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“Our target is those children that society forgets” – Meet Uganda’s Beautiful Heart Esther Kalenzi

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Es Martha Kay

Esther Kalenzi: Photo used with permission

She is beautiful inside and out. Her Charisma is one to reckon, how she manages to get awesome young people to follow her cause is still a mystery to many. Meet  Esther Kalenzi the brain behind 40days over 40 smiles

Who is Esther Kalenzi?

Well, what you see is pretty much what you get with me. I am a believer who chases her dreams at all costs. I did a degree in Mass Communications at Uganda Christian University (UCU). I have done work in PR, Marketing and business development in the past. My hobbies include dancing, sipping tea at any time of the day and listening/telling stories. I am always happy to listen to people’s stories whether i am close to them or will never see them again. There is always something to learn or simply laugh/cry about.

What is and why 40 days Over 40 smiles?

It is a youth led charity organisation that supports orphans and vulnerable children. It started with a Facebook group I opened on February 27, 2012 with the aim of giving back to the less fortunate in society. The plan was to use the 40 days of lent to collect food stuffs, toys, clothes, beddings, books and other material that I would then give back to children and hopefully create more than 40 smiles. In 2013,we got registered. The name is a bit of a mouthful but it has a story so we decided to keep it.
What is this kind of charity that you and your awesome people do?
Hahaha, my awesome people are indeed awesome. The simplest way I can put it is that we make children smile. Our target is those children that society often forgets, whom life has dealt some pretty hard blows. If a playground will make them happy, we shall put up one. If they need a roof over their heads for those cold nights, that is where we come in. There are several issues affecting children in Uganda and more-so those ones who come from poor backgrounds or have no parent. We come in to ensure they have a childhood that is memorable despite their conditions.
At your age, most young people are concerned with personal happiness and dreaming about having big houses. Where did all this begin from?
I would also love a big house , maybe two? There are a few things I am passionate about that came together to create this lovely blend that is now 40-40 People- I connect with people and try to keep in touch to the best of my ability. I have friends and acquaintances whom I never knew would one day be part of this big dream Children- I have always loved children. They literally light up my days. Knowing that one or even several of them are suffering means that someone has to do something. I can be that someone, so can you Positive change: Our tagline “Be the change you want to see” was borrowed from Mahatma Ghandi. From the time I read it as a teen, it became my silent mantra. I am convinced that each of us has a purpose in this world. We may recognise it at 18 or 61. I am lucky that I saw mine by the age of 24. It was the conviction within myself to do more using available resources that gave birth to this dream, along with those factors I just mentioned that sort of fell in place.
Wow that is lovely. Are your parents happy and supportive now that you’re not a journalist but into charity?
They are. I was never really a rebellious child, neither was I a saint, but I always tried to listen to them. I actually failed to get work as a journalist after I graduated. I always thought I would be a features’ writer, bringing stories of change to the public or at least writing and producing a successful show. When I realised this was not happening, I looked for ‘any job’ that I could do. I worked for a business development firm when the 4040 idea came to mind. I made good friends while there and had an intelligent boss who challenged us on a daily. When I decided to quit, I did not tell my parents because I knew they would talk me out of it. Today, they are the ones who call me when an article about us has been featured in a newspaper or if we are on television. I think they have embraced it and I will keep doing my best to make them proud.
What are your biggest accomplishments ever since you started 40 Days over 40 Smiles?
Uhm, that we are still here three years later?! To tell you the truth, we have done some things I never thought we could pull off and have received recognition from some really credible authorities but I am most amazed that this little dream is still here amidst everything. In terms of ‘tangible’ outcomes, the dormitory we built in Luweero stands out and I think will do for a very long time to come. It isn’t that it is grand but the story behind it represents a true reflection of hope, faith, love and dreams coming true We were presented with a budget of 28 million Uganda Shillings for the dormitory and it was pretty much a ‘laugh out loud’ situation. “Are these people crazy, we can’t pull this off,” we said. We agreed to TRY and raise half with so much doubt. Along the way, something happened that I can only describe as a miracle. The support from our networks and strangers alike was overwhelming and this momentum pushed my team to do more. Our first fundraiser was okay, the second one better and then the #BuyABrick campaign just shoot through the roof. We raised 8 million Ugx in 10 days with just a hashtag. At this point, we were unstoppable. We would do whatever it took to get the balance. As I speak, a dormitory with capacity to house 210 children proudly stands at Happy Times Junior School Luweero and I tell you, it is the most beautiful thing you will ever see (heavily biased opinion)
We know this kind of charity deals with kids who are going through hell. Any story of these little kids that has touched you?
I would like to point out that most of the children we work with are happier than the average Ugandan youth. If they are not, at least we ensure they have what it takes to get them there. See, they don’t need much to be satisfied, a quality many of us can learn. Let me tell you about my special friend Ronald whom I met in 2012. He was an extremely shy boy with whom I had a special bond. He would see me coming and run excitedly then say nothing. I had to earn his trust. Before long, I found out he lived on the streets and each time he felt like, he left this particular orphanage to go back to the life he ‘knew.’ The caretaker said he was a ‘gone case.’ I asked him to promise me he would always be there when I came and he did. Last year he ran away (again) and although we lost touch, I thought about him and many of the other children and prayed for them. A month or so ago, I received a phone call. It was Ronald! He told me he had gone back to the street and been picked by a lady who had also visited him at the home around the same time as us. We talked about his new school and ‘new’ family and I was stiffling sobs the whole time.
Did it affect you personally? As in deep in your heart?
I generally like to do my best to give 100% and it can be a blessing and a curse. I grew attached to Ronald and so many of the children we worked with. He wrote me a letter thanking me for keeping him off the street 3 years ago and I still have it to date. I think I have an inexplicable attraction to seemingly lost causes and as such, I felt like it was my responsibility to help him believe in himself and realise that he has as great a chance as any other child to be whatever he chooses. I would love to see him and all the children we have worked with as adults, running businesses, singing, treating patients, raising their families- what a heartwarming sight that will be!
Do you still follow up these activities after a successful campaign?
We certainly do. I will give a few examples; We visited Luweero two months ago even if the dormitory was completed a while back. Other partners came in and bought beds for the children. A borehole has been constructed at the school yet the kids used to walk long distances to fetch water. The children who sat for PLE last year did well too. We are in touch on phone and visit when we can. We worked with Akiba last year and completed our project but are still in touch. The caretaker was at 5 aside last weekend and has invited us for their 5 year celebrations. It is only right that we stay in touch and continue to support each other in whichever way possible.
Well, it seems you are here to stay! Where do you see 40 Days over 40 smiles six years from now?
This question is one of the most difficult for me to answer because if you had asked me 6 years ago where I would be today, I would probably have given an extremely inaccurate response. I will tell you a few of the things we hope to accomplish though. We would love to work on issues from the grassroots i.e find out why mothers throw their children in the first place, what can be done to change this? These caretakers of orphanages who have given their life to children whom they are not related to, how can we empower them? We shall have an advocacy arm and sit with policy makers (better still have some of our members as policy makers) so that we can safeguard the future of Uganda’s children. I see us inspiring young people within Uganda and beyond to take their future into their own hands. Being ‘young’ can no longer be an excuse to act stupid or waste ones’ life but rather create an avenue to start laying foundations early and create a legacy that generations to come will emulate.
Charity takes great courage and commitment. What are some of the challenges you have faced so far?
This type of work can be emotionally draining in ways I can’t even explain. It gets insane from time to time but nothing worth having is ever easy. I am mostly amused by the people who tell me stories about 4040’s process that even I don’t know about. Each time we appear n the media, some people imagine we paid for it. They are not ashamed to make this allegations without even asking. If this was true, then we shouldn’t have wasted those millions in airtime and space. We would have built at least 10 dormitories by now. One even told me congratulations upon the line of hostels I had built. In my mind I was thinking, how about I first buy a bicycle? People actually believe these ridiculous stories because they are looking for a label, something, anything to explain why we do what we do. Others want to know what it takes to start an NGO because 4040 seems to be minting a lot of money. It is this kind of myopic thinking that keeps us underdeveloped and then we still look for someone to blame. It used to hurt but now it is mostly hilarious. The real challenges come in different forms,whether it is an angry volunteer, a sick child, an arrogant caretaker or a stubborn service provider. Sometimes all these forces are spewing negative energy at the same time and you fill like a minor heart attack isn’t entirely out of the question. Having several volunteers who must attend to their 8-5 jobs makes it difficult to achieve some goals in a timely manner. Schedule clashes occur often and the partners may not always understand this. Additionally, some organisations undermine 4040 simply because they are better established and that can be quite disheartening when you know your worth. Others have failed to master the art of saying no so instead they make promises that they will never keep. You make plans revolving around these pledges and end up realising they were a myth a bit too late. Nonetheless, each challenge comes with a lesson and I am positive the future is bright so sometimes you just say ‘C’est la vie’ and keep on keeping on.
Any worst moments or regrets?
I have lost some friends along this journey and I am bound to lose more. It is those moments that remind you what growing up is about, it won’t always be a walk in the park. I do believe that people are indeed in our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. This realisation gives me comfort, knowing that 4040 is bigger than me or my relationships. At the end of the day, I am positive the God who started this good work will carry it on to completion,
Are you planning to do charity for the rest of your life or time will come and say “Yeah i have played my part”?
I am at my best when I am doing what I do. This is my purpose and that isn’t something one gets tired of and says ‘Hey, please hand me another one, in purple please..’ Even when I hand over the mantle of team leader to someone else, I know I will be involved in charity work for as long as my strength allows.
Lets talk about the activities you do. From social media campaigns to fun activities(which are awesome by the way), what made you adopt this strategy?
Thank you. We have surely been blessed. Since I started by adding my friends to the facebook group, somehow, communication just continued on facebook. All it took was a few minutes and the message had reached hundreds of people (and the numbers continued to grow) We then extended to twitter and tried to use all the popular social media platforms. This mode of communication is affordable and has the power to reach may people at once. Our target group was the youth who spend a lot of time on social media. For the activities, we still thought of those that would engage young people. We settled on music and poetry plus sports. These fundraising events have been growing. Our first soccer match was between two teams and had 30 or so people, raising about 400,000. Last weekend we had over 1,000 people and we raised about 6 million Ugx. We have dedicated time, precision and a whole lot of hard work into this but it would all mean nothing without our supporters. They have pushed us to do more and given us reason to keep trying even the going gets tough. Would we really be holding these fundraisers if no one shared our posts or showed up? I think not.

Have you received any rewards or accolades ever since you begun?
We have and I must say almost all of them came unexpectedly. Let me try to put them in order – Vocational Service award, rotaract, Kampala city -Best Campaign, Social media awards (2013) -Heroine of the year award, Young Achievers -Best pitch -Tumaini award, first place, health category -Vocational service, Kyambogo rotaract club -Fearless award, Mavuno Kampala -Social Justice award (2015) -Our first internantional recognition came recently; Finalist, commonwealth Youth Development awards (There were 2 Ugandans chosen out of the 4 Africans, that is/was such an honour!) Eh, I feel like I have made up some but yes, that is the recognition 4040 has got and we take none of it for granted.
Am sure this started as a passion for social justice. But now that you’re getting recognition, does it still remain driven by passion?
Haha, what?? Of course! The awards and recognition are nice but take them all away and 40-40 will still be here for many years to come. I actually hate the attention that it comes with although I have to remind myself that it comes with the territory. The lives that are changing and encouraging people to do more for their society, that is what really matters at the end of the day.
Behind your inspirational leadership and the name of your foundation, there are other people who help you be who you are. Do you mind mentioning at least ten of them?
I may not mention them all but I have an amazing team that holds the fort and ensures that work is done. They have sacrificed a lot for 40-40. Some of them have been there from the very start, others joined recently and I can’t even remember a time when they were not there. They all have different backgrounds and personalities but they bleed 40-40 and are the reason we are where we are today. Is this where I send greetings? 🙂
Then outside 40-40, which partners have been helpful to you in your charity campaigns?
We have had several partners but I think I will mention the ones whom we have worked with on more than one project although we appreciate all of them. Cipher 256, D and J audio, Fit Clique Africa, Xfm, Sms media, The baby store Ug.
Let’s talk about personal inspiration. Which people inspire you in everything you do?
I am inspired by my mother. I am not quite sure how her big heart fits in her body. I do not know how she manages to take care of everyone, including people she does not really know. I am in awe of her strength, her faith and power to forgive. She inspires me to become a better version of myself. Did I add she is my biggest fan? Yes. It is mostly embarrassing, in a good way.
If you had a chance to meet Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), what would you tell him?
Hahaha. You have also noticed I stalk him? The man came to Uganda and we didn’t meet? How shall I explain this to my children? Jokes aside… I even sent him an email, although he probably gets millions of those. I think I would do more listening than talking. I admire him, his courage and patience and can relate to his work to a small extent. Like us, he runs a facebook page that has allowed him to meet millions of people and change lives. All he wanted to do was take portraits of New Yorkers and he ended up travelling the world with the UN sharing some of the best, most heart-wrenching photographs I have ever seen. Of course the stories people share need special recognition. He is such a beautiful human being, doing a great job and I would let him know that countless times.
If you also had a chance to meet policy makers in the Ugandan government for example the president or parliament, what would you tell them?
I am pretty sure this space is not enough for the things I want to say. Several things in this country need an overhaul, including but not limited to our education and health sector. Many of these problems are ‘man made’ and therefore, it is in our power to turn them around. We need to do more for our children, quality education over quantity, incentives for teachers who essentially spend the most time with our children ,involvement of parents and the community in children’s education and well being, the list goes on. “The True Measure of Any Society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members” – Ghandi My focus would be on children (especially vulnerable ones) and the potential of youth. Bottom line is we can do more, they can do more, they should do more and so should we. When the policy makers slack, we should hold them accountable to the best of our ability and by this I mean, we should go beyond passive activism.
At the end of the day, they say judge a person by the works of his or her hands. How do you want to be remembered?
When you have a relationship with someone whether as a sibling, spouse, parent or friend, your actions will always speak louder than your words. It does not matter how often you tell them you love them if you can’t go out of your way to show it. I try to let my values speak for themselves. I would love for my life to be its own testimony. If a few people can be inspired or if I can change a life or two along the way, that will be enough for me.
This Is Uganda wants to tell the world that Uganda is not about Idi Amin or Kony but about beautiful people like you making a difference. Imagine if a white is reading this interview and they are touched, where can they contribute to your cause?
Hehe, but really, why white….? Anyone and everyone is welcome to be part of this movement. 🙂 our website is 40daysover40smiles.org Facebook Like 40 days over 40 smiles Foundation and follow us on Twitter @40days_40smiles They can find more information there.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be like you?
Haha, no one should want to be like me. They should aspire to be themselves 🙂 I am convinced that when you want something bad enough, for the ‘right’ reasons, the universe will conspire to help you get it. Most of my success has been a result of trial and error so as long as one is willing to fail several times, eventually they will succeed.
Any remarks you want you make to appeal to the people?
You know that thing that keeps you up at night, the dream you are trying to stifle because you are not sure it will work? Start it now. The worst thing that can happen is it not working out but how will you know it won’t work if you can’t even try?
Lastly, do you mind sharing with us pictures telling your success story to our readers?
Here are some of them*

A collage of 40-40: Photo used with permission

4040 pic

A member of 40-40 playing with kids: Photo used with permission

Dancing at one of the breakfasts with kids: Photo used with permission


Okay let’s leave her stunning beauty aside. Here, Esther was literally building a dorm: Photo used with permission

sma 2013 team

Team 40-40 at the Social Media Awards 2013: Photo used with permission

sma 2015

Team 40-40 at the Social Media Awards 2015: Photo used with permission

Esther With kids at Akiba, home for children with cancer: Photo used with permission

YAA award with team

Team 40-40 at the Young Achievers Awards: Photo used with permission

5 aside soccer

Action at #5AsideUG this year: Photo used with permission

5 aside winners uncle ruckus: Photo used with permission

5 aside es

Her smile explains it all: Photo used with permission

*Please kindly note that Miss Esther Kalenzi together with 40-40’s photos, are copyrighted and therefore should not be downloaded from this blog and used without her permission. Plagiarism or using someone’s idea without his or her consent is illegal under Section 4 of The Copyright and Neighbouring Act 2006 of Uganda.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. jemijo

    March 16, 2015 at 6:52 am

    Reblogged this on Jemima ♥ and commented:
    Definitely had to reblog this! Super proud of this missy! ?

  2. karungiptrc

    March 16, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    Reblogged this on karungiptrc and commented:
    \o/

  3. Amanya

    March 19, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    Reblogged this on Musings and commented:
    Inspirational. The next great leader isn’t always so far, just recognise them and support them.

  4. Herman Clive Quotes.

    June 20, 2015 at 8:36 am

    Reblogged this on Herman Clive Quotes and commented:
    Inspirational.

  5. Herman Clive Quotes.

    June 20, 2015 at 8:42 am

    Inspirational.

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Profiles

Meet DJ Rachael East Africa’s first female DJ

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Daniel Ecwalu-25

Photo Credit: Daniel Ecwalu-25

Dj Rachael is a trail blazer in her field, she is the first East African female Dj, who started out at a tender age and grew into one of the best DJs on the African continent; also a Rapper, Producer & business guru, she runs an Audio Production Studio “Scraych Rekordz” and a Mobile Events Company called “Raybon”. Her big heart, charm, dedication  has seen her sail through the Dj’ying  profession for  close to 20 yrs.

Right now she is into  music production more than ever  because she  thinks it’s becoming a basic in the life of a Dj. “It’s what makes superstar Djs. I’m glad I was welcomed into the Santuri family which has taught me a lot more than I knew before. ” she says

How did you start?

It was just a fun thing as a kid picking up a Mic and doing some covers as an MC and Rapper in the early days but then I joined Dj-ing out of curiosity because the Djs where I Mced picked interest in me  gave me the necessary basics to head start DJing. This profession picked me up and we’ve been cuddling ever since. It is something you just stay in love with. I didn’t go to any school for Djing, I picked up all that I learned from the Djs I started out with at Club Pulsations and then made it an issue to be better than them. I used to tease them about me having a crazier crowd than they did after I became good at it.

Are you genre sensitive? Which is it and why?

I do not center on a particular genre because my clients are much diversified. In the beginning I loved hip-hop and gangsta music. Now I love more Dance, EDM, Afro house, deep house, Alternative, Rock and Hip hop still. It goes with the territory and to me these genres move floors, though it helps that it’s my kind of music.

What is the Dj-ying landscape like for a woman in Uganda?

I softened the landscape and landing for female Djs in Uganda and East Africa. But then again I didn’t have as much a hard time as I expected though they treated me like an amateur rider. It was topsy-turvy at times where some people would cover me with blankets, others with helmets and yet others with spiky eyes! I guess it still is like that in some parts of the country though it’s no big deal in Kampala.

Any occupational hazards?

Djs especially female ones get short changed by some employers, others get rough experiences through coarse sexual advances from male employers. Its rough terrain if you don’t own a car and have to move in the late hours of the night with your equipment; you could get into all sorts of danger like robberies or worse.

Were you supported by family (parents) when you started?   

Actually I didn’t tell anybody I was going out to DJ. My mum heard about it, was probably flabbergasted and one time she surprised me with a cameo at the Club. I almost broke the record I was playing. She made a lot of fuss to the owners of the club because I was so young. They later resolved it, she got herself some drinks and later even danced while I played. You should have seen the grin on my face!

Do they support you now?

Now everybody loves Dj Rachael, okay not everybody. Most of my family does. Though my mum didn’t live on to see me become the Dj that I am today because she passed on in 1999 barely a few years after I begun. Bless her soul. Then there is an uncle who still insists I should have pursued my pilot project because that’s what I wanted to be as a child! A PILOT! I was actually good at math and sciences.

How long do you plan to Dj?

I told my family I would go on till I’m 75yrs old and they laughed. But it is very possible in this industry. There was an old lady Dj in the USA who was 94 years old and another from Poland who is 77yrs. I’m still a baby!

What are the future prospects for Ugandan women on the world market like?

I think the market is very broad-based right now and the future looks pretty good though the competition will get even tighter out there in the world. There’s so much high tech going on and if you don’t follow you can get left behind in a flash, so you need to be very tech savvy. Old school works pretty fine but if you want to be a household name you got to keep up and get on top, literally. And yes a solo concert has been on my mind like forever now and I know its getting pretty close. Since I’m making 20yrs in the business I think there is my catch. The fans should watch this space and wish me luck on this huge milestone coming up.

Do you think a solo concert would work for you?

I think it would work out very well and people will realize a DJ is big business these days. The Dj industry has grown in leaps and bounds and Djs can now hold huge concerts all on their own.

Are Djs appreciated in Uganda? Why?

The appreciation is only visible in a few sectors, from a few employers. The fans are really all the way behind Djs because they see what they offer. Some employers or event organisers don’t give the Djs enough appreciation. They see what you do and reap the benefits from your talent but they don’t show it in the way they pay. Some Djs themselves don’t rate themselves highly and thus they create a devaluation of DJS.

What are your thoughts at the realization that Djs can headline at festivals now?

It is way overdue. It makes me feel real proud and ecstatic to see this new development and especially seeing that some international superstar DJS are making more money than musicians. Who ever saw that coming?! I Hope it also starts happening in Africa.

Would you help someone (a girl) start Dj-ing? Word of advice to interested girls.

Yes of course, I would love to help girls get into Djing. BUT words of caution: It’s not a matter of looking pretty you got to work hard to perfect your art. AND be who you want to be don’t follow what others are doing, identify with your inner self.

How much do you earn?

I can not put a real figure to the earnings though I can say it’s worth it if you are dedicated to what you do and if you get the right gigs. At the same time in Uganda you need a supplementary salary or business because of some reasons mentioned above.

Where have you played?

Club Silk for 7yrs or more. Club Pulsations, Club Rogue, Club Volts, Steak Out, Sombreros(part time), Cayenne, Big Mikes, OS Club, Florida 2000(guest Nairobi), Stone Club (Mwanza), Via Via (Arusha), Happy People (Kigali), Heineken Capital Fm Parties, Bambucha Launch party, Irish Ball, Italian Day, USA Independence Day ball, Mama Akina Wa Africa Festival, Bayimba Festivals, Sondeka Festivals, Club Silk Street Jams, Wayne Wonder & Demarco concert and so many more corporate and private events and parties.

I was the only Dj chosen by BBC in East Africa to pick the best nightclubs in Africa 2015. I won the Alliance Francaise World Music Day Dj Battle in 2013. We are going to change the face of East African music with the Santuri Safari programming and remixing. It’s going to be a tsunami. Catch me at the Sondeka Festival September 10th 2015 and Bayimba Festival September 18th.

You can follow Dj Racheal on Twitter @DjRachael256, Instagram LilSniper04,  Facebook Dj Rachael, Soundcloud DJRachael4Raynsom

Daniel Ecwalu-24Daniel Ecwalu-27

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From Blogging to empowering girls, this Ugandan woman is changing her world

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Ida Horner

When she is not blogging, her mind is preoccupied with creating community transformation, enabling girls to understand menstrual hygiene and being able to offer people other options of life other than the exam passing skills imparted by schools is what she is doing in  Ruhanga,  South Western Uganda. Her Name is Ida Horner Bayiga.

Her Passion led  her to start the  Africa On The Blog, run the Let Them Help Themselves (TLHT)  foundation and  Ethnic Supplies these are are all peieces that fit in her dream of changing her world.

This is Uganda caught up with Ida, to share with us her passions, dreams and what she is doing to make her world a better place.

How did you start all this?

It’s that sort of realization that you can do something, I  felt that I could reach out to those that were less fortunate, so I started by exporting handcrafts and textiles made by women and all was going well until the recession hit.

A friend of mine, Ann McCarthy on knowing what I was doing invited me to have a look at something she had started in Ruhanga, so I came back to see her project, she was out of her depth, I mean it’s a remote village, no water, no medical center, no school, no means of money generation and whatnot. So, I setup a charity Let Them Help Themselves out of poverty (LTHT) and over the years, we have accomplished a lot. Now we have a school for 500 pupils, running water etc and right now, we are focusing on skills development like tailoring skills, computing, menstrual hygiene and one of the reasons I am here this time is to review this project, where do we go from here, did it actually help, is there any one particular activity that they really really want us to develop further and to see what works and what doesn’t.

So, what is Let Them Help Themselves really about?

Our core value is community regeneration, so we speak to the community to try and understand what there issues are, to try and understand why those issues have not been addressed, whose role it is to address them and where the blockages are and those are the things that prevent people from becoming economically active because, if a woman is spending most of her time of the day collecting water and making sure that that water is safe, she doesn’t have time to go and earn an income.

If a young girl is spending a week or so without going to school because of lack of menstrual hygiene, it impacts her negatively, so we try and have such conversations with the communities so we can forge a way to try and help.

We see our role as people who want to remove blockages at prevent them from becoming economically active, we also look at transformation using the skills development initiative where if a young girl learns a skill, it becomes handy even if she dropouts at age 15 or 16, wherever they land, they can easily find employment or create a job for themselves because people have to have options.

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 What else are you involved in?

We are also involved in Humanitarian causes/emergencies, here in Uganda we were involved in the Bududa Landslides and also in some slum project in Kireka where were helping women refugees at a quary to sell their handcrafts. Also during the Ebola Outbreak In Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone diaspora came to us and we helped to provide people food in the treatment centres as their families neglected them because they were suffering from Ebola.

How do the people of Ruhanga take it in, that an outsider, a stranger is trying to help them?

It’s not easy, and it hasn’t been easy since 2008. It’s about negotiating and building relationships because we are all about transformation and giving communities other options, so having those conversations and knowing the power structures in the community, has been a bonus for us, It has helped us help them. it’s actually a privilege that they allow us to help them, but if you come with an “I know best” point of view or from an imperialistic stance, then forget it. The people of Ruhanga have learnt to accept us in and we respect that.

LTHT is mainly based in Ruhanga but, do you have any plans of widening/spreading this campaign to other places?

It’s possible, I mean, Yes we can do it but honestly, it all comes down to finance, if you dont have the funds to travel around, to pay your employees, you can dream and dream and nothing happens. And also we don’t get any funding from the UK government or the Ugandan government so we rely on individual donations, that’s how we have and are still doing it But also there is still a lot of work to do in Ruhanga, were trying to build a model and a blue print that someone can look at and take away and also replicate because it’s basically developed organically. So for now, widening and spreading is just in the pipe line.

What is ethnic supplies?

Ethnic supplies is about helping people who make handcrafts and textiles to access the market in Europe, before the recession, it was turning a small profit but after the recession it isn’t easy anymore, people priotise where and on what they are spending their money on.

How does ethnic supplies work, I mean If I wanted in, how would I go about it?

The basic principle is that we don’t work with any one group that we haven’t met, so part of my role is to travel and meet these groups and the idea behind that is to check out their employment practices in every sense of the word. So for you/your group to join, we have to have met the group and have established that you have transparent and fair employment practices.

Looks like you have been beaten to the better part of fairness, what are those things that you look at to measure or ascertain good/acceptable employment practices?

I have a very high sense of ‘fairness’, I hate seeing someone being unfair to someone else, be it a person or a brand, I don’t like people being undercut and cheated & people not getting their wage because let’s face it, most people don’t know their rights and employers use that to terminate their contracts unjustly and to manipulate them so, unethical employment practices are exactly what I am against.

What are some of those things that have enabled you to get where you are?

Social capital! Social capital allows you to get a long way which gives you privilege, the social capital has helped me to get on and my ability to help other communities isn’t because I am rich but because I have a lot of social capital. Social capital is important in all terms and ways.

As curator of Africa On The Blog, what exactly do you do?

That’s nearly a full time job in itself, I source contributors to the platform, chasing them for their articles, promoting the website, making sure that the contributors are looked after, I have to ensure that the quality of work is good and to bring new people on board.

Tell, us more about Africa On The Blog?

Africa On The Blog was started 5 years ago, It was an idea that I had and other people in the diaspora wanted. I actually thought it would only engage the women in the diaspora to talk about their Countries, experiences, and stories but the thing took a life of it’s own. *laughs*, So We ended up getting many people who wanted to be contributors from allover Africa including Men.

some of the contributors we had were lecturers at universities who started sending their students to us as a resource, it’s pretty much started a life of it’s own.

Do you have a any Ugandan contributors?

Currently, we have none but over the years, I have heard 4, first was a pharmacist, then David Mpanga who is a solicitor here and 2 others but currently, I don’t have any Ugandan contributors.

Do you think colourism is real in Uganda, because I actually think it’s on a very low scale?

Colourism is real, it’s an issue of patriarchy, low self esteem, politics and colonialism because now women believe that to get a good job they have to look like Maggie Kigozi. Just stop it, don’t do that to yourself these skin lighteners have side effects that you will have to live with for years to come. Because…

Do you have any plans of organising a charity event in Uganda like the walk around Virginia Water Lake?

Most people in Uganda don’t know exactly what I am doing and after being in the UK for close to 24 years, that’s where all my social capital is, but yeah, I would love to have a fundraiser here or run a Ugandan but it wouldn’t be easy. We have a place at next year’s London Marathon and I was almost tempted to give it to a Uganda to fundraise for us, but the VISA situation would be a difficult thing, so I gave it up.

So how can young people  volunteer with LTHT?

Currently, you/that person must be willing to travel to Ruhanga because that’s where we are currently based and some of the things we are looking at isn’t money. If you could get 10-15 comrades who owned laptops and you went to Ruhanga to help the people there to get the computers, you’ve shared your skills and that’s very important, even if it’s just for a weekend. That would be much better than money, people like me value time, if you give it your time, then it’s worth it and we would be grateful.

As a writer I assume you are reading. What book are you currently reading?

It’s a feminist book but its a good one, let me show you…

It’s Beyond the pale and I would prefer the pages but that would mean I have to move around with a book and I mean, look at my handbag, very small a book can’t fit.

Any last words to all the ladies out there and every body?

To the ladies, go do it yourself, that’s advice I got from my dad, make sure that you’re financially independent as a woman and don’t do anything to yourself like bleaching, it will live with you for the rest of your life.

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Girls after receiving free re-usable sanitary pads made by participants at the skills development initiative.

Ps. We do believe that many Ugandans out there are doing awesome things and we would like to be a part of you if you could share your story like Mrs. Ida Horner did. Do you have a story?, you can email us at thisis256@gmail.com

 

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Writing Shouldn’t be your sidekick- Uganda’s Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire

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Bwesigye-bwa-Mwesigire

A master of his art, a writer and a creative in all forms of mental creativity that refers to himself as just a guy who promotes African Literature in all spheres, and Co-founder of an organization that fronts African Literature, promotes the arts through writivism.

 So who is Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire?

This is always a hard question to answer.I will just say that I am one of three co-founders of the Centre for African Cultural Excellence, a non profit that promotes the arts, especially African literature, through Writivism.

When did it occur to you that you are a writer?

I am hesitant to identify myself as a writer. A writer of academic and journalistic work, yes, a creative writer, no. Writers are human beings who have novels, plays and collections of poetry published. I have none of those. I am only a promoter of African Literature who sometimes writes academic essays and journalistic reviews and interviews writers.

Where does your inspiration lie?

Problems that beg for solutions, which means all problems are inspiring. They give one a reason to work.

They say that if you want to hide something from and African hide it in a book. Do you think this is still the case?

It has never been the case. I want to look at a book as an image for a story. Stories are not all written. There are oral stories. There are written stories. And there are stories that are both written and oral. Africans, Ugandans, human beings have always consumed literature, stories in whatever form, written or oral.

 Writivism what does it even mean? Tell us more about this initiative.

Writivism is about the promotion of African Literature produced and consumed on the continent. We hold workshops in various cities on the continent, connect emerging writers to established ones to be mentored, run an annual short story prize, publish annual anthologies, run a schools programme and an annual literary festival in Kampala.

There is a lot of information being written. How shall we make Ugandans read all this information with all the things competing for their attention?

We need to stop thinking of reading as the only way to consume information. Film is important. Music is as well. Oral literature is as important as written literature.

 What is your message to Ugandan writers?

They should be pro-active. There are many opportunities, they should grab them. They should work hard too. Take writing as seriously as lawyering, doctoring, engineering and other professions and vocations are treated. Then it will pay. If taken as a part-time, side-kick, it won’t work. Imagine if being a lawyer, doctor, engineer etc. was considered as a side thing, it would not pay as much. Our work, us who promote writing and writers will be easier when we have excellent work being produced, to promote.

 

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