Still on that journey…

It is about two years since I told my not so surprised boss I was leaving my job to chase a dream. He was very supportive, and to date, I think he is one of the most incredible people I have worked with.
This month is always one of great self-reflection for me. At first it was because it was my birth month, but now, it is also a reminder of the fact that I am really an adult. Really!

2 years
Here are a few bits and pieces of this experience.
Mixing business with pleasure
I never had a choice really. I did not know where 4040 was going and as such, I started with the low handing fruits, my friends. Along the way, others joined and also became family. It is fun. It is difficult. It is exasperating. It is love. I would actually not advise anyone to go into business with their friends. It is not for the faint hearted. In my case, however, I am not sure ‘robots’ looking forward to their next pay cheque would have driven the organisation to where it is today. Ours is a unique blend. We have won some and lost some. Along the way, there is a glue that has kept us (mostly) together. I can hardly find the words to describe that glue. We are often our own greatest strength and weakness. It is an oxymoron really but we own it.
Of uniqueness
I try to learn from as many organisations and people about different things. Management, organisational structures, charity, business and the like. I am yet to find anyone doing ‘exactly’ what we do. This means we are often inventing a wheel. It can be quite challenging but perhaps a decade or two from now, there will be mini organisations learning from our struggle. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
Bagala alina, gende okole (Loosely translated to mean, people like those who have, go and work)
I met Linda last year through a mutual friend who thought it would be great if we worked together. She was disinterested and it showed on her face. Nonetheless, I later sent her a message about future correspondence and possible partnerships. She did not respond. Last month Linda called me for an ‘urgent meeting.’ I was a bit shocked but my gut told me she wanted something. I agreed to meet her. She started by asking several questions about the organisation and I kept thinking “When will she tell me why she actually called me here.” Though shielded, it finally came out. She had seen a picture of us receiving an award from the first lady. I was finally worth something! It turned out she needed help with an upcoming project and thought I’s be the right person to consult. Yes, this is the point where you become the bigger person, even if it kills you.
Disguised lessons
About a year before I started 4040, a friend from school came up with a business plan. It was a great idea but from the onset, it showed that it would take a while to pick up. When it did, however, it would soar. I honestly supported him simply because he was my friend. He had a graphics person, a numbers person, I would be part of the PR. It was pretty solid. We met every week and contributed an amount to the company’s fund. His closest friends often missed these meetings and had a general aura of laxity but I believed in him, along with a mutual friend. I believe he and I did one pitch before the company dissolved without so much as an explanation. I guess it wasn’t its time. He is doing quite well for himself now. Sometimes, I sit and wonder if I would be this dedicated to something someone else began. I remember that experience and realise that I gave it my all even when I had no idea where it was going. How dare I give up on this baby then? It came with its own lessons.
Letting go
I am a hopeless optimist, often to a fault. This means that I give several chances to people and situations because I envision a happy ending. Needless to say, life does not always operate like that.
As a result, I have had to learn to let go, even if it may not come naturally. I have watched the people closest to me betray my trust and the most distant of strangers hold my hand when it counted. If like me, you have let some people stay in your life longer than you should only for them to steal your happiness, don’t beat yourself up about it. I shall tell you from experience that it takes time to ‘change’ but once you do, it comes with great benefits. In the meantime, treat every loss as an experience worth learning from. It really is.
A promise is just that, a promise.
Have you ever lent someone money? They tell you they shall pay on Wednesday so you mentally plan for all the things you have to do on that day. In fact, you probably also promise another person you will pay their hospital bill on D-day because you are sure. Wednesday reaches and the debtor is nowhere to be seen. If you are lucky, they shall pick up the phone and feed you with a story. You are disappointed but you have to disappoint someone else. It is a mess.
In our line of work, people will make pledges, often out of pity, guilt, pretentiousness and a host of other sentiments I fail to explain. Back in the day, (adult speak yo) thee pledges counted as a reality for me. I’d start making plans based on those numbers. Shock! Horror! Coming to the realisation that most of them were simply promise that may never be fulfilled. I was ‘bitten’ enough. I try to treat everything as a miracle and leave a nice, spacious red margin for disappointment. This does not mean you become 100% numb of course….but it helps.
Speaking of  differences..
My friends and I attended an event recently. We were excited to support this group of youths since we are all in the ‘struggle’ together. We arrived early and got ourselves a nice corner to make noise in comfort. Imagine our shock when one of the organisers came to ask us to move. Turns out the nice corner was for sponsors. The problem was there was no ‘reserved’ sign or anything so we couldn’t have known. We grudgingly carried our drinks to another table. Just as the ranting began, something occurred to me. Simply because we do not have VIP seats at our events, we had forgotten that it is the norm for most events. We made the best of the night anyway.
Humility
I am constantly praying that we remain humble in our ways. Several experiences remind me ever so powerfully, how easy it is to forget.

crying Janet
I look at this photograph from time to time. It reminds me of everything I felt from the very core of my soul. It represents several feelings engulfed into one moment. I wept with reckless abandon, oblivious of the cameras. This journey is not about the photo ops or the perfect make up, it is not about how many people recognise you on the street or which media house covers the story. It is about the work and the people it impacts. Everything else is a plus. Unfortunately, the side shows can get to one’s head, so much they forget what it is really about.
On Leadership
I do not consider myself a natural leader, more like an accidental one. There are people who have it engrained in their DNA, you know?  I am not one of them. People have these ambitions all their lives, I didn’t. Here I am though. I don’t always do it right. Half the time, I am thinking with my heart instead of my brain. The other half finds me clueless trying to figure things out. I am surrounded by amazing people though. We are learning and sailing. As long as we continue, it can only get better.
You are only human
If you are in a position of leadership, planned or accidental, remind yourself that you are not God. You can make mistakes. You are allowed to cry. You will inadvertently yell at a colleague. It happens. Forgive yourself then do that which you were called to do.
Protecting your brand

Do your best to protect your brand, but understand that somethings are not in your control.
Early this year a tabloid picked up a story on social media that involved 4040. They called me for a comment on a Sunday. I declined. The next day, it was on their front page and I had a paragraph on page 2. Knowing the story was going to run kept me at night. I stressed my poor mother to the extent she bought the paper by 7a.m the next day. The reporter had not even attended the event. I know people say that any sort of publicity is good but tabloids irk me. They make sales out of people’s misery and sadly, the readers continue to ensure they are profitable. I would love for our work to speak for itself. No publicity is actually better than those media houses that make it their life’s purpose to peddle lies. Argh. Moving on…
Rome was not built in a day
Four years ago, 4040 was not anywhere in my 5 year plan. According to my version of dreams, I am supposed to have started a family. If you think about it, I already did, just not the kind I had in mind 🙂 When you meet people, they have several questions, numbers, sustainability, the future. Gosh, it is all there! They are valid questions too. I don’t think there is anyone who contemplates all these issues more than I do, almost daily. There are moments when I am worried about all this and more but I remind myself that this is not about me. It is a grander picture and sometimes you need to be still. Nothing I have accomplished has been on my own accord, none of our milestones were a result of an extraordinary mind in a single day. It has been a process and will continue to be. Always allow yourself to breathe, to grow, to just be.
Criticism
I keep thinking I have heard it all, and then something new comes up. I convince myself words can’t bring me down but the truth is, some will. You just need to decide who or what is worth your pain.  Some of this criticism is helpful. A good chunk is simply disgraceful.A clear conscience is incomparable, listen to it.

I have learnt plenty over this period and something tells me, it isn’t even 20%. I am ever so grateful for the wonderful people who have made this journey worthwhile. More importantly, I am awed by the fact that God chose me to be his vessel and then blessed this dream in unimaginable ways.
P.S: Join us for our inaugural event, Hoops for grace this Saturday from 9 a.m. Entrance is only 5,000 and there is fun for kids and adults alike. Let’s complete this dormitory! See you 🙂

 

Hoops 2015 poster

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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!