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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What goes around…

32

Originally posted on 2, April
Sometime back, a company organised an event and fronted 4040 as the charity of choice, to benefit from the proceeds.
I had met the M.D, *Charles a few times before.
When he pitched the event to me, I wasn’t moved. Not because I felt like there was anything wrong with the concept but for the mere fact that I was tired of users and could not imagine another scenario in which I pick up the pieces. The charges were also high and I knew that it would be a hard sell even to people who would ordinarily want to support our different campaigns. I shared this concern and he assured me they had it under control.
He was persistent.
We had a back and forth, including meetings which involved other members of my team.
I told him my only condition was that they did the work without expecting the ‘beneficiaries’ to go all out on promoting the event. Since it was primarily a business venture, they would go on about their work and contact us when ready to make statement or contribution.
Our plate was full and we couldn’t be adding events we didn’t plan for to our calendar.
He agreed.
We set the plan in motion.

They got to work marketing the event and my team even pitched in once in a while.
A few weeks to the event, I tweeted about a friend’s perfomance, asking people to attend. One of Charles’ colleagues,Tracy sent me a message that read “I saw you tweeting about a perfomance instead of telling your followers about our event.”
What in the world? I was furious. Now my personal pages were being policed? I couldn’t support my own?
I tried not to be rude as I explained to Tracy that I have many different interests and cannot be expected to only speak about matters pertaining to 4040, not to mention I hadn’t promised to promote their event. We were just adding to their existing strategies.

D-day arrived and as (partially) expected, the event wasn’t well attended, not enough for it to be profitable at least. Charles and his team had clearly invested money, lots of it. What they didn’t invest was more time in the planning process, to allow for better execution.
After the event, I made a courtesy call to Charles to congratulate him upon a milestone. Putting together an event of that magnitude in itself is/was huge.
A week went by and I asked Charles if we could have a meeting just to discuss the event, learning points and put a close to it.
He declined.
At this point, I already knew they couldn’t have made money and I was not even the tinniest bit mad that no ‘proceeds’ were shared.  I know how difficult it is and being their first event, it could only get better.However, when he ignored my second attempt, I picked a clue and moved on.

Soon after, I found out that he was telling anyone who cared to listen that it was 4040’s fault the event flopped.😮
He added that we were ‘nobodies’ and in fact every company they approached seeking sponsorship had never heard of us. (How is this even a problem? We get to spread the dream further,no?)
Apparently, they (Charles and his company) were merely doing us a favour including us in their event and yet we thought we were big shots. We would never prosper..
He went on to say that “If 4040 comes to look for their hours of footage that we filmed, we shall not give it to them. ”
It goes on and on but I will save you the other details. By now, you already get the drift.

When I heard these stories I was sad. Not sad for myself or 4040 but for Charles. I was sad because I did not think he believed what he was saying and if he did, it was simply in an attempt to find someone to blame but himself. On top of it all, that level of petty does not a leader make.

I kept this information to myself. Whenever someone cared to ask about the proceeds of the event, I told them the company hadn’t made enough to include us.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, Charles’ operations manager contacts me. I am suprised because my last encounter with the company in general was in form of the ‘blue ticks’ Charles accorded me.
I ask what it is about and she tells me about an upcoming campaign they have..😞
Yup..it is indeed what you are thinking. They want us to get involved.😥
Sigh.
In their world, everything was erased by time and a clean sheet could just be opened, new script written.
No questions asked.
Well, I made a call and asked some questions, engaged in a mostly one sided conversation in which I sought the closure I never had the chance to get.
I assured Tracy that there was no way we could work with them again especially since they are not trustworthy. I explained that I neither wanted their money nor an apology but I needed them to know that “I know” and that is no way to work with people.

I hope that one day soon, I will get to meet Charles, not to ridicule him or remind him of how he wasted a learning opportunity and future partnerships (although the latter would most likely come up) but to encourage him to look in a mirror, like really look; and then surround himself with more honest people.

 

 

Adult education (2)

29

When I received the email that I had made the shortlist, I was in shock! How?!

Then the second round came and I was elated to find that I was one of the 15 East Africans chosen. Euphoria!
We went for a training session in Nairobi, to get to know how to use the system, interact with alumni and get ready to begin.
I was the youngest least qualified person in the room. Some people were doing their second or third Masters,others were speaking of PhDs; They worked in established institutions and here I was trying to explain the mothful that is “40 days over 40 Smiles Foundation.”
In the afternoon, one of the Professors who had flown in for orientation asked, “How many of you got permission from your bosses to pursue further education?” Hands went up.
He turned to me and asked why I hadn’t put up my hand..then added “I forgot, you are the boss!” Everyone laughed. I didn’t. Deep down I felt intimidated and undeserving.
It was the continuous joke from then on. I perfected my poker face.

One of the requirements for the scholarship had been to explain how you would develop your country after the degree and I had given an elaborate plan; my vision for 4040. It was all I had. It had to work.

Little did I know that getting in was the easy part.
We received our first major assignment and boom, another blow. I fell sick and doctors could not figure out how/why despite tests. I hated to be the new student asking for extra time but I had no choice. It was granted and I literally
The next assignment came with it’s challenges. I mistakenly used a phrase without crediting the author-plagiarism! I received a stern warning thereafter. My undergrad hadn’t prepared me even by 20% for this new system.
I continued struggling though. After year 1, I was convinced I would fail.
I said it to myself and anyone who asked.
Whenever results were about to come, my body went through pretty much everything but a stroke.
I knew if I had been paying my tuition I would quit but I kept telling myself this scholarship could have gone to anyone and I was privileged, how could I ruin this? I decided to hang in, albeit painfully.
The work load was crazy. I didn’t really have a break in my own life and there was no one who understood. My classmates were miles away, dealing with their own issues. The few times I tried to reach out didn’t yield much.

I had no clear time table because there was no physical class to go to. That meant, more often than not, everything else came before school.

I jumped in and out of depression. Some weeks I simply stayed in bed all day, cut off the world and then eventually willed myself back up again.
Trying to work in this state was futile which in turn frustrated me and left me feeling like a fraud, a failure completely unworthy.

Trying not to write books under the pretext of posts😞
3rd and last installment comes tomorrow.

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

31

Can you sniff 2017? I know I can. Once I begin inhaling the fragrance of Christmas, the year’s end is often the next thought.

Last night I was at a vigil when the mother called in tears. I could barely make out what she was saying but I quickly figured it was news of another death. I went silent.

It feels like this year, I have attended more funerals than celebrations. When it isn’t a beautiful young soul who was just starting out, it is a parent leaving behind innocent little ones or even ‘unfinished business,’ which I feel like we all have. On top of all the salty seas that have constantly had to dissolve, this anguish has greatly affected how I think, how I feel and how I live. Fortunately, some of the outcomes have been positive.

While I have for the past few years been a great advocate for ‘leave whatever job, relationship or other situation which brings you more sadness than joy,’ my conviction has developed by leaps with each sudden farewell. The fleetingness of life increasingly affects my decisions and I find myself imposing these ideals even on poor unsuspecting victims.

A couple of months ago, I found myself ‘lecturing’ Carol about her choices, giving 150% to a job that only milked her, stole her sense of self-worth and lowered her self- esteem. It was only on my way home that I realised I had only met her once and should probably have found a more neutral topic of discussion, climate change? I shrugged it off as ‘motherly instinct’ and consoled myself in the knowledge that I did it in good faith. Last week she sent me a Facebook message explaining that she had suffered a breakdown and her doctor attributed it to her working environment. Carol has since tendered her resignation.

Unfortunately, many young people I interact with have convinced themselves that they should settle for less. On the surface they seem confident, ambitious, happy, and vivacious even. However, they are in bad relationships because “all women/men are the same.” They work crazy hours for little pay and no potential for growth because “it is the same everywhere.” Sadly for the latter, even I have to advise cautiously because I understand that the unemployment burden is very REAL. I also know that we can’t have passion and dreams for breakfast and dinner.

While it is unlikely that you will love people into changing their world view, it is also important that we support our loved ones. We need to take it upon ourselves to reignite their flame when we realise it is burning out, to have the courage to speak out even when we know the truth will sting.

I know there is a thin line between meddling and some of us might prefer to keep silent and ‘keep the peace’ but in my opinion, that is stealing a portion of what we need to give our loved ones.

 

What would you have loved to see/hear when you were younger? Did you (not) have someone holding your hand and showing you direction? Did their presence, or lack thereof affect the person you are today?

What happens when our would-be mentors in the work place are the biggest source of negative energy? What is the expected outcome when our parents tell us we are worthless and/or compare us to siblings/other families without giving us a chance to shine in whichever path we have chosen? Where do we turn when our partners, our friends who were meant to be our biggest cheerleaders become the greatest source of darkness?

Hurt people, hurt people. Can we think about this the next time we inflict pain on others or feel like we too have been wounded?

Many a time we go through life like we are immortal, other times, like we are untouchable. Once in a while, we acknowledge that we might be gone tomorrow but quickly forget and go back to our old ways. I know how guilty I am of this. While we don’t know the day or hour when we shall say goodbye, we do know what makes our hearts smile. We know what it feels like to be broken, betrayed, unloved, alone, forgotten, alienated..ashamed. It is because we know and have felt all this that we should not inflict such pain on others, and yet we still do.

dessert

The year seems like it is already over but in reality we have plenty of time. 31 days.

31 days to

love yourself

pamper yourself

remember yourself

teach yourself

31 days to love others, unashamedly-

31 days to say

I am sorry

I was wrong

I forgive you

I will change <and mean it>

31 days to let go,

Of that which steals your light and shine

31 days to chase

That which brings you joy, even if you don’t catch it <now>

31 days to be that person whom you wish you had in your life.

 

I can’t promise what the outcome will be, but I hope it will help you with a fresh start, or better still, a happier journey that will flow into the new year.

Xx

 

fear

 

 

 

Definitely. Maybe

I am typing this from the 40-40 office seated on a couch that isn’t even ours. Uhm, no we did not steal it 🙂 These chairs belong to the landlord and although we need the, he set a price that is quite high. Since we can’t afford them yet, we have decided we’ll custom-make our own set of chairs when the shillings trickle in. In the meantime, we are storing the chairs safely. Win-win! Side note: They are really comfy! My legs are stretched out and if my sleep wasn’t for beckoning by reciting petitions, calling an intervention, taking spiritual baths and chanting spells- I’d probably be dosing off by now.

These ‘borrowed’ chairs are a significant change from the mats we used to sit on during meetings. If you arrived early, you could snug yourself a cushion to comfort your behind. If you didn’t, you’d suddenly know the number of bones in areas you did not usually give much thought.

I vividly remember wondering where we’d get the money for 6 months rent before we set up shop. We needed an address. We’d registered the organisation and opened a bank account. Can you imagine before that, our budget depended on how much Banura and I had on our mobile money accounts? We’ve certainly come from far. An office seemed like the biggest step in the world. It was at the time. Thankfully, dad gave me half the amount, and I got soft loans from other friends who were willing to take the ‘risk’. Bless them.

It has been three years since I took a leap of faith, quit my job and staked all I had (and didn’t have) on 40-40; and here we are. My feelings are all over the place. I am happy. I am sad. I am confused. I am emotional.

This period coincides with my date of birth. I am fast approaching the big 30. In a couple of weeks, I will be one step closer. As you can imagine, all this comes with deep retrospect and quite often, regret follows. Thankfully for me, I am too busy musing at how things turned out to even feel remorseful.

See, I have accomplished NONE of the things I thought I would have by now. None. This means professionally, spiritually, relationship-wise and everything in between. Do I sometimes look over the fence, with envy watching my peers’ green grass? Certainly. Do I let that deter me? No. Everyone is entitled some moments of weakness from time to time. No? Now, when Fred purchases yet another piece of land and Joan starts construction of her new house; when Rachel is promoted and Melanie brings her third angel into world, I celebrate them fiercely. We all have different journeys and oh what joy to watch how the stories unfold. My friend Suzan says when I die, the one thing I should leave her in my will is my 7,213 notebooks. I have come to accept that these are, in fact, my only ‘assets’… for now.

I’ll just zero down on two themes from this past year and the two before.

Who are you?

Do you know who you are when you are in different environments? Do you take the time to understand what makes you tick, what annoys, how negative/positive vibes affect you? In my opinion, the best way to figure this out is by being alone for a while and critically thinking about it. *If you haven’t already, please create this time, as a gift to yourself*

This year, I was away from home for 3 months. During that time, I learnt quite a bit about myself. I’ll highlight only one lesson for the post’s sake. The best gift I gave myself was a gift in the art of letting go. Until this period, I’d shunned all opportunities that required me to be away from my people and my work for long periods of time. Even when I applied, I secretly prayed I didn’t get in. Guess what? I didn’t! This time I allowed things to happen naturally. I kept my distance. I was content with receiving updates about 40-40. Many times I was tempted to suggest that things be done a certain way. However, I controlled myself. My way definitely isn’t always the right way. I accepted that even if what I am saying is ‘right,’ sometimes people need to make mistakes themselves so they can learn better. If you can afford to, let them.  I got to watch from the side-lines (something every leader needs) and was very proud of what I saw.

Once you learn exactly who you are and how you flourish(or not) around certain things and people, you are more in control of what you do, whom you let in, what you give your attention/avoid and it can be very liberating.

grow up

What are you doing?

Very close to who you are is what you are doing..or for some, what you should be doing. While I was thinking about this piece, my friend John shared this letter which I agreed with entirely. Do you find yourself wondering what you want to do with your life? Do you feel inadequate or worry that you are ‘running out of time?’ I know many of us do and this fear is often heightened around our birthdays or the end of the year. At least it does for me.

In that letter, Hunter. S Thompson explains that we should pay more attention to who we are and not our goals, because essentially our experiences change us and our perspectives also change. <Look to the man, not the goal> So here we are, counting 4 months to the year’s end and thinking how unaccomplished we are when we should looking at ourselves, our changes, our experiences.

When people tell me they want to leave their jobs or start a non-profit/start-up and thus need my advice; the first thing I do is to assure them that no two stories are the same, might be a bit similar but the variables are diverse. Some people excel as leaders, others are better off following. We need producers as much as we need consumers and the list goes on. That is how we achieve balance.

This brings to mind the story of Irene. Irene believed NGOs are a lucrative ‘business’ and decided starting one would fill a void in her life and also give her a quick buck. When I spoke to her, I explained that her image of Executive Directors driving 4×4’s visiting projects once a month and living the good life wasn’t the full story. Unfortunately, like most people, she had translated 40-40’s media attention to mean great wealth on my part. The first thing she asked when I arrived for our meeting was “Why are you using a boda, don’t you have a driver or something?” I laughed so hard! She was genuinely ‘concerned’ when she found out I don’t earn a 6 figure salary. Dear reader, I know the look of pity all too well and of all the ones I’ve seen, Irene’s is etched in my memory for life. I decided to give her a short class since I have met too many ‘Irenes’ over the past few years. I started unbundling the myth for her bit by bit. In fact, I made a strong case for her to keep her day job. The last thing this country needs is another person deluded by wealth, willing to disguise their greed in a nicely coloured coat. By the way, do not get me wrong, we all need to make a living and indeed good intentions don’t put food on the table; but wouldn’t it be much more meaningful if that which you chose corresponded with who you are?

Once you know who you are and what brings out the best in you, you can easily choose a path that best utilises your personality, skill and true being. I am fortunate enough to have stumbled upon my path, almost accidentally. When I think about it, everything that I am doing espouses who I truly am. My love for people and affinity for children; my attraction to stories and storytelling, planning events and seeing things grow out of nothing. I derive so much pleasure from seeing other people happy and I couldn’t think of a better way to attain it than through what I do.

The truth is that this kind of life can be really challenging, probably even more than the ‘let’s see how this goes’ lifestyle. The satisfaction it brings though, I cannot relate that to any sensation yet.

This month I celebrate another year on the planet, and another year of not having a boss, a regular salary and of course pretending I don’t like shopping 😉 My broad and eclectic experiences have made me who I am and I’m even more ecstatic about the future <also quite scared but the glass is half full>

I started by admitting that I haven’t achieved any of the goals I set for myself way back when, what I didn’t tell you is I am glad I haven’t. I would not trade what I have now for anything.

 “A man who procrastinates in choosing a path will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.”

Enjoy September and may the last quarter of the year be kind 🙂

40

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

“40/40, why not 50/50 or 70/30?” These are some of the questions that I have had to answer overtime. First,I laugh, and then begin to share our story. This season is the reason for 40, and not any other number. When you think of it, the Bible did love the number 40 🙂

Four years ago, I sat, as I am now, typing away on a keyboard just a few days after Ash Wednesday. A thought had crept up in my mind the night before and thankfully, I had written it down (write your dreams and ideas people) I would then open a facebook group that would change my life and that of others.

Every February since, I have been reminded of that little dream that found its little feet and started to walk without any knowledge of what lay ahead. I don’t know what you plan on giving up this lent (if anything) but I urge you to go a step further and give something on top of denying yourself certain pleasures. I could sit here and tell you that 40-40 is the place to go and donate but I won’t. Instead, I hope that you can find a cause that is dear to your heart, something you have thought of but never done or simply procrastinated upon. It could be a member of your family who is struggling with a mental illness, a lady in the neighbourhood who has no one, that child you’ve thought of adopting, heck it could even be you that needs saving. Whatever you choose to do, whoever you choose to give, I pray that you’ll find peace and fulfillment.

Google image

Google image

 

“Whether one believes in a religion or not and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.”

I have also learnt not to hide under the umbrella of charity. Just because it is what I do, doesn’t mean there isn’t much more good I can do, more of me that I can give.It is something I constantly remind myself. Don’t cross your hands and say, “But I already pay school fees for Mary.” I wonder what would happen if God responded to our prayer with “But I already blessed you last year.” <Forgive the guilt trip> There is so much to share, so many people to forgive (including yourself) and deep cleansing that can be done in different ways. Use this period as an ‘excuse’ to dust those cobwebs. We have an opportunity for transformation within ourselves and our surroundings.

giveI pray that this season is one of great reflection for you. I hope that you can block out all the noise (literal and figurative) and focus on that which makes your heart dance. Jesus’ death and resurrection tells of a great love that is still difficult to fathom all these years later. We continue to learn, to be reborn. We can be ambassadors of that love, everyday in many different ways.

I don’t know if there is such a thing as this but “Happy Ash Wednesday.” May HIS love abide in your hearts for all eternity.