.
March has been unkind in many ways but it certainly had a worthwhile ending.

Here is wishing you a productive, peaceful and meaningful April. May you have the strength to hold on even when you feel like giving up..and may it all be worth it, even if it comes out packaged differently from what you imagined.

Disappointment and hurting hearts

15

This is a ‘real time’ tale in the series.

Two years ago, I applied for the YALI fellowship hosted in Washington DC. This initiative is the brainchild of a man I greatly admire, President Barack Obama. It supports young African Leaders. *I think I am fairly young..and a leader, yes?* Moving on;
I made it to the interview stage and then didn’t make it.
Last year I applied for this year’s cohort. I thought I was ready this time, more experience, better application. Yes?
Uhm..Perhaps not.
I found out that I didn’t make it.
The email response basically says “You’re good but not good enough.”
It stung but I told myself that it wasn’t time..then I told myself that 5 years is a long time..then I decided it wasn’t for me and I shall move on, keep doing what I do.
We have a 5 year anniversary dinner in a little over a month. We have approached over 20 companies for sponsorship and we chose a pretty awesome, influential woman to be our Guest of Honour.
She stands for everything we believe in.
We wanted Michelle Obama but thought it’s best she enjoys this ‘chill time’ with her hubby first😉

Yesterday, I started my morning by calling 4 of the companies I spoke to about sponsorship. One person picked up and said they would not partner with us, the other made her line busy and 2 didn’t even pick up. I was devastated. I considered cancelling all the day’s plans..Instead, I wore some red lipstick and got up to face the world.

This morning as I was recovering from what sounds like an action movie scene, the murder of AIGP Kaweesi (RIP), I checked my mail.I am always hopeful that I will find good news when I log in.

Instead I found a letter from a representative of our preferred Guest of Honour, she will not make it.
Tears started streaming down my face at an uncontrollable rate. I had to sit and try to take it all in. We have courted her for a month or so and my faith was immense. We halted printing of invites so that she could confirm and then we distribute.
I prayed, hard; had dreams in which she featured, I brushed up on the language she speaks so I could ‘impress’ on D-day and in all our meetings, we spoke like she had already said yes.
I didn’t know how emotionally attached I was to it all until I received this email.

Now I have gone back to bed to mourn some more before actually starting the process again..and continuing to work because the world doesn’t stop..or wait.
Pain demands to be felt; so do change and time.

The recurring questions about these scenarios, include but are not limited to; “Aren’t we good enough?”
“Haven’t I done enough?”
“Where did we go wrong?”
“What more could I have done?”
“When will it be the right time?
I am more hurt than I thought I would be and quite 💔 to be honest.

 

 

Why am I sharing this?
Well, your worth can’t be determined by what people think or say; or how many things don’t go your way.
Often things can be a lot worse but of course we don’t want to hear that when we are hurting. Not even close. We just want things to be okay. We want to get what we hoped for, prayed for, worked for..and it doesn’t seem fair when we don’t.
Nonetheless, C’est la vie.
You rant..you *sniff* cry, *sniff,*
You binge eat, perhaps take a shot; talk to a loved one,take a walk, listen to music,nap; write a post like this, you do whatever it takes to help you deal then you dust yourself off and live to try another day.
Friday,5 May will come..and no matter who attends (or doesn’t) how much we raise for our causes (or don’t); we shall be celebrating how far we have come at that anniversary dinner.
We shall give our next 5 years to God and trust that HE shall finish that which HE started.🙏

Note: Originally written on March 17th and posted on facebook

Politicians and Tabloids

14

Two years ago we organised a medical camp in Kibuli. Once in a while we would tag ‘big wigs’ and invite them to put events but they would never show up.
This time Amama Mbabazi replied. Nonetheless, we didn’t think that he would show up so we made a joke of it.
That Saturday morning as we dropped volunteers, the conversation began; we discussed what would happen if the State found out he was appearing at our event soon after leaving his position as Prime Minister (of Uganda). Around this time, there was speculation that he would run for President.


My friends (and colleagues) assured me they would delete any evidence of having known me. *True friends are rare* Others assured me they would lead any security operatives straight to my home..and then disappear; if it came to that. We laughed it off.
As the event came to an end, I found several missed calls and notifications when I checked my phone. The first person I called back helped explain the situation. Amama had tweeted asking for the location of our event.
Wait. What? How? Which? There were so many questions. Someone went and picked him at the point which he had gotten lost.
Meantime, we had mentioned the camp would end at 5 and here we were cleaning up, a few minutes after 5. He arrived and we (the remaining group) talked for a bit as he asked questions here and there. It was pretty harmless.
A few photos were taken and then he left. That night, only a few people spoke about it online and I was relieved. It was soon forgotten..or so I thought.
The next day (Sunday) we had a stategy meeting at the office. I got a call from a Red Pepper reporter asking for a comment from the day before. My response: No comment.
He called again countless times. I found he had also followed me on Twitter and sent me a friend request on Facebook.
I ignored him..and I also became extremely uncomfortable.

Seeing as tabloids can make up a story in a split second, I started to think of all the possible scenarios. A political angle maybe? No money had exchanged hands but I imagined that train of thought was also a possibility. That night I made the mother pretty uncomfortable as I told her to expect the worst in the next day’s papers.

Poor woman who is always at work by 7 went even earlier and sent for a copy of the newspaper.
She didn’t need to look further as our picture on the front page greeted her.The newspaper was promptly delivered to me🙇
Story on page 2: Apparently, Amama was launching a youth campaign ‘We are the change we want to see’ campaign or something like that (The 4040 tagline is “be the change you want to see”)
My no comment had developed into a paragraph on page 2😐
To be honest, I had expected a lot worse and my dear friends had promised to deny me so..we thank God that didn’t end badly 😉

Do unto others

Part one (story number 2)
Some months before the 4040 journey, my friend started a company.
Let us call him Frank.
He invited 5 other friends, including myself, in different positions. We all had other ‘hustles’ and met once a week.
During these weekly meetings we discussed the vision for the company. We also contributed financially to a ‘fund’ during each meeting.
One of the issues to tackle was climate change and we were planning a symposium. That was 6 years ago so you can imagine how ‘current’ the themes were. We would probably have accomplished quite a bit by now.
I speak of it in past tense because one day we were up and running and next day…we just weren’t.
Frank is quite ambitious, a go better who had a clear vision of what he wanted. Some of his friends were either less interested in this particular venture or just weren’t in the place Frank needed them to be. They missed meetings without apology and generally had a laid back approach to work.
I do not like to start things if I have no intention of seeing them to the every end and generally frown upon unprofessionalism so I was bothered by their laxity. I mentioned this to Frank a few times but I could also see they were friends first, even closer to him than I was, so it remained one of those things I couldn’t do much about.
I decided I would do my part. Another friend, Sophie who was in charge of accounts also took her work seriously. We would balance it out. I hoped
We started setting up meetings to rope in partners. We weren’t going to fight global warming on our own, now were we?These 20 something’s were ready to take on the world.
I even got shares in this company..Whaattaabout?!
Along the way, without so much as a goodbye, the company went into oblivion. I can’t quite say how or when..but it did.
Maybe the time wasn’t right or the team wasn’t ready; perhaps other life commitments took over. I will never really know.
This week two things happened to remind me of Frank’s company. I got a notification about a Facebook like (as I am an admin on the page) and I took a boda boda that rode past one of the organisations I had approached to partner with us.
I smiled.
Fast forward, 4040 begins and I give it my best. I have a team made up of friends so there is a line that should or shouldn’t be drawn. It’s a conundrum.
I look back at my work with Frank, there may not be much to show but I do not regret giving my time and resources.
I was supporting a friend, when he needed it and I would like to think I accomplished that.
do-unto-others
Part two (Story number 3) *You will notice that this is like 5 stories in one so please allow me to combine , and count them as two-yes? Yes. Thanks
Later on,Frank gets a good job as the right hand man of a prominent C.E.O. Circa early 2014, we are in the process of building a dormitory and we are Ugx 5 million (approximately $1,500) away from meeting our target. We have run campaigns, organised events and used up all the ‘public’ avenues to raise funds. I pray for a miracle and make a plan to ensure anyone who dares to ask “how are you?” gets the real truth.
Stuck is where I was. This dormitory needed to be completed and short of a miracle, there was no other way.
Around that time, *Ruth and Frank* get in touch. Ruth was coming into the country for a short while and wanted to have tea..Frank was just casually checking in on me.
I told both of them about my struggle.
Ruth immediately offered to contribute Ugx 1 million. I wept!
By the time Frank checked in, my problem was less by a million shillings. I told him we needed Ugx 4 million.
He also immediately suggested his current workplace and asked me to draft a letter.
In our conversation he told me to consider it done. Given how close he worked with the CEO. I believed him, without a doubt.
The next day, I trekked to town armed with a soft copy of the letter, an empty purse and a grateful heart.
I went by Frank’s office after printing the letter. He suggested changes. I went back to the printery, edited and brought the ‘final’ copy complete with attachments.
I walked to Ruth’s with a spring in my step and told her about my miracle. She was excited. We had our tea and she handed me the 1 million at the end. This was the work of God and I was honoured to be a servant.
A week went by and I contacted Frank.
He said I would have feedback the next week. After one week I got in touch. He mentioned his boss was away.
Next time, the boss was ill.
Then, no reply.
Suddenly,all  my messages and calls were being ignored..
I was confused because all he needed to tell me was that the request was rejected..or even come up with some story about the organisation only taking part in a certain kind of CSR which we didn’t qualify for, blame it on global warming. Anything.
Instead.
Radio silence.
Finally I got a clue and decided to look for the balance from scratch. It was H.A.R.D!
I blamed myself for counting my chickens before they hatched. I was the only fool in this equation.
The thing that confused me the most was I did not see why Frank had to treat me this way. It made no sense. We were friends. I had spent two years hustling to build 4040 and he knew it. I mean, I could see why someone else would do this and have experienced it from several people especially on this 40-40 journey but him.why?
I was perplexed but I had to let it go, grudgingly.
For a long time I thought I would not be able to look at Frank or speak to him. I felt he had treated me like awfully and I didn’t think I deserved it. When I confronted him, I left feeling patronised and had to accept an apology than I never did receive. He literally acted like nothing had happened while I nursed my still-very-fresh-wounds.
In case you were wondering, we managed to raise the Ugx 4 million balance. It was not easy but we somehow did.
The story wasn’t over.Yet
About a year later, 4040 starts another campaign to raise funds for a second dormitory, for girls. Lo and behold! Frank asks me to draft a letter so he can talk to his boss about funding.
I read the message and all my frustration and anger returned. I felt sick to my stomach.
It felt like deja vu except I knew for sure it was real and not the brain playing tricks.
I decided to take a few deep breaths and then I called Sophie.
Now in case you don’t remember, Sophie had served with me at Frank’s company..and was now volunteering with 4040.
The conversation went something like this
“Frank has contacted me about contributing for the girl’s dormitory. If he is serious, I don’t want my pride or feelings to get in the way of our girls getting a home. I don’t trust myself not to have an outburst or say things I will regret so do me a favour and take it on from here.”
She understood. I later drafted the letter and send it to her. She did the follow up while I remained present only remotely.
In a couple of weeks, the payment was approved and an EFT made to our account.
I generally like closure and would have wanted to know what changed this time round. It would be nice to understand why my calls and pleas were avoided like the plague. Was this second attempt penance?
However, none of these is as important as the girl’s dormitory that finally became a reality because hundreds of people contributed, including the company Frank works for.
dorm-main

The complete dormitory for girls in Bombo, Uganda

What would you do?

Note:
This is my second and third installment in what I hope will be 40 stories about the 40-40 journey spread out during these 40 days of lent.

40 days. 40 stories

Happy March! Yes, we made it to the third month, possibly with a few scares but STILL STANDING. <<That is what counts.

40 days 40 stories

I thought I would share bits of this incredible journey as we commemorate 5 years of 40-40. What better, more divine way than to begin on Ash Wednesday which is today, 1 March?!

I may not have a story published on each day but I will write 40 stories, so help me God. Maybe they will make you smile, laugh or shake your head. It would be great if they can inspire someone or just take you on a trip that hopefully you will enjoy. It will come as a LONG post on Facebook and as a blog entry. Choose your poison.

Here goes!

One

What is in a name?

When I left home that morning 5 years ago, I had no idea that I would call the Facebook group I opened ’40 days over 40 Smiles.’ I just knew I was going to do it.

Fast forward and it has been a great conversation starter, ice breaker and even an identity. I have a friend who increases and decreases the quantities as he pleases Today it is ‘30-30,’ tomorrow ‘60-60’ and even 2040. *shakes head*

I remember an employee of Bank X telling us ’40 days over 40 Smiles’ sounded like a forged name when we went to open and account. By definition, to forge is to ‘produce a copy or imitation of (a document, signature, banknote, or work or art) for the purpose of deception.’ Alas, how far from the truth she was. Needless to say, that bank would not have to suffer the plight of having an account holder with this forged name.

Funny enough, I met *Charles who told me that as he was looking for a company name for his art, one of the Ugandan names that intrigued him the most was ‘40 days over 40 smiles’ and he had always wanted to tell me.

A few years after inception, Vanessa* told me it was time we changed the name. I asked why and she explained that it was a mouthful and we needed something more relatable. I thought about it and realised I didn’t want to just pick a name because it sounded relatable or was short and easy to say, it needed to be authentic over everything else. As I write this, I am reminded of actress, Uzo Aduba’s story in which she went home one day complaining how no one at school could pronounce her name and asked if she could be called Zoe. Her mum’s response is/ was legendary. “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.”

Now I smile as I explain why the name 40 days over 40 smiles Foundation. Yesterday at restaurant where I had lunch, a waitress greeted me with a smile “Hi 40-40.” I smiled back and responded. Owaye, if Esther is too mainstream, why not use figures?

rose

 

Xx

My kind of Christmas

At last year’s children’s Christmas party, I was a little grenade. Bandaged cannula on one hand and dancing like I was being paid on the other. There is a video of us showing you how to ‘go down low’ (Hi Sheeba) hidden somewhere. After the party, I went to the hospital for a ‘routine drip’ and ended up spending the night. By my side were 5 of my closest friends who took turns watching me. I thought about it, and if God forbid anything had happened that night, I would still be happy. I would know I gave 120% to something I loved and had people with me who loved me too.

I honestly believe some of these incidents occur so that I can never forget where it is I have come from.

This year, my anticipation was twice as much. I barely slept the night before the party. We were opening a dormitory too! Yaay!

Fundraising for this second dormitory was not a walk in the park. How could we explain to ourselves that we managed to raise funds for a bigger, more expensive building but were failing at this one? It was not easy to deal with the pressure, internal and external.

.After several events and campaigns, we had meetings in which we would just whine or discuss every other matter but the elephant in the room. We were afraid to admit that we had not raised enough money and time was running out

. At the same time, the rain was destroying our building materials back in Bombo. Each time a phone call or text came in asking if any money would be sent ‘soon,’ the day became instantly miserable. I can relate it to a parent who fails to provide for their children and is unable to explain the circumstances.

Despite all this, we did it…yes WE, collectively, with friends and supporters from all over the place 🙂 *jumps*

On Saturday 12th December 2015, we unveiled this new home for 30 girls. Excitement filled the coaster as we headed to Bombo and upon arrival, we truly felt the reason for this season.

dorm view

 

dorm main

dance

 

I could not contain my heart when these little ones performed and threw a few thank yous into their performance

 

little ones,thank you

As if that was not enough, the older children had prepared a short play. It depicted the story of orphans and street children who were sworn to a life of suffering. After a while, one of them suggests that they get up and ‘cross the bridge’ to find a better life. Their first attempts are futile. That is until they get help from good Samaritans. Do you want to guess who those are? There was a happy ending as they chanted “We crossed the bridge!!!” <Where is the water from my keyboard coming from?>

play sad

 

play 4040

play smiles

From the food, to the performances; gift opening and cake, I could not have asked for a better Christmas gift.

One of the girls, Laila shared her joy with me. “ I am happy I shall sleep on a new pair of bed sheets, a new mattress, in a new dormitory.” I could feel the delight in every syllable.

santa helper

All some of these children asked for was undergarments. Things we found waiting for us in this world and can hardly relate to that kind of deprivation.

dorm christmas gifts

We ended the day with a serious dance party in which some people I shall not name and I were floored beyond recognition. It is safe to say that dance moves have evolved and our bones have aged kubanga the hustle was very real! It took some people two seconds to ‘get down’ and others almost a minute.

dorm cake

 

dorm

 

 

baloon burst

Builder

smiley face

joy

 

25th December is 8 days away and I am lucky enough to have a family to spend it with. While God blessed me with a beautiful family that I was born into, I am mighty glad he gave me a bigger one through the 4040 dream. I am much more because of all the experiences.

 

with team

 

group smiles

Every day, every month, every year, I am thankful for each one of you who has given their time, money, prayers, and other resources to ensure that we are still here.

I celebrate you.

photo selfie

Photo Credit: Phame

A very Merry Christmas to you and yours..and for 2016, tukikole neera…neera neera.

 

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On being thankful…

On being thankful

The year is stealthily coming to an end! It feels like every month was shorter than the last.
September was different for me though. I made a conscious decision to enjoy it. Most of my feelings were intentional. I let happy moments linger and ensured that negative energy took a back seat, way back! I am happy to report, it worked!

thanks 1
This month, I picked up one of my countless notebooks and started a page titled “Thankful September” Here, I jotted down at least one incident that brought me joy on any given day. Some days were more joyful than others but that’s a great thing so the lists could be as long as possible.
Some days brought out the best of mundane moments, others were truly special because people went out of their way to ensure this. Sometimes, I went out of my way to milk that happy ending out.
I am hoping that this can become a habit. I remember Kathy asking me how I was a few weeks back. I replied that I was great and would be the same for the foreseeable future. A few days later she asked again. “Yes, I am still great, just like yesterday and the day before.” “I like you like this,” she remarked. Me too! Me too! I thought…
There is no such thing as a perfect life and of course there are many depressing moments that have come my way. The only difference is I chose to count it all joy because it can always, always be worse!
A good friend of mine has a patient in hospital whose condition has been deteriorating daily. She called me last night and I gasped before I could pick up the phone. I feared the worst! When I heard her tone, I let out a loud sigh of relief. I explained that night calls give me palpitations but this particular one came with an even bigger scare. At this point, I could only cry out to God. I have faith that it will get better and for life, we are thankful. That there’s hope means there’s even more to be thankful for.
I shall pick out one day from my month of thankfulness.

Last week I visited a couple that welcomed a beautiful angel into their family. I had been ‘on my way to visit’ for the longest time and the guilt was ripping me apart. The moment I got a few free hours, I made my way there. It rained heavily that day, as if to mock me. Thankfully, by the time the taxi reached their stage, only drizzles could be seen.
I called my friend, ‘Tim’ so that he could pick me up but he was on a boda boda so he did not hear it. I decided to wait near a supermarket. I noticed a lady, probably in her late 30’s staring at me and figured I just looked like someone she knew. She slowly walked up to me and said “Thank you for all the work you do, we appreciate it.” I shrieked! She walked off before I could start my ‘what, where, when, who…?’ By the time Tim showed up, my cup was already full but the day wasn’t done with me yet.
We got to the house and I finally met the little (now grown) lady and Tim’s business partner. The lady of the house joined us later. Now, I would not say Tim and I are close friends. We went to the same school, and were acquainted then. We have probably met a total of 5 times since (unplanned) but I keep tabs on his work and he does the same with 4040. I have invited him for pretty much all our events but he almost always has work. Nonetheless, he makes that known and applauds our little milestones.
We got to talking about work and life and then something happened during the course of the conversation. He stopped saying “4040 should….” Or “You need to think about….” Instead he was saying “I think WE need to consider a,b,c…” Now, this might not be a big deal to everyone but it was to me and I am not sure I can illustrate why.

See, I stopped seeing 4040 as ‘my thing’ a while ago and try to, (in both word and action) ensure that those who work with us can feel like they have a huge stake in it. That one person’s failure is our failure and any success is ours too. I am the first to admit that it is a lot to ask but, I do it anyway. The few who get sold to this are…enough.
Additionally, there are those days when you feel like you need new blood, new ideas to increase your momentum. You know that you need to innovate but you have been at the frontline of things for so long that you doubt your ability to sit at the side-lines and sincerely critique your very foundation. Do you eve get that feeling?
Well, Tim had some great ideas and seeing as he has a tech background, I was even more intrigued. We had a mini brainstorm and it took everything in me not to pull out a notebook and give timelines. Gosh, this was meant to be a casual visit!

He beckoned his business partner, ‘Ivan’ and asked that they dedicate one of their sessions to some of these ideas. Whhhhaaat?! As if that wasn’t enough, he named them in order of priority and even set his own targets. My little heart did so many backflips, I thought they could see them.

Later that evening, I had a ‘post birthday’ dinner with my uncle and spent my journey home humming with glee.
It’s a few days to our event and I am a nervous wreck, as I often am. There are several hurdles that need to be overcome. Nevertheless, I am thankful because it means I have something that I care about. How incredible is it to love so much that you literally feel the passion on your skin, in your heart and everywhere in between? Yes, there is always something to be thankful for!

thanks 2
I am hoping I can carry my September challenge on for months to come. Try it?

 
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