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It was amazing to note that some of the children came out of their shells even if they were sometimes withdrawn during our sessions.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.

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

Goodbye. No. See you later

On Easter Monday, we sat in a circle at a friend’s home. We each took turns  to say what we were grateful for from the past year. 40-40 was celebrating two years and the team had an opportunity to reflect on the good, bad and ugly of the past months but with more emphasis on the awesome 🙂

circle

Some people gave testimonies of how  40-40 had opened doors for jobs, great networks and even love interests *wink*

This calm soul started to speak and suddenly the silly jokes and anecdotes stopped. The room went silent as we listened and I am sure, even inwardly wept because her testimony was not only moving, it also left us reflecting deeper on our lives. I will call her ‘Angel.’

As Angel concluded, she let us know she had applied for a Master’s scholarship that would commence later in the year. She hoped that she would return and work with 40-40 after attaining knowledge in a field relevant to our work. In that moment, I knew then that she would definitely get it. Some things you just know, you know?

Fast forward to this month, Angel has gone through different kinds of emotions as her simple dream took all sorts of twists and turns. Her faith was tried and tested countless times but she was not only resilient through it all, she was also extremely humble.

By last week she had been denied a visa. A planned surprise farewell party was a complete fail as the cake arrived in the absence of its ‘chief cutter’ (What does that even mean?) It was nothing short of depressing but not once did I hear phrases like “I give up” or “Why me?”

These, in fact, were her exact words “If this is supposed to turn me away from God, failed plot”

commit to him

By this week she had been called back to ‘re-evaluate’ her application and as I type this she is probably packing as many memories as she can into her suit case 🙂

As we bade her farewell last night, we had a chance to share some thoughts. It was quite clear that as a team we were ‘losing’ (more like lending the world) a free spirit who not only got the work done, but did it gracefully.

If I was a C.E.O of a big corporation bidding farewell to a valuable employee, I would practically be seeing the millions of dollars that Angel will make for the next company. However, I am left in awe. I am confident that she will shine as much as she did here, if not more. I am hopeful that the rest of the team shall emulate her and that we can also leave a mark not only on the lives of the children we work with but also on everyone we meet. That is what it means to ” Be The Change”…No?

Dear Angel, from us at team 40-40, it is see you later and a bucketful of love and good wishes (plus throat aches and oba broken hearts too? 😉 )

We can’t possibly express our joy or pride but we are certainly behind you 110%.

goodbyes

xoxo

And then there was 5 Aside UG…

If you have organised an event before then you know that while everyone is chatting and having a good time, chances are you are battling a few ‘demons’ behind the scenes. The bride isn’t talking to the maid of honour; truck carrying the drinks gets involved in an accident minutes before the function begins, the guy with the public address system is a no-show and all his numbers are off. Does any of this sound familiar? If it doesn’t, you are one lucky lad!

You can plan an event for months and even fix provisions for the worst case scenario, only to be shocked by scenarios worse than the ones you envisioned. The universe has jokes I tell you.

On March 8th , 40 days over 40 smiles Foundation organised an event dubbed “5 Aside UG,” we had planned it for quite some time and were pretty anxious to see the outcome. Meetings, whatsapp threads, late night discussions, stalking service providers- we did all that.

We began approaching ‘potential teams’ six weeks before the event from within our networks. The response was overwhelming. Our target was 32 teams but even before we launched the campaign, about 35 had committed to getting players. When things seem too good to be true, they usually are.

A few weeks later when we contacted the team captains, the number dropped by more than half, some even denied ever hearing about this tournament or even 40-40 for that matter. It was hilarious. Not.

We went back to the drawing board and decided to accept our fate. We were going to close registration with or without the teams we had earlier planned for. In the background, we tried to make registration as convenient as possible but the day before the deadline, we had 15 teams. We agreed to close at 16 and make fixtures based on that number.

Closing day :The ladies in charge of registration had been called all sorts of names and had their patience tested for the past weeks. We didn’t think it could get any worse. However out of nowhere-literally, we had an avalanche of teams. In fact, the number exceeded 32 and we had to call people to ask them to withdraw.

I will give you a few examples of the drama that surrounded this.

-‘John,’ whom I actually know had no idea I was the one who picked up the phone because my colleague whom he had called was driving. The conversation went something like this. “You have to register my team. I got held up and delayed but money is not my problem. If you don’t register I will call *insert name of 40-40 member whom he was sure had a ‘higher rank.’ (The organisational structure of the foundation is unlike that of most bodies and thus you will not find titles like C.E.O, C.F.O, U.P.D.F etc) In fact, I was more agitated that he thought he could talk down to someone he had never even met!

-This next guy we shall call Bosco. He didn’t speak to me but here is an excerpt of the conversation. “You need to register my team; do you know how many influential people and potential sponsors I can bring to your event?” (Please! All the guests we had already invited are ‘influential,’ enough if they are supporting a cause that is bigger than them) I will save you from other such tales and move on to us eventually settling for 40 teams. Did I mention the teams that came back to claim their money because they thought ‘5 aside soccer’ was actually basketball? Hihi. Bambi we returned it in good faith 🙂

The day finally came and if you were at Bush Court, I need not go into details. As if the 40 team shocker wasn’t enough, people came from all over to attend this event. From the parking lot alone, you would think it was ‘Enkuka y’omwaka’ (I have no English translation for this)

Yes, we had a few hitches and the team at 40-40 apologises for those. If it is any consolation, we were attacked by the more vocal ‘victims.’

As I made my rounds, this lady walked up to me and asked if I was Esther. As soon as I gave a positive response, I realised that a lie might have made more sense. She had a stick that wasn’t so much for beating as it was for gouging my not-so-small eyes. She explained how her team had not been called, deserved to win, the team which ‘cheated,’ etc- all the while moving the stick an inch from my eyes. I remember constantly repeating ‘I will see what I can do’ while taking short backward steps. Competition is real. The dramatic encounters were not few but I will share just one more.

I met another gentleman who told me he had only played three games and thus needed ‘compensation’ before he left. I was trying to comprehend this. Was each game worth 2,000 shillings so that he gets 4,000/= in change? Just before I could respond, a tipsy girl tapped me.

Her: Happy Women’s day

Me: Thanks, Happy Women’s day to you too

Her: Do you know that you are a woman of substance? (sips Guiness)

Me: *crimson face*

Her: You got me to get into a taxi all the way from Kansanga to come and contribute the little I have to change a child’s life. (sips beer) I don’t even go to church and yet here I am supporting charity. Thank you.

She walked away and when I turned around, Mr. compensation was gone too. Overall, it was a very humbling day. I am actually not over it, a whole week later.

We learnt several lessons and are very grateful to everyone who took the time to participate and was patient with us throughout.

.I wish my team could get a month off or more, for all the hard work and sleepless nights. You guys rock!

Unfortunately now that we have raised the money, the work has to begin. Just to reiterate, we managed to raise 11,376,700 on that day, after an initial investment of 4,712,600. That means we have 6,664,100 surplus that we shall inject into our programs starting next month. Literacy and numeracy as well as food and nutrition shall be our focus as we continue to better the lives of those less fortunate than we are.

How do you like our custom made boots and medals? I just love my team’s creativity and how they are constantly re-inventing things that would otherwise seem so ordinary!

boot 1

boot 2

medals

Congratulations Team Wesonga (Winner) and Team Benezeri (Runner up). The finals took place using ‘DIY flood lights’ and it worked!

This was our biggest event yet, with over 1,000 people present and we don’t take it for granted. Keep spreading the word and being the change! The numbers are great but having you as part of our movement and programs is even better.

To our partners, friends and well wishers, the team at 40 days over 40 smiles says thank you! It is because of you that we have made 2 years and can’t wait for the decades to come.

Aside

Beautiful little hearts

At the beginning of this year, a friend of mine whom I shall call Madeline lost her sister. I can still remember the night she called me unable to stifle sobs. She was broken and I heard it in her voice but had to stay put until the very next day.

The following days were difficult for her and although time and events may shadow the grief, loss remains well- loss.

My heart went out to the family but mostly to the deceased’s daughters. I was so broken on their behalf and could not even try to imagine what they were going through.

We had a breakfast at God’s grace orphanage a month or so after and these two beautiful girls showed up. They immediately mixed and mingled and one would not tell by looking at them that they were going through such a terrible ordeal. In fact, they had a little dance performance that was quite energetic but left me in tears and when a video of it was uploaded a few days later, it left me speechless.

At the end of the breakfast the elder sister told me “We have to go to Bimbo for Ice cream like last time, each scoop is 3,000 so you need to save 15,000 for 5 scoops.” I laughed. I love ice cream but five scoops? We exchanged numbers and planned to catch up on said date.

Fast forward to two weekends ago. We had a scheduled trip to Happy Times School in Luweero on a Saturday morning. The rain decided to ‘show off’ at about 7.30a.m, even if we had planned to set off at 9am Consequently, RSVPs started streaming in and several friends called to say they would be late.

I knew I would be yelling at some individuals if they came after the agreed time so I decided to be at the meeting point promptly even if it meant that I had to sit on a boda boda in the rain complete with an Uchumi ‘kavera’ (polythene bag) on my head because an umbrella would have been blown by the wind. I laughed at myself all the way to Open House so it wasn’t so bad 😀

Madeline was one of the people who arrived a little late. The weather played a role in this but she had another reason. Her niece had told her to pass by her home and pick something. She told me she had not opened the brown envelope yet as she handed it over to me so I quickly did.

It contained 6,000 shillings; a 5,000 shilling note and coins worth 1,000. I just stared at them for a while. The little sisters had sent their contribution to the vulnerable kids that 40 days over 40 smiles supports. These two little girls who had to lose their best friend had saved up during the term so they could play their own small role.

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

I was humbled in ways I can’t even begin to  explain. We were short of cash that day but I swore to myself that I would not use this donation. In fact, I still have it kept safely. I am not sure what for but there are a few things I am sure of;

That these amazing girls shall be blessed beyond their years. I am also sure that as ‘selfish adults,’ these children can teach us a lesson or two for it is not necessarily those that have the most that ought to give.

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” ― Winston Churchill

L