My birthday wish

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

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

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

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

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

You can watch a short video that summarises our dream here

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

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

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

Will you be our first? 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Es black and white

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

Thank you in advance!

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Breakfast with the Kids

11

Saturday mornings for a long period, during this 4040 journey meant one thing- #Breakfastwiththekids!
I can’t remember when we came up with the idea for it but those were some of the best days of my life.

Breakfast being my favourite meal, generally, I can see how those weekends made me extra excited; hanging with our babies, munching away and watching my friends and ‘newbies’ fall in love too.

Those early Saturday mornings saw many have shorter Friday nights in anticipation; others just appeared with their blood shot eyes, after reminding me incessantly not to leave without them; some went to office and dropped by after, It was amazing!

It was a beautiful routine; some people bought the items we needed, others went over to cook the porridge before we arrived, and then we all converged at Tusky’s Makerere and went over to share with the children. Good times!

That diet though, walala!! No wonder most of The children claimed they were sick after (although they had strength to run around for a couple of hours after the heavy meal)
Porridge-pancakes(kabalagala)-samosa-chapati..sometimes donuts too..
Only later did we introduce fruit to balance this mix. Somebarre help me count this calories😮
The conversations, the games after, everything left me rejuvenated for the week and I am sure many others felt things in their hearts.

I hope that as parents we shall make time for our children in the same way, or even better.

Falling in love

6

It was love at first sight that hot afternoon when I used my lunch break to visit the children’s home in Kyebando for the first time.

I had started a Facebook group, shared a plan and invited friends to spend their 40 days giving but I didn’t even know the recipients.
That afternoon, within seconds of arrival. I knew.
I received more hugs than I could count. I was surrounded by smiles. I felt love.
I encountered God.

Before long, I was back to visit and graduated from a stranger to aunt, to mummy. I was in love.
Imagine my utter joy when I got to share this love with my friends and realising that many felt it too.
These children soon became family.
I can just see them as I type this; Bashir, the most beautiful boy you ever did see, who needed surgery at some point and the Doctor agreed to do it an no cost except for anesthesia and paying the nurses-this 200,000 was collected in one ‘facebook group chat’ session long before we had whatsapp ;Daisy the diva who knew how to use her adorable face to get what she wanted, oh Esther who became my BFF when she found out we were namesakes. Once I found her wearing a tee and realised it was one that I owned before it found a new home. When I told her it used to be mine, she registered this fact in her little brain. Four out of five times we visited, she was wearing it. I asked her to change into other clothes but she would not budge.
And how can I forget Ronald who loved to drum. When it was dance time, his heart smiled. He gave the caretakers some trouble, as he sought to be understood, like we all do. Eventually he found a loving home and I couldn’t be happier.
We met so many more beautiful souls and slowly they found family within the team and vice versa.
This relationship had its tough times, like any other and while many were out of my control, I feel eternally blessed because of the miracles that came alive from these bonds.
I received some practice for motherhood too😉
There is so much that I cannot put to words (and believe me, I have often tried) and yet everything learnt, what I felt, what I feel, it will always stay with me.

I had a dream

Last year, we brainstormed during a meeting, out of ideas on whom to headline for Croak and Rhyme, 4040’s annual music fundraiser. The year before, we had surprised many, including ourselves and brought the legendary Maddox Sematimba as our main act. We needed to match up to our own expectations. “What about Sauti Sol?”  we thought. They are terrific musicians and would put up a good show, plus they are in the ‘neighbourhood.’ How would we pull that off? Obviously, we could not afford them. Our ingenious plan was to find an airline to give complimentary tickets, an up-scale hotel to sponsor the accommodation and then we would convince the group to perform at no cost. Easy peasy right? Not.

One of the best and worst things about my team and I is that we dream massive dreams. The more difficult it seems to pull off, the more we want it. We did not go far in this dream. We soon found out that Talent Africa was organising a show in Kampala for the afro-pop group. We took a seat.

The tickets to the show did not come cheap and while I was thinking of which organ to donate, Jem sent me a message that read “ How badly do you want to go for the concert?” I replied with few words and multiple emoticons. She made it happen. I anticipated their performance so much that I literally booed performer X off the stage because his set seemed to be endless. I assured Jem as soon as the band showed up, we would not to be sitting anymore. We’d have to take our spots at the front to dance and scream the night away. We did move when they were finally coming (for real) because at these concerts the main act can ‘appear’ 431 times before they actually show up. They gave a great performance as only they can. They have truly mastered the art of stage presence and performing live. My only regret was that they didn’t stay longer.

****

Last week on Monday morning I tweeted about a dream I had had.

sauti tweet

While I was minding my own business, trying to work on my dissertation, I took a break and went online. I found a message from Joseph saying he’d read my tweet and that I should call a number (which he shared) to continue the conversation he had started. I asked him to quit playing games with my heart right away *hands up if Backstreet boys came to mind as you read that. No? Okay. Moving on *

He assured me that it was real since Sauti sol was coming for a show that weekend. What? Which rock was I living under?I did not even now about the concert. When I checked twitter, I found most of the replies to my tweet were referring to the upcoming Club mega fest where the group was scheduled perform. Here is what followed, I loaded an amount of airtime my phone doesn’t usually subscribe to, said a short prayer and made the phone call to the +254 number. I shared the details with their publicity person and when I was done, I sat on my bed thinking ‘Could this really be?’ That is when I did what any normal person who has faith does. I opened my closet and looked at my vast collection of 40-40 t-shirts.(the only clothing item that is upgraded almost regularly) I chose the t-shirt that I would wear if my request was granted.

faith thanks God

Over the next few days, I asked those who understood my anticipation to pray as I tried, albeit, unsuccessfully to think about other things. Lo and behold! I receive a program and guess which team has a slot with Sauti Sol? Breathe, Esther breathe!, I had to remind myself.

It is one thing to enjoy music by a musician or group of musicians, it is totally different when you realise that they are more than that. To blend talent and compassion for humanity would seem obvious and yet it still remains a reserve for a specific kind of individual. Knowing Sauti sol extends their time and resources to children through their Soma soma initiative struck a chord with me while we dreamt of bringing them to Uganda. As with everything else, God had other plans. He needed them to come and be part of our literacy program (recently christened Angaza which means to shine) that resonates with their belief in education and encouragement of young people to pursue their education.

When Bien, Polycarp, Austin and Savaro met the children, it was magic from the start. They were exhausted from their long weekend of activity but that did not stop them from sharing some love and energy.

band laugh with kids

kids peace

polycarp baby

Sauti kids happy

The group encouraged the children to stay in school and value their teachers and education. They emphasised the importance of finishing school, which they, themselves, did alongside their musical career.  Having met at Upper hill High School themselves, it was easier to illustrate real life examples of some of the benefits from their time together. When Polycarp was introduced as having graduated in Actuarial science, the children were asked if they knew what it meant, there were several resounding ‘Yeses’ in the audience. I was laughing too hard to google the meaning, for my neighbour of course.

high 5

Bien speech

 

Would this session have been complete without some music and dance? Nope! The children got to learn the chorus to Sura yako and the cherry on top was the lipala dance. They were overjoyed and kept singing long after the band had left.

hearty laugh

See this pure happiness! So infectious!

As a friend remarked, the adults might have been more excited than the children. I can’t speak for everyone but how often do you have a dream, literally and watch it come true, before your very eyes- soon after? In my life, I can’t say often and for that, I am all kinds of grateful.

Photo credit: Daron

 

Thank you Sauti Sol 🙂

Keep believing.

Footprints

For the first time in 4 years, I shall not be able to celebrate Easter in the 40-40 way. For a few minutes, that is the only line I actually could write in this post but I shall try to continue.

When you think about it, it seems pretty childish that missing out on a few hours playing, eating, laughing and dancing can tag at one’s heart so bad, and yet here I am, asking myself many questions. Did they reach safe? Did ‘new people’ join us this time? Will the children have fun? Will they remember this day years from now? I spent the most part of my morning looking at old photos and watching videos with deep sighs. I know later, when the photos from the do start pouring in, I will contemplate flushing my phone down the toilet. (Thankfully, it has been giving me trouble so we shall pretend I was just putting it to rest) Where did all the time go?

For 4 years, the Easter weekend has been transformed into our living, breathing definition of Christ’s love. Out of design, his design, we were led to a mission, a mission to make his children’s lives better. It was indeed Jesus who said, the kingdom of God belongs to the little children. Their presence is blessing enough, but that we are able to make a small difference is a huge plus:

For the first time, in years, I saw many adults in one place sob silently in a gathering that was not a funeral. For the first time, I saw men who had sworn they did not want anything to do with children, run around, get dirty, make funny faces and act even more child-like than the kids themselves. For the very first time, many of us took a step out of our ‘comfortable’ lives, away from family and friends whom we are ‘conditioned’ to love and shared our hearts with new families that we hitherto did not even know. For the first time, Jesus’ death and resurrection was more than just a story, more than a tale which belongs in church or the Bible. It was 40 meaningful days culminating in the greatest of all gifts, love.

That was the Easter weekend of 2012 and we have not stopped since.

If there is a week(end) when I contemplate life and my journey now and the future, it is definitely this one. Even the readings in church, conversations and last thoughts before I go to sleep, change. I am constantly aware of what this season represents for not just me, but the 40-40 family in all its breadth; our choices, our paths, our footprints.

FOOT

 

4 years ago, 40 days brought together people who may not otherwise have met; 4 years later, we do not only have ‘over 40 smiles,’ we have what seems like a lifetime of beautiful memories.

Today, of all days, I celebrate everyone who has kept us going, in your respective ways. You would be surprised how even a simple text message to say “thank you for making the children smile” gives us a little more strength to hold on. The amazing team that holds the fort daily, the volunteers who come in when they can, each and everyone of you who supports with a word of encouragement, or those trips to the mobile money agent :P, the family we have grown which prays for us, our ambassadors all over the world,everybarrreeee, THANK YOU!

It is a great honour to be part of a group of passionate, dynamic people who genuinely believe they can impact the world positively and go a step further to actually do it.

The glory goes back to God who has been with us every step of the way, who has watched us fall so he can pick us up, let us cry and assured us righteous tears are never in vain. He started this work and it is evident that he will continue to see it to his fruition. Truly thankful that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we got an opportunity to do more. While our sacrifice is nowhere near grand, HE who inspired it, sacrificed enough for each of us, for all eternity.

May you remember and meditate on Jesus’ love this Easter.

jesus

A glorious Easter to you and yours.

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.

 

XX

Everywhere you go

If the first thing you think about is a certain telecom network, when you read that phrase. Stop

Okay, now let’s continue.

Over the past few years, I have found myself, living and breathing 4040. Sometimes, it becomes so natural, I do not realise when I am going on and on.

A few days ago, there was no internet connection in my room and I needed to work. I headed straight to the reception and started typing away. One of the supervisors sat next to me and asked ‘What is 40-40?” I was a bit surprised but quickly noticed what had brought out the question. My ‘I am 4040’ sticker sat proudly on the laptop. He has since called out “Miss 4040” each time we have bumped into each other. Re-baptising in progress.

This reminds of a night many months ago, when I was out with friends. At about 1 a.m when the music was at boiling point and the sugar height had escalated, I felt someone tapping my shoulder. I recognised him when I turned around. He was a common face at our fundraisers. With a straight face, he asked, “Is this a 40-40 fundraiser too? How come I didn’t know?” I looked around and noticed my ‘dancing troupe’ was made up 4040 team members, which might have been why he was asking. I laughed out loud. Really (read Riyalle) we shall not even paka kini without a connection being made.

For the past few days I have gotten to know a group of amazing people, and of course talking about myself also entails talking about my work. After bits of the 4040 story reached the trainers, they requested that I share insight on our model although it does not have much to do with the current training. Ooh the pride!

I happily shared a brief about who we are and what we do. At the end, one of the organisers walked up to me and said she had almost cried as she watched a video I shared. She was completely sold and promised to support us. Ambrose, who had earlier promised (in jest) to give 4040 $10,000, handed me 5,000 for the children. My cup overflows.

Many of the questions the group raised were relevant and a great reminder or what more we can do.

It is out of my comfort zone to coordinate work remotely but I have had to bear it for the past few days. * Quick shout out to the superstar who came up with mobile money.* whilst I have enjoyed my working trip, I must say my heart and mind have kept drifting back to this one thought, we are opening dormitory number 2 tomorrow!!!! I am actually yelling…in my head.

My excitement is palpable. I am completely unable to contain myself.

jump

“ASK AND YOU WILL RECEIVE” Yes, the caps are for emphasis. We have accomplished this because we asked you and you gave…oh so generously!

Tomorrow after we sing, dance and make merry at the Christmas party, we shall leave knowing the girls have a bigger, better home. This gives me so much joy.
Special thanks to everyone who has played a part in building a dorm, ‘being Santa’ or supporting this dream in any other way. You make us who we are.

Mostly, it is because God has been there from the very beginning, all glory to him!

Updates will be coming your way in full gear.
X.