Humps ahead

Temperatures are now as low as -2 degrees in London. A normal person would probably succumb to flu or cough at most, but no, Linda had to go and attract some other bugs.

After an almost ‘too good to be true’ fortnight, the universe decided that this lady needed to calm down a bit, thereby sending some ailments her way. Unfortunately, she had sped past the sign so all of it came as an unwelcome surprise.

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Monday was deadline day for an important assignment. 5,000 words can seem like a small novel, especially when it is on topics that don’t exactly include one’s interests.She started to feel sick but could not let herself accept that this was happening at such a crucial hour. Denial it would have to be, until further notice.

All the pain and discomfort was put on hold until she clicked ‘submit.’ “It is just fatigue,” she thought, and went to bed with the hope that everything would be okay the next morning. Unbeknownst to her, she would not be able to leave bed the following day.

It was finally clear that Linda would have to seek medical attention but possibly the next day. She freshened up and went on to fix herself the first meal of the day at 6p.m. In the kitchen (that also serves as a common room), sat the excitable , Jack. “Would you like to sit down and have a beer?” he offered. She declined, trying to seem as ‘normal’ as possible. Upon reaching her room, she realised that more people had been streaming in and music was starting to get louder. She had lost count of the parties these undergraduates held every other day. At first, it seemed like a weekend thing but gradually grew into a ‘when we feel like’ tradition. She tried to watch a movie to pass time until she received a message from her classmate. The list for people who handed in the assignment was out and Linda’s name was not on it. Talk about bad luck! She checked the email and indeed her name was not mentioned. Too disturbed to comprehend the situation, she decided to shut out the noise and find some sleep.

She thought of the people around that she could confide in about her illness but did not want any of them to have to leave work for her sake. She decided to send one message to one of the scholars, her new Kenyan friend, Grace. She hoped Grace would offer to accompany her to the clinic. Plan B, would be to ask her out rightly and if she was busy or unable, plan C would be to find it on her own. After sending this text, she closed her eyes.

Morning came as early as 4a.m,Linda  tossed and turned as she awaited daylight. The plan was to stay in bed till enough strength was amassed. At about 9 a.m, she heard a knock at her door. Still groggy and clad in pyjamas, she opened to find a concerned Grace. “I took a shower and came as soon as I read your message,” she said. Phew! Linda felt a huge sigh of relief. Grace consequently left to make them breakfast as Linda got ready.

They both didn’t know the location of the clinic but it was that much better getting lost as a pair. Linda was dizzy by the time they arrived. It turned out seeing doctors was only on appointment except for walk ins that began at 2p.m. They had over two hours to kill but at least there was comfort in knowing they were in the right place.

Time moved slowly until Linda started to notice the students who were coming in. Those registered needed to only mention their date of birth and the receptionists would find them in the system. One by one they walked in “July 2nd 1995, November 30th 1998…”
“Whhaat?!” The ladies began to muse at all those ‘babies.’ Linda played a game where she guessed the years as soon as they walked in. Some looked pretty young but others could fool anyone as being closer to 30 years than the 20 they really were. Time moved faster with this exercise.

Finally the hour came and she saw a nice doctor who understood her condition. Armed with a prescription, they found a nearby pharmacy. She thanked God she had carried emergency money because the bill brought semi-squints. She made a mental note for the 1000th time not to convert to prices to shillings.

They decided to take a bus back and look out for sites on the way to their residence.

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Grace heated up some food for Linda upon arrival as she dashed to her room to make a call to her husband and son.
All Linda could do was thank her endlessly for sacrificing most of her day to take care of her.

This morning the other two Ugandan scholars showed up at Linda’s doorstep. “We have heard the News,” they yelled. She could only laugh as she questioned their sources. “Bad news travels fast, they replied.” C’est vrai.

Grace later joined with a cup of hot chocolate for Linda in tow. The ladies shared tales of their experiences on this journey so far.

Linda found out Racheal had spent Sunday night crying because she missed her son terribly and kept promising him goodies each time they spoke. The son’s father walked out on them last year. Jane’s bosses were not paying her salary for the period she’d spend in London but she was still grateful for the opportunity.

When they left, Linda was immersed in deep thought about everyone’s journey and how nothing is guaranteed. She was reminded for the umpteenth time, how blessed she was.

Although this sickness had come at a bad time and slowed down the pace of her progress, she knew deep down that a testimony was unfolding before her very eyes. All she needed to do was be patient.

“And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

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Finding Joy

I found Joy over the weekend. The best part about her is her story.
I thought I would share ‘my’ Joy with you.
Joy is a 40 something mother of three. She is resilient and beautiful.

She is Joy 🙂
Twelve years ago her husband and then sole bread winner got a stroke that left his paralysed. Everything changed instantly.
While she had to nurse him and cater to his every need, (and I mean every need) she also had young children to raise. The couple’s savings quickly ran out as you can imagine.
Most members of the family became scarce, barely checking in or providing any support. I suppose they were too busy worrying about their own problems. Joy knocked at a few doors and then stood still.
Fast forward to today. Her eldest son is yet to join University and the two daughters are in Secondary school. She has managed by doing odd jobs from being a porter, working as a supermarket attendant to selling second hand clothes.
The ‘bigger’ bills have been taken care of by good Samaritans. Speaking of, the gentleman who was paying her son’s school fees recently had to relocate to Europe. He is quite mature and as such may not easily find work let alone continue supporting them.
I met Joy a few months ago and this was her  biggest worry. How in the world was she going to pay tuition for her son, Mark?

The Lord will provide

Her, my mum and I were actually together when she raised the issue. Her son was keen on studying law. The UACE results weren’t out yet but she was secretly hoping his grades weren’t good enough for the (more) expensive law degree. At least if he did something like Business Administration (his second choice). She didn’t know where the funds for that would come from either but it was a shorter, more manageable course.
Well, it turns out BBA was not in the cards for this young man. The results finally came out and he had done well, not the top grade but well enough.

Still, there was the issue of Pre-entry examinations.
Joy comforted Mark in advance. She let him know even if he failed, it would not be the end of the world.

He listened and kept his eye on the prize.

81% of the students who sat for this pre-entry exam failed. Mark was not one of them.
The joy! The fear of being inadequately prepared!

Let your will be done Lord

The list of students on Government sponsorship was released soon after. Mark’s name shone bright on this list.
Would Joy’s husband stick it out with her if tables were turned? I have no idea. Would I be as strong as her in those shoes? Would you be?
I don’t have the answers but I am glad I found Joy.
You can’t tell by looking at her that her heart has patches and her soul is bleeding. This makes her an even more magnificent sight.
Have you found ‘your’ Joy?

 

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The baby is 2 :)

Time check: 10.55pm.
It was on this night two years ago that I made an independent decision to have my first child.
I didn’t give it much thought then. It was one of those impulsive things that felt right.
I didn’t think to plan.When the idea crept into my mind,I thought “Why not?  I am here and I am ready”
The next day, I got busy.
The baby needed a home and several caretakers.
I needed to book them in advance,they would certainly make the time.
This home was facebook, the caretakers were my friends+family and the baby…well you know
40 days over 40 smiles Foundation.

Whereas I can’t compress this entire journey into a blog post, I can attempt to make some ‘loud’ observations.
You win some you lose some
That first Easter weekend,we visited two orphanages.
Friday had about 35  friends of mine present as did Saturday.Along the way some have dropped and others have joined in.I have extensive experience in what it means to have people in your life for a season and a reason.
I have some insight about those who will be with me for a lifetime but this journey has given me enough wisdom to know that even those can change with time.
Love and loss
My first heartbreak occured during these two years.I didn’t lose my knight in shining armour-even worse, I lost angels whose broken wings I wasn’t done fixing.
I think of and dream about them. The simple yet most beautiful part of it all is that I kept their memory far from anyone’s reach but my own-deep down in my heart.

Not all that glitters is gold
The team does all it can to spread the word,locally and internationally. We don’t do it for fame or fortune but sometimes we do it too well-albeit unknowingly.
The outcome?
Some organisations don’t want to work with us because we are “rich enough” others would love to associate with us when it is convenient and walk away when it doesn’t benefit them.
Individuals claim responsibility for successes they didn’t contribute to and tiptoe to the back seat when things go wrong.C’est la vie

Everybody is somebody
Over 60% of our biggest donors are friends of friends,random acquaintances and curious observers.
The lady who eavesdrops on a conversation shows more support than the friend who has seen you at rock bottom.
Bittersweet but also plain amazing
Start small

No one envisioned two years. I know at the time my eyes were set on just a successful Easter weekend. After it happened, we got to thinking and look where we are now.
We are not a household name like coca cola but we are who we are, the best change agents we can be. You haven’t seen our label? We produce t.shirts, wrist bands, mirrors and so much more- order now 😉
Small minds discuss people
Without meaning to stereotype, a good number of people in this country spend valuable time discussing/analysing none issues with the sole purpose of destroying what others have built.

Before they even know what you are about, they want to bring you down.It’s not good enough-what are their ulterior motives?-I can do better-That car must have been bought using the charity’s money- That was my idea,how did they steal it?-The list goes on. It gets ‘funny’ after a while. Your life is made a lot more interesting than it actually is.

uhm,how about we each water our own side of the fence?

Hope even in its false form can be exactly what one needs
There have been days when a project has stalled or the account is dry. In your anguish,you mention it to a person or two. They assure you that they will carry your load for you. You sleep better,dream more and wait patiently.
After weeks you realise the promises may not materialise. You also quickly notice that this hope kept you going nonetheless. Silver linings 🙂
Growth finds you
You can plan your entire life,doesn’t mean it will go according to your expectations.
No job,literature or school prepared me for the experiences thus far. None of them could have molded me to this extent either.
It is a phoenix situation-several times over. Cheers to being reborn.

Patience pays

On this one, I could go on for days on end. I have been tested more times than I can count. I thought I was a gracefully patient person till I learnt that I just hadn’t been pushed hard enough. Now I am just learning all over again, that people change, things fail, mistakes happen. Nonetheless, you get up, show up and work.

Never lose your sense of purpose
It’s been 730 days since that first facebook post which I unearthed >>> “During Lent, as you fast or choose to stay away from certain treats, I urge you to save up a little so we can share Easter with the less fortunate.
We shall bake cakes, buy toys and get clothes to distribute at orphanages and paediatric units of hospitals.
Let us join hands and give all we can:-)”

We have several ‘anniversaries- The day the page was opened, the first Easter weekend when we spread love to those children, the day we got registered.I maintain this one as the most special to my heart. A simple thought grew into a great revolution that is only beginning to bloom.
Long days and sleepless nights have surfaced since-ridicule,disappointment and betrayal often cause palpitations but the victories,little thank yous,compliments from ‘strangers,’ innocent hugs and special bonds bring deep satisfaction that no one can take away from you.

There are people I have never met, others are barely speak to and acquaintances that have shared their love and resources-
A large pool of friends and family who have supported at different stages and continue to be with us
A team that has seen the good bad and ugly but still stuck around against all odds
The overall master who brought us this far and continues to go before us.
All these combined have culminated into 40-40 at 2 years- my baby, my reason to get up everyday, my source of pain and comfort but most of all-MY PURPOSE.

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Step by step

Recently the 40 40 team and I had an opportunity to spread the word about our cause and sell some of our branded merchandise that helps us raise funds.

It was one of the most difficult crowds we have had to deal with.

Below I share some of the highlights and ‘low lights’ of the evening.

Team work

I got there a bit early and didn’t see any face I recognised so I started to make some calls.

In a short time, I had the merchandise delivered, found the table we were to use and was joined by a friend to help with the set up. Company just makes t all a little easier.

Good Samaritans

The sun was blazing and if you have been in Kampala lately, you know that is a bit of an understatement.

My friend and I camped under a tent with some ‘strangers’ and tried to get comfortable.

Before long we were joined by some familiar faces. In a short while, we had a gazebo lent to us and could start to set up with some smiles.

We hadn’t carried our banner but when a Good Samaritan gave us some manila, we improvised. It was given a personal touch with….*guess what*….lipstick! Cool friends, yes? Yes.

Panic

When we thought we were ‘ready,’ some of the merchandise mysteriously disappeared. Thorough searches and a police dog later and voila- the badges, mirrors and wristbands re-appeared! Phew

Bloopers

This is the ‘fun’ part. We tried to attract as many people as we could to our table as they passed by or generally share info about the cause. Some were polite, others…not so much.

  • This gentleman walks towards our table at a point when sales were pretty low; serious face, wearing spects and looking pretty sure.  We immediately prepare ‘the speech.’ He leans over and asks “Where is the bathroom?”  It was so sad and extremely funny.
  • This other not-so-gentleman came by and picked a badge. We told him it was 4,000 shillings. He threw it and mumbled ‘I thought it was free.’ Believe it or not, several other people thought like him or at least pretended to.
  • Two members of my team were engaged in a conversation when I noticed two guys peeking over them. I sent them away, told them to find someplace else to talk. They obliged. Then the ‘customers’ asked  “Is this where we buy the cocktails?” Hahaha, really? Right behind the t.shirts and wristbands, we were mixing cocktails according to these guys?

Not over yet

Just when I thought we had seen it all. Someone I shall call Peter came over to our table. He seemed to be tipsy, with a lot to get off his chest.

I began to tell him what we had on offer and that is when the outburst began. “You must be millionaires by now. How did you even manage to get into this event? You are such a business woman Esther.”

Me: Uhm, all the proceeds go to charity, We simply wanted to reach more people.

Peter: Shya, you are just getting rich. I heard you built a hostel and are now building classrooms.

People take years to do those things and you have done it in such a short time. Do you expect me to believe you?

At this point I realised defending myself wouldn’t help.  I simply listened and tried to smile.

His banter lasted longer than I wished. When he left, another member of the team told me she knew him from a past event. He had given her trouble because he didn’t want to pay the 3,000 UGX entrance fee and kept swearing unnecessarily.

I am not sure if this made me feel better or sorrier for him.

At the end of it all, this evening had so many lessons for us to learn from.

I was particularly pleased with the team effort and how everyone withstood the tough crowd to actually make sales and network while remaining pleasant through it all.

We exited after midnight but the learning shall probably go on for a lifetime.

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Charity; is it really worth it?

It is almost two years since the birth of 40 days over 40 smiles. Last night a few thoughts kept me awake and they shall consequently form the content of this blog post.

The journey we embarked on is designed in such a way that we meet people from diverse backgrounds; rich, poor, vulnerable, deliberately vulnerable, middle class etc.  Assorted characters; humble, conceited, selfish, hypocritical, selfless, devious, you name it.

I shall try to break this down using real life examples so that you understand what I mean.

What is your end game?

Many people have contemplated this, a few have articulated it. Even these ones are in different categories, the ones that want to tell you what to do because they have your ‘best’ interests at heart, and those who will make up a story for you simply because they have failed to comprehend what could drive you so much.

  • One of the beneficiaries from our programmes explained that I was providing assistance because I came from a wealthy family and this was some sort of relief so I wouldn’t feel guilty about all the wealth we had amassed. Funny, right? As if it wasn’t enough, another one mentioned that the car I sometimes drove had been purchased by the funds I raised for ‘her children.’ When they spoke to me though, they were so full of praises. Isn’t charity work just great?
  • A ‘concerned’ mature spectator also informed me that the more I looked after children that didn’t belong to me, the more impossible it would be to get my own. After all, I was only becoming pitiable myself. Her quick solution was for me to drop my work and find a husband. If I had any trouble, she would gladly help. How thoughtful :0

Do you know who I am?

Last year, at one of our fundraisers (Hoops4Grace) a popular basketball player turned up. He refused to pay the entrance fee of a measly 3,000UGX claiming he was there on invite. It was explained to him that everyone present had been invited and they still had to pay a small fee as it was a charity fundraiser.

He did not heed, said he would ‘help us’ and buy our alcohol as if he has ever gotten into a concert and said “Hey, your tickets are 20,000 but I shall drink whisky worth 100,000sh instead.”

We did not cause a scene but it sure said a lot about the ‘man’ that he is. (I shall not blame upbringing because at this age surely….*&^%”>#$*)

In semi related news another ‘celebrity’ agreed to perform at another of our events. He showed up two hours late. When he arrived, he saw the crowd of about 200 and said it was too small. He went on to explain to me that he had grown a brand for himself and could not be associated with ‘few’ people like the ones I presented. Before he drove off, he made it a point to remind me “FYI, it is not like I was being paid or anything.”  This particular one was so sad it became funny.

As if to tempt me, for the next few days I was bombarded by tweets and conversations in which he came up. I put on my best poker face and moved on.

Call me, let us work together

This one used to get me so excited. The likelihood of a new partner, hope for a beautiful fresh relationship.  One who has come to us and not the other way round- great prospects, right? Well, one in ten of these particular promises turn out into something else, i.e 10% chance of it materialising.

For the past two weeks, I have been trying to track down this particular C.E.O after he asked that I get in touch. From calls to texts and emails, most of them ignored, it has started to feel like I am trying to get a date with a guy who is just not that into me.

There are other situations where there is a middle man, this can get worse. You are not sure if he is acting on his own or it is with orders from the actual ‘boss.’

Also the stalking look isn’t quite fabulous, but I shall perfect it :D.

Hey, let me tell you about 40-40

Yesterday, two members of my team had a scheduled meeting with another corporate.

He asked them to get to the hotel and then call so he could let them know the meeting room.

A few ignored calls and an hour later, this meeting did not happen.

What is the protocol exactly after this incident?

He had an opportunity not to accept but he agreed and provided the time and venue.

You are doing it all wrong

One gentleman sat me down and told me all the ways in which our approach was wrong, how we were young people who could do better things with our lives. When he realised I was relentless, his ‘professional’ advice was on how to turn the charity into a business so that ‘everyone benefits.’ mmmhhh….

It was my idea

Someone I know, let’s call him James, came to a few of our events. Fun, energetic, your average guy really.

A few months later (because Kampala is so small) James was trying to get this girl. As he listed all the things he had done with his young life, he added that he started 40-40. Poor girl, this was the point she was meant to realise that he was compassionate and therefore  Mr.right?. Seriously though, in this age of social media and information sharing-really?

Recently, another lady twice my age or more wanted to know how I managed to ‘steal’ her idea and grow it this much. Hilarious! 😀

These are just a few examples that could be interchanged with any other profession.

A young musician whose parents wonder why he can’t continue pursuing medicine instead of such a poorly paying ‘hobby,’ a business man who follows all the rules when he could make so much more if he only used the ‘back door’ a little bit; It could be a creative rookie who shares his ideas with an ad agency only for them to ‘steal’ his concept, switch it up a bit and then make a fortune out of it.

Fundraising for a cause is no easy feat, especially when you believe in it and need to break all potential barriers to pursue it.

Lucky for us, we have managed to achieve a certain amount of success without necessarily relying on organisations or wealthy individuals.

Our friends and their networks have been incredibly supportive and this has helped grow both our confidence and organisation’s brand.

However, growth comes with responsibility and thus the need to spread our wings.

40-40 did try to work with corporate organisations for a while in the past. When we realised they weren’t keen on joining hands, my friends and I became creative and came up with a few exciting and involving fundraising events that worked out great.  (Every cloud has a silver lining)

A little push can definitely go a long way and we thought it timely to branch out again.

It hasn’t turned out to be an easy ride but I guess nothing worth having comes without a price as we have learnt over and over again.

One or two things still baffle me, especially when people feel they should remind you that they are helping you or better still imply it.

Corporate Social Responsibility ensures that whatever aid is provided is mutually beneficial. If a company has 10 media houses present as they open a classroom in a community school, so be it. They get the coverage and attention they desire and the kids get a class. Everyone is happy.

As 40-40, we are more than glad to deliver a service to vulnerable groups of people and will use all the possible avenues to do this while maintaining our level of integrity.

It makes no sense at all to organise a meeting you won’t attend and have no courtesy to cancel, whether it is with a millionaire or peasant for that matter. People don’t see this too. Their mentality is still lacking as they believe that by supporting a noble cause, they suddenly should be treated like royalty.

Regrettably, we have been exposed to the wrath of several such individuals and organisations breaking promises they were not forced to make in the first place. My guess is that this is just the beginning.

Life is such a wonderful teacher and although the old adage is ‘If you can’t beat them, join them,’ this is one battle I don’t think I will join.

Instead, I am going to buckle up because what we are doing is worth much more than all the disappointments we have encountered.

#Star ta fa 🙂

work-in-progress