When I was a child and had all the time in the world, my most favorite thing to do was reading. I would read anything that would catch my eye. I was happy – the whole world would open to me and my imagination would take me anywhere. In such a way I was introduced to Africa for the first time. I was fascinated by the fact that human life has started there – the nurturing. Right there and then I promised myself I will see this place one day.
Time went by and I visited a lot of places, lived in different cities, countries and continents and met a lot of different people. One of my friends happened to work in South Africa. I would inquire about it every time he came back. He would always say – it feels like home. It’s welcoming and you feel like you belong when you get there. That was beyond my imagination, but kept the fire burning.
Finally, I got a chance to meet people from Africa in the summer of 2015 at in international student conference. Luckily all participants at the conference became really close and soon after we started traveling and exploring each other’s countries. This presented me with the great opportunity to finally make my dream come true and visit the long desired Africa.
As any European who had never been to Africa and had watched lots of documentaries about it, and especially after checking into how many precautions and vaccines you have to take and discussing with my doctor, I was a little anxious about my visit. But the ticket was bought and the arrangements were made. So I decided – it’s now or never. I had to see for myself.
So there I was on the plane a day after Christmas with thousands of thoughts racing through my mind. The eight hours travel time flew by and there I was – in Africa. The first thing that I noticed was the heat and the humidity. It is really humid in Uganda, I guess due to the lake, but coming from winter there can be a shock too. The first couple of days you struggle to breathe.
But the beauty of the country is overwhelming – it may be just me, but palm trees are just mesmerizing to me. The fact that you can grow bananas, mangoes and avocados in your backyard still amazes me. And the stuff is real – nothing like what they sell in supermarkets on this side.
Since the topic I chose to write about is discovering Africa and Uganda in particular, I’ll just explain the differences that mattered to me. The first thing that you notice right away is that people are happy. We have been fed with information about how people in Africa are poor, miserable, hungry. You’d better think twice about that one. People in Uganda are happy! It’s actually quite catchy too. You find yourself smiling, enjoying life and actually not wanting to leave. But that’s another story I’ll have to write. I actually did not meet a single person who did not love their country and wanted to move to another country. Yes, not all people have the best life possible, but they stay positive, they work hard and they enjoy themselves. It in a way fills you with optimism and positive thoughts too.
The next thing you notice almost immediately is the hospitability. Don’t get me wrong – I do know what hospitable means – Bulgarians are famous for their hospitability. We take pride in it. But people in Uganda take this to a whole new level. They are very polite and considerate. They really care when they ask how you are, they mean it. And if you are lucky enough to be invited for a meal, you’d better be prepared to eat.
Oh, eating is another thing. Ugandans love food and eating it. The amount of food cooked, served and eaten is amazing. I guess abundance of food and fertile soil is something that contributed to the habits of preparing large amounts of food for each meal. Of course guests are served first, and you are expected to get a second serving. I also heard stories of how grandmas fill your plate with enough food for an adult and you are not allowed to leave the table before you finish it. And then, if you say you have a favorite dish – it will be cooked for you in the morning and you will have to eat the whole pan of your favorite dish for lunch and dinner. Who says grandmas cannot be a punishment… 😉
The other really interesting thing is the relaxed and laid back lifestyle. I loved that nobody was in a hurry, that you can be running really late, but as I was told – in Uganda it’s more important to show up when you’re invited to an event, not to come on time. Once you get that in your head – life becomes so much easier. And at the end you actually start really enjoying it. Although it bothered me at first, you get used to being late easily and this I believe adds to the happiness of people.
The most important thing though is the connection, the belonging. Ugandans keep close connection with family and even extended family. That helps a person know where they belong and that they can always rely on somebody. They also are very close to the earth. Producing your own food is something they take pride in. They have managed to keep that special connection too. I believe this is extremely important. I have heard stories of my people being disconnected from their land by force. The result is not good – people lose their focus and what is important in life. I believe that a nation that cannot sustain itself is doomed. So I suppose these two very important connections help Ugandans stay positive and focused.
So if Africa is calling your name, do not delay visiting it – you will not regret it!!! And Uganda seems like a good place to start exploring. I know that I will be going back!
Guest Post by Yana Balashova-Kostadinova
How Kakooza is changing perceptions about mental health in Uganda
Liz Kakooza has struggled with depression herself. She has had it ever since she was a child. She never knew depression was a very big issue until 2015 when she was diagnosed with it and had to be in constant monitoring by a psychiatrist.
However when she recovered, she realized that there were no organizations doing work to address the mental health issue in Uganda at a time when many cases of depression were on the rise.
“I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and having experienced stigma first hand and with the lack of access to adequate mental health care in Uganda, I made it my life’s purpose to raise awareness around it which in turn will address the issue of stigma.” Liz notes.
The mental health situation in Uganda
In 2006, The Principal Medical Officer in charge of Mental Health at the Health Ministry, Dr. Sheila Ndyanabangi, had predicted that there was going to be a significant increase in mental health illnesses over the next years. In 2016, The IOGT International reported that there had been 500% increase in mental disorders in Uganda.
Globally according to the World Health Organization, One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
Stigma associated with mental illness also is a significant barrier to care. People with mental health problems are amongst the least likely of any group with a long-term health condition or disability to find work, be in a steady, long-term relationship, live in decent housing and be socially included in mainstream society.
Founding Tumaini Foundation
“I started the Tumaini Foundation after identifying a need in the Mental Health space in Uganda and the continent as a whole.” Says Liz Kakooza, the Founder and Executive Director of Tumaini Foundation, World Economic Forum Global Shaper for Uganda, A Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Fellow 2017 and a LéO Africa Institute‘s Young & Emerging Leaders (YELP) Fellow.
Tumaini Foundation’s approach is threefold aimed at raising awareness and address the stigma around mental health, improve access to health care for people living with mental health issues and influence and implement policy and legislation around mental health.
“In my journey of recovery, I have learnt that true recovery comes from helping others going through the same challenges which is why I started Tumaini Foundation.” Liz states as she recalls her story.
Tumaini Foundation’s focus is also on addressing stigma. Liz through her foundation believes that stigma comes from a place of ignorance and by educating people about mental health, everyone will be able to address the stigma around mental health which will have a ripple effect and open doors for our initiatives.
However the journey to launching the foundation and starting her work has also not been easy. Liz has not yet been able to identify many stakeholders in the mental health space in Uganda as the topic remains not talked about
Uganda on the other hand, has only one psychiatric hospital to handle all mental cases from across the country which becomes a very big challenge for individuals like Liz.
As Daily Monitor reported, Butabika National Referral Mental Hospital (commonly known as Butabika hospital or Butabika) is Uganda’s second largest hospital and the centre for mental health treatment and education in the country. The hospital may house anywhere from 700 to 800 patients at any one time, although it was built for a capacity of 550 patients.
But that has not stopped her from achieving her goals.
“I have used crowd funding techniques and engaged partners in my networks to get the ball rolling to change the conversation around mental health in Uganda. The message has spread further than anticipated to even different parts of the continent.”- Liz notes.
Currently, the foundation has a number of projects it is running. Recently, the foundation was able to start work on its first treatment center Africa Retreat Center (ARC). ARC is an intensive out-patient facility and rehab center. It offers different treatment and rehabilitation programs for people living with mental health disorders and addiction issues.
Other programs by the foundation include; Tumaini Combat whose aim is to work with the army, Tumaini Woman which addresses mental health issues prevalent among women, Tumaini Ingane which addresses the onset of mental health challenges among children and Tumaini Lifeline; Which is a suicide & crisis counseling hot-line.
“We plan to roll-out an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) where we will work with employers (corporations & private businesses) to address mental health challenges in the workplace and to develop mental health policies.
With the Tumaini Foundation, Liz believes that it is through sharing of personal stories that the foundation will be able to change the conversation around mental health. In this spirit, the foundation is slowly rolling out several communications initiatives e.g. a blog that will be live soon to share stories about mental health that are within the African context.
Meet the Ugandans on the TEDGlobal 2017 Fellows list
A playwright, an Investigative Journalist and a former refugee living in Uganda are among the new class of the TED Global Fellows class of 2017.
The three are among the 21 fellows, ten of which are from African countries like Somalia, Nigeria, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Egypt and Liberia that will each, deliver a talk at this year’s TED Global gathering this August in Arusha, joining 436 other fellows from 94 countries around the world.
Below, get to know the new group of Fellows who will join us at TEDGlobal 2017, August 27–30, in Arusha, Tanzania.
Adong is a Theater/Film Creative Director, Writer & Producer, who creates captivating plays and films that provoke and promote dialogue on social issues affecting underprivileged groups. Judith’s outspokenness has led her to create work that provokes dialogue and social change on issues ranging from LGBTQ rights to war crimes. She is also the artistic director of Silent Voices Uganda, a not-for-profit performing arts organization.
Kakande is a Ugandan journalist working undercover in the Middle East to uncover the human-rights abuses of migrant workers. His autobiographical novel The Ambitious Struggle, is a fascinating and gripping account of life in the United Arab Emirates, as seen and reported on by a Ugandan journalist resident for over a decade in Dubai. The first such account of its kind, in outlining the duties he was assigned (in print and broadcast media) and the news events that made it (or did not make it) into the print and and broadcast media, one gains a keen look at the points of sensitivity in the complex society of the UAE.
Hakiza is of DRC origin. He is the Co-Founder of Young African Refugees for Integral Development (YARID) an NGO based in Kampala that is uniting urban refugees through avenues like sports, English classes, and vocational skills training in order to address social issues like ethnic conflicts, unemployment, public health, and lack of access to education.
Refugees that YARID serves mainly come from the Great Lakes Region: Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.Hakiza and his colleagues are helping these urban refugees learn new skills.
Nyege Nyege Music Festival listed among the World’s 300 best festivals in 2017
The Nyege Nyege Festival that often takes place in September along the great River Nile at Nile Discovery Beach was voted and listed among the World’s 300 best festivals. According to Everfest, every November fest300 staff remove 30 festivals from the list and they ask the International festival community to vote on 30 new festivals for the next year.
Nyege Nyege is a noun that literally means ‘the feeling of an uncontrollable urge to move, or dance.’ Often referred to as the festival where nature meets music, and diversity of culture, religion, and whatnot, Nyege Nyege music festival has managed to attract a number of people from allover the world for the love of music, adventure, and socializing.
The festival started in 2015, and last year was an even more epic 3 Music and arts vacation. The festival is a 3 day gate away from the hustle and bustle of town to the Nile Discovery Beach in Jinja just along the World’s greatest and longest river- River Nile.
Different countries often send their music legends to represent contemporary African Music such as; kuduros, kwaito, Afro house, hiplife, Tuareg rock, cosmic synths from Niger, Arab tech, Morrocan bass, zouk bass, soukous, balani, funana, and swhaili trap and Tigrinian blues among other genres.
“Nyege Nyege takes it’s inspiration from the legendary World Festival of the Black Arts’ that took place in Dakar Senegal in 1966. An extended invitation from Uganda to the world.”- Website
Nyege Nyege often showcases the connections between Africa and the rest of the world Afro Diaspora with Cumbia from South America, vodou jazz from Haiti and underground hip hop from America, cosmic synths from Niger, and other music fusions synonymous with the African ear.
The Live music is often complemented with acts from some of the best DJ’s in the World and from different parts of the World leaving revelers dancing to the best of African beats rhyming to the flow of the great Nile. Last year, the festival lined up over 200 artistes from around the world and the 24/7 music presentations, DJ mixes, and instrumentation left people yearning for more- We guess this is what made the festival get listed.
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