No one left to speak

Several years ago, I joined a new school. The term had already began and I was all kinds of anxious.
In my first week, we were given a test. The results came back and it turned out I had the highest grade.
It was after this occurrence that I realised I was the only girl in the Geography class and had just ‘broken a law.’
Apparently, there was a monopoly on who could achieve this feat. One of the students walked up to me and asked me if I had seen the questions in advance (of course! I used the holiday to hack into the system)
His question was more innocent than the next encounter. I overheard two of the boys (whom I later found out were the brightest ones in the class) plotting my downfall. Their brilliant idea was that one of them would make me fall  for him and thus distract me from school work. I fail. They take their positions back. Everyone is happy.

What they did not know is that I understood the ‘foreign’ language they spoke so I heard everything.
Would this have happened if a new boy in school got a good grade? I wonder
All these years later and I have never told them. I did not think I would achieve much.
There are some things that happen to you only because you are female, and others don’t. Even when you are walking idly oblivious of your fully covered bust and behind, cat calling will happen and then you will be reminded.
Whether you are a great mother, amazing orator or emerging scientist, the moment a random guy yells “Akabina kapapala” (what is the appropriate translation?), you become just that-a woman with a yell-worthy kabina(butt).

So, when I get up one morning and watch an exchange in which grown men are asking for and happily sharing the latest nudes released by a jilted lover, I silently weep for the children I shall bring into this world and those already in it.
An innocent woman is going to go for a job interview and this prospective employer will undress her-literally. Her naked body lies neatly saved in a special folder on his computer. Is her MBA still up for extensive discussion?

Could these cowards find more civil ways to ‘revenge’ on their exes? *If they must* No? This is really how we are going to continue doing it?
As for those who share the pictures and go on to inform the public about the size of certain features or the absence of sound well knowing this was illegally availed… Isn’t porn readily available? It has consenting adults and you can binge on it in every form.

Still, we would rather destroy our own. Both men and women do it anyway so it is somehow okay?
If we received these damming materials and didn’t share them, would we lose a lung? Ever ask yourself why it is you whom people are so comfortable bringing others down with?
And what is this I hear “She could be your sister, wife, girlfriend, mother..? How about what she actually is. A fellow human being. Period. Is that not enough anymore?
I am puzzled by our desire to bring others down; to easily believe that Sasha slept her way to the top but argue till dawn at the thought that she is simply a brilliant accountant who has worked since she was a teenager to get to where she is now.
The moment we sense success, we quickly back it with a conspiracy theory and if we are ‘lucky’ some evidence too.
Maybe John had a rich dad but it’s his own hard work and resilience that kept the family business successful long after his father’s death.
Jenny might have impossibly long legs that make heads turn but that is not why she made partner at her firm.
She burns the midnight oil to prevent those exact thoughts, to prove that she has earned everything she has.
Nope. These stories do not make for good gossip. Why spread such truth when you can bask in tales of everyone else’s downfall?
Everything comes down to choice really.
You can choose to condemn corrupt officials by day and bribe your son before bedtime and the local policeman tomorrow morning
You could publicly support women empowerment and  then happily share every woman’s nude picture a jilted ex releases, batter your wife and bully your colleagues
You can choose your standpoint on issues based on what the masses agree with and not the deserving minorities.
That is okay.
It is your choice.
One day when it comes down to something you actually believe in, or someone you care about, I hope that there will be some voices left.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me

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A drop in the ocean

My cousin Jane is studying at a vocational training school in the neighbourhood. Within her first week of lessons, you needed to hide your lesu, kitenge or any other piece of cloth you had. If she got her hands on it, it would be quickly be transformed into a skirt, dress or purse. I am always amazed at how effortless she makes it all seem.
A couple of days ago, we got to talking about school and she mentioned the chores they have to do. I was particularly disturbed by the tale of Racheal*,her classmate who is living with a disability. She has to use a wheel chair for movement and can’t quite take part in most activities. Despite her obvious difficulties, she had recently been told to get off her wheel chair and mop an entire block as a punishment for being ‘lazy.’ The other students looked on in shock and when they tried to speak,(in her defence) they were given their own punishments. Why does someone who has probably got enough torture from society and inner battles have to deal with bullies in form of administrators in a place where she went to learn?
This is just one story out of many such occurrences countrywide.
Jane was still on my mind when I received communication from Joyce, the Director at Happy Times, Luweero. It started well. They got a new entrant to the school, an 8 year old girl.

I was in for a shock when I read the rest of the message.
Mutesi lived in a small village called Kamira with her mother and step father. On one fateful day, she returned from school very hungry.(many schools do not offer lunch which is an extra cost to the parents)
She tried to roast some maize but ended up fainting and falling right into the fire. When the parents got a whiff of the smoke from the kitchen, they got in to find their daughter unconscious. She was rushed to a health centre and later referred to Mulago. She lost both arms. The scars on her face are healing though the one on her chest still developed wounds. The poor girl became distressed and it didn’t help that her parents became negligent. Last Wednesday her mother committed suicide and left her with a step father who is already known for domestic violence.
It is for this reason that a volunteer rescued her and took her to Joyce.
If having to type this tale is this painful, I can’t imagine what little Mutesi has to deal with in her heart and mind at such a tender age! Life has dealt her blows that no one, let alone a child should endure.
She requires corrective surgery. The team has since followed up the case to ensure that she gets the attention she requires and deserves. Thank God for Joyce who has now taken her in!
Almost every day you read or hear about a story of someone who is dealing with pain that is bordering on surreal. Sometimes you can do something, other times it seems like a hopeless situation.
My take is simple. Try.
We are all fighting a battle whether it is evident or hidden for one reason or another. All we need is at least one person willing to say “take my hand.”

kindness 1
It is a difficult place to be, you know, wishing you could do everything for everyone who needs help. What is not as difficult is doing something no matter how small.
If what you do is simply a drop in the ocean, great! That was a drop that would not have been there without you.

ocean 2

Passion. Pleasure. Pain

It is one year since I made the decision to walk out of what is commonly referred to as  ‘gainful employment.’ When I asked google what it meant, this was the response I got. ‘Employment situation where the employee receives consistent work and payment from the employer’

Never mind that I thought gaining can be in other ways, you know, knowledge, dream chasing, etc? Well, I was wrong-“serving to increase wealth or resources”

wealth, wealth and more wealth. I could argue though that wealth is more than just assets, right? Perhaps,another day.

One Monday two years ago, I opened something that would change my life-forever. At that point, I did not know this, only the author of life did.

Before I knew it, I was in love with these children who fit perfectly in my heart. It seems like their spot had been there all along.

I found myself spending lunch money on a boda boda ride to visit them, work hours to plan for them and weekends to do all the above with anyone who was willing.

40-40 was quickly becoming my life and although I recognised this, I needed to work, survive and be ‘normal.’

It wasn’t very long before I realised that I was biting more than I could chew. By day, I was keeping the social media pages active, running to hospital to visit a sick child, meeting potential partners and countless things in between. By night, I was writing business plans, editing marketing strategies and looking over proposals for the job that paid my dues.

I always told my boss “I will have it sent to you by end of day and by this I mean midnight.” As a result, my emails to him usually had the 11.58pm time stamp. I felt like superwoman. I was chasing my passion and doing my job, surely it couldn’t be that complex, right? Wrong!

My system began to crash physically and emotionally, relationships quietly crumbled and at any one time, I was under pressure from not one but both ‘entities.’ It was a nightmare!

Crossroads

Most of the people who cared about me expected me to ‘snap out’ of this ‘charity thing.’ Explaining my predicament only proved them right. “Focus on your job,” was the easy response.

Here I was-a journalism graduate writing business plans after failing to find work in ‘my industry,’ a ‘mobile mind’ that jumped at any opportunity to work out of office and ‘multi tasker’ who could not even realise when to ‘give up.’ Something needed to change-fast.

Decisions…decisions

I decided that I would not think about how to survive or what the future held, not too much at least.

I had not consulted anyone before starting the 40-40 journey. I took it then invited people to take it with me. It somehow worked.

I made up my mind to leave the job on my own and hoped that those who mattered would understand my decision and support me.

When I sent that resignation letter, I felt a strong sense of peace and a similarly powerful sense of panic. I am all about the optimism so I had to make sure the positive outweighed all other depressing thoughts. *breathe*

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

What next?

I needed some time to think, take a journey of self discovery and come back ready to do the job I was made for.

That was not to happen, not quite at least.

I no longer had ‘work’ as an excuse so structures had to be set up, plans made and as much as possible and we needed some evidence of progress, right? Okay. *breathe*

The Marathon

The events that followed were mostly miracles and if you believe in signs-these were the ‘loudest’ signs you could find.

I do not take credit for these. Many nights I went to bed and had this to say to God. “Really?”

When I quit, I barely sat for a week, ‘scattered brains,’ as we like to call them were at their best(worst?)

We planned a team building at one of the team member’s homes. While there, we had a speaker who among many things said, “ Why do you keep acting like a small organisation? You have grown, by now you should even have an office.” The irony! When I leave work is when you bring up such things? Thanks!

That night I went home and told mom. She knew someone who was leaving an office just next to theirs and gave me the contact.

Within three weeks, together with my friends and family, I had the ‘millions’ required to pay for 6 months rent. The rate would be ‘good’ because the former tenant put in a good word for us.

That was just the beginning.

Most of our events brought in about 5 million shillings (total) by then, Hoops for Grace that September brought in 5 million UGX as the surplus..

We would then have our most successful online campaign the following month, dubbed #BuyABrick- for a dormitory we were building. It raised 8 million shillings (cash) in 10 days on facebook and twitter. Period.

The following month (November) came with the inaugural social media Awards. 40-40 scooped the award for “Best Campaign” in a category we were certain we would not see light of day in. Why? The household names we were up against-Coca Cola, MTN and Airtel. How??!

As the year came to an end in December, I would be recognised as the “Heroine of the Year 2013” by the Young Achiever’s awards.

In three months,40-40 had had more ‘action,’ than I could contain. If the universe was sending a message, I had received it loud and clear. Wouldn’t you agree?

What lessons can I share? What do I wish I knew? What does this experience mean?

If at least one person can believe with you and go the extra mile, you are onto something

The 40-40 greater family is in thousands and that looks good-on paper.

The naysayers are lurking around, perhaps even one in three. To keep the main thing, the main thing amidst life’s hurdles is extremely difficult but NOT impossible.

Two years ago I met Joseph* In fact, he was one of the only people on the team whom I did not know from ‘my past life’ (Everyone else was a friend or at least an acquaintance)

He was dedicated,you could see that. Him and I were (are) also very different.  It took a while for me to get used to him, one of the reasons being >> ‘tasemba na kyo’ (loosely translated to mean, he always has the last word) even when it is obvious he is wrong. (in his defence, I also drive other people mad so…)

Let me even give a ‘real’ example. This one time he knocked a policeman (poor boy was on his way to a 40-40 meeting) and as he narrated the story to us, he seemed to suggest that the policeman (who was on foot) is the one who knocked Joseph’s car 😀 <<< see?

Well, he happens to be one of the most loyal members of my team

For almost two years, he braved Entebbe road traffic and a demanding bank job-to attend our weekly meetings(in Kampala) that often end at 9.00p.m as well as having a key role at all our events.

A couple of months ago when African Hope Network offered to support me and 40-40, my opening request was that they facilitate me to hire an accountant.

The first time I mentioned it in a meeting, a few people nodded, some weren’t sure. Joseph*  on the other hand sent me a message that night saying he would quit his job and join me- full time.

What? how? why? when?

I spent the next fortnight giving him all the reasons why he should not make this drastic decision.

I needed him to be sure. I was living a precarious life and did not want to carry any ‘casualties’ with me.

He did not budge.

Well, as I speak, he is my first real ‘employee’ and we haven’t killed each other…yet.

So you can say I am a boss-ish.

Speaking of bosses…

I do not consider myself a boss, it will take some time before I get the hang of it. When I was younger, I knew I would support a cause like ours, not be at the helm of it. See the universe playing tricks again?

Even with the titles Afande, CEO/ED/KCCA/UPE etc that we joke about, I see my team as equals. Some older, some younger but nonetheless, we are all 40/40.

My friend Gloria introduces me to everyone as ‘My boss Esther.’ The most awkward one was recently when I was at her ‘actual office’ and her ‘actual boss’ walked in. “Meet my other boss, Esther,” she calmly said. The expression on his face-priceless!

It’s all about the money, money, money…NOT

For the past nine or so months I have had interviews on t.v, radio, print and several occasions where I have been invited as a speaker.

This is what always happens when the opportunity avails itself, in this order.
Me: Oh what an honour!
Me: On gosh! What am I going to say?
Me: In front of all those people? I can’t.

Me: I do not have anything to wear.

You would think I would be used by now. I shock myself too. Same nerves, same panic, same fear of falling and stuttering etc.

At the end of all this, I will look at my closet, grab something, head out (almost always on my trusted boba boda) and then present myself and my dream.

I do not like audiences or speaking to them but I do enjoy telling people about 40-40 and hoping for at least one convert.

There is always that person in the audience who asks malicious questions so the poker face must be intact (I struggle)

After one talk, this gentleman asked “So how do you keep your hair looking like that if you are saying you are still growing and thus can’t afford salaries?” Before I could respond he insinuated I had a rich man taking care of me *yawn*

I do not know why  people are so myopic. They barely ask what drives you or how you have come this far. When they do, it is after a snide remark about charity and giving too much of oneself to others. Frankly, it is exhausting, but when you want something badly- you begin to gnore even the greatest humps.

Let us think of a business. You borrow money from friends to start it. You ask your family to let you use the garage because you can’t afford rent. You let your employees know you will pay them when things are good but they may go without salaries sometimes. You also assure them that you will understand if they need to go after ‘greener pastures’ because they have to survive. One day, you catch your lucky break, and the rest is history. Does this make sense?

Okay, now replace business with 40-40 but envision it as non-profit but with possibilities for it to employ the brightest and the best and one day actually pay those salaries. To be honest, my team is already all these things, only difference is they are not doing it for the pay cheque- which makes it that much more awesome. Plus of course, they will be repaid ten fold.

So whereas one might recycle outfits and forego vacations or seemingly incredible employment opportunities, there are few ‘real’ things money can buy, if any..happiness and peace of mind do NOT make that list.

Now that I mentioned opportunities, I have remembered my ‘excruciating conundrum.’ After reaching the two year mark at my old job, I figured it was time to move on. I decided to apply for this one job. I actually did fit the part to a large extent.

During the interview the interviewer seemed impressed by the fact that I had managed to balance work and 40-40, until she turned it around. Wouldn’t I give her organisation less time because of my dream? I decided that would be the last job interview I would initiate.

 

After I started to do 40-40 full time, the calls started to come in. The weird bit was that most of them were management positions. I leave my ‘baby’ which is what made you think of hiring me in the first place, come and (hopefully) ensure yours succeeds and then what happens to mine? Best believe their response came with more 000,000’s than words. It was then that I would say thanks, but no thanks.

I did actually try to take part in gigs that could be done part time and at my convenience…Hmm, let’s just say it is not them, it’s me.

From my S.6 vacation when I volunteered as a teacher at an international school where most of the children were snobbish and it rubbed off on the teachers too ,(or is it the other way round?) to the internships I did for four months, every year during my holidays at University, to the office where I watched our pay being swindled and realised I can’t keep silent in the face of corruption to the jobs I have done for pay and the life that I live now- I can safely say that I have never before been as comfortable in my skin as I am now. In the past year, I have felt more ‘useful’ than I have my entire life and that is something that has no price tag.

 

 “I like the night. Without the dark, we’d never see the stars.”

Your script is different

I have friends whose lives have escalated quite ‘differently’ from my own. We are the same age, perhaps even come from a similar background. Our stories might be somewhat intertwined but often take different turns. Angella* is married with kids, Emily* is steadily rising up the corporate ladder and drives a car that costs the equivalent of what I spend in three years, Jane is in a new city each month and Brian* just got an international job that promises practically everything we dreamt of when growing up. Is this their story? Yes. Is it exciting? Yes. Is it mine? No

If society decides to judge you, their examples shall be simple and yet close to home. “Why can’t you be like your friend who……?”They will go on to tell you things about this friend whose story you probably shared in the first place. It is now ‘their’ story.

The truth is that everyone has their own story and there are no stories that can be identical, similar-yes, identical not a chance! For every ‘achievement’ {because this is subjective} you ‘should have’ attained by now, you are aware and possibly beating yourself up enough without any room for ‘concerned parties’ to add their voice.

The trouble is, though, that we often pay too much attention to the voices. These voices tell us everything we are NOT instead of reassuring us about everything we ARE.

In the end, we do not even remember our dreams or what we loved to do. We are stuck portraying everyone’s definition of success but our own. This is a cancer that can eat at you for the rest of your life if you let it.

Let your story be yours. No matter how dull, dramatic or painful it is-as long as it is yours, all else is secondary

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.”

lonely

Before I go

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking at our accounts and realised they could be better. You know how when you are broke and you remember all your debtors? It was a bit like that. I remembered that this organisation had made a 1,000,000 ugx pledge that wasn’t fulfilled. When I contacted them they said their boss had been out of the country (never mind that he was in the papers and on t.v (United States of Kololo perhaps?)

24 hours later, the money was miraculously ‘ready.’ All I had to do was pick it up, and give the 3 people who ‘helped process’ it their cut, take the 40-40 share and go. What is 1,000,000 divide by 4? Yeah. Exactly.

I told them to give us all of it or keep all of it because we would rather close shop than lose integrity. After all, dividing it amongst themselves without us, would mean more for them.Their response? “We’ll call you back.” That call has not come through since.

The truth is that so many organisations and people operate like this in this country and many others- from the lowest level to the top. That does not mean that we should condone this nonsense because it is the ‘done thing.’

On the other hand, we can’t use blanket statements like “That is why I will never help people, they are all crooks.” There is always an exception to the rule.

Change does not have to happen at once. No amount of change is insignificant.

We need to support each other and help those around us grow.

There are some bits of African culture that do not sit well with me.  I will illustrate.

A woman is beaten by her husband for years and never lets the children know, she is the best mother but most depressed human being. Very soon her daughter is 25 and engaged to be married. It is a huge celebration. After the ‘honeymoon phase,’ daughter returns home. She explains that her husband is a monster. He beats her up like he is trying to kill her. Mommy raises her dress and shows her scars. “My child, guma” (hang in there). She goes on to share the stories of what she went through.

We need to speak up..!! NOW not tomorrow.
This year has been an incredible experience for me mostly because it has opened my eyes. It has not been easy and I acknowledge that. That does not take the beauty from it, in fact, it makes it that much more worthwhile.

If I am blessed with children or people to mentor, I would like to tell them things as they are, no sugar coating- only facts!

I would like to illustrate that it is not always black or white, it can be grey.

I hope that I will teach them to understand that passion is a beautiful thing and whether you find it at 13, 24 or 60- the best gift you can give yourself is to harness every last inch of it.

discover you

God has been good. I have no doubt he put me here and gave me amazing people to ensure his work gets done. I will serve him for as long as I live.

Thank you for reading up to this point! I know just typing all this out has exhausted me.

Just remember;

winner

To dreams and more, xoxo

passion

The Pressure!

I went for a job interview once. Years later, I happened to get access to the evaluation form that had been used as I spoke.

I had scored highly on confidence. I laughed so hard! How was that even possible?! I had been a total nervous wreck. All my clothes looked like rugs, my vocabulary was at 2 on a scale of 1-10 and my heartbeat could have been at the level of a marathon runner. Somehow the facade worked.

Fast forward to this week, I am supposed to receive a Young Achiever’s Award, “Heroine of the Year.”

It is an honour I couldn’t have foreseen at the beginning of this year or even dreamed of.

When I checked for the dictionary definition of ‘hero,’ this is what I found “a person, typically a man, who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.

For a heroine, it applies and just changes to ‘woman.’ Who am I that I should be considered one?

40-40 first got honoured by the Rotaract Club of Kampala South in October this year, we went on to win a Social Media Award last month. As if these pleasant surprises weren’t enough, there is one more in store just as the year ends.

This week’s award shall be an opportunity for my team to get great exposure and possibly have more ‘influential’ people listening and joining in. I am excited at this prospect but shaking like a leaf at the thought of that large audience. Woah!! :O

Despite the fact that I have known about this day for several weeks, it is still surreal. I have been getting nightmares even during the day and it doesn’t help that these past couple of weeks have been extremely trying.

The obvious thing is that I am being given an opportunity to speak about something I am passionate about, that is my life, not some random theory that a genius came up with hundreds of years ago. This should make it easier, right? WRONG! The pressure is even rising with each letter I type here.

For fear of sounding like a drama queen, I shall henceforth compose myself. If we meet and I can only nod or shake my head, just go with it. I have warned you.

Did I mention the cold that decided to attack last night? As in on top of tripping at the Serena, stuttering as I pronounce the dignitaries names, now other thoughts of ‘achhhooo’ after every sentence have began to fill my imagination. Over 600 people shall see this, in 5D :O. Isn’t life grand?

nervous

Drama aside, I have only ever attended one ‘Young Achievers’ event. It was three years ago and I got an invite for my friend and I from a pal who was part of the organising committee.

The event was so big; we barely saw or heard anyone. Instead we chatted and giggled for the most part of the night. I remember clapping for a few winners and when my friend was commended for assisting the team. The rest is a blur.

Everyone left with a ‘Young Achievers Awards’ bag and a magazine among other things. I have used that bag to carry snacks to work and sometimes a laptop or reading material since then.

It only occurred to me recently that this bag is actually symbolic of a dream that I never even dreamed coming true.

Whereas I am still overwhelmed by “Heroine of the Year ,”title  and everything it represents, I am also honoured that anyone would think of me this way, let alone have an award dedicated to this sentiment.

However, one of the most puzzling bits of this state of affairs is the fact that I am convinced what the team and I are doing isn’t extraordinary. Not only did Jesus teach us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves, it should also be natural that as human beings we look out for each other because we are ‘One.’ Notwithstanding belief in God, race,tribe,level of income or any other ‘barriers.’

Our successful events, accolades and attention are just an added part of the package but really all we are doing is fulfilling our purpose, as we should.

That said, I am extremely proud to represent 40 days over 40 smiles, this award is acknowledgement of all your hard work and perseverance plus proof that HE who started a good work in you shall surely see it to the very end. You chose to join a good fight without any coercion and have remained vigilant despite all the toils and snares. I need you to always remember that I am eternally grateful for each prayer, helping hand or donation; the team’s long days and nights when we have an event, never ending meetings and constant call for sacrifice; everyone who has followed or supported in any way. It is not something I take for granted.

To my amazing family and friends who have accepted to dream and believe with me, I can’t even begin to try and repay you for I shall fail miserably.

To the organisers of the Young Achievers Awards, thank you for the recognition, not just of our work but youth in Uganda generally. It is no secret that our time is now, and we need every platform we can get.

To the Lord, the author of it all, we can only try to ensure we colour your pages with grace.

In case you hadn’t noticed, this is my feeble attempt at some closing remarks so that if I am dumbfounded on D-day, you can refer to this blog post 😉

Bless you!