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Unsung Heroes

The making of a Ugandan female Pilot; Meet 21 year old Theo Esther

Uganda is on the path of woman emancipation and inclusionof women in politics, and decision making as opposed to the African Traditional Society (ATS). Many women today are doing things that wouldn’t have ben culturally accepted in the past. The beauty and might of transition and empowerment has brought the pearl quite far, and in a series, we shall be bringing you a Ugandan lady defying the odds to pursue her dreams.

This Is uganda caught up with Mwesigye Kyokunda Esther a.k.a Theo Esther a pilot in the making, studying in South Africa.

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Theo Esther

Who is Theo Esther?

Haha okay uhm… I’d say I am a person who is trying to make a difference as a woman in the aviation industry. Also down to earth and very friendly.

Tell us about your stay in Uganda, high school days and most memorable childhood memory.

I was born and raised in Uganda, I went to Maryhill High School for my O’level and then Nabisunsa Girls School for my A’level. Most memorable childhood memory, that would be when I first saw the cockpit of a plane and talked to a pilot, I was just about 12 and that conversation changed my life goals. I just wanted to be like that guy.

Tell us more about you.

I was born in Kampala,Uganda, Nsambya hospital to be exact and I am a Munyakole from Rutooma, Mbarara. My best local food or rather the food I miss the most is firinda and kaalo.

Did you always dream of being a pilot?

Yes, I actually did. It was a childhood dream, I always wanted to fly planes I didn’t think it was actually going to happen but it did and I am proud.

People back home often discourage those who take on a path like yours, how did you sieve out the negative energy?

I’d have to say the negativity comes from the fact that people do not know much about the Aviation industry. Personally before I started, I was doubting the whole pilot thing but as I went on with the course, I gained more knowledge about the aviation industry. Also, people claim that there are no jobs back home but that isn’t true. There are a couple of charter companies in Uganda and you can always go work in a different country as long as you have the right qualification(s).

theo Esther, during one of her flight trainings.

Theo Esther, during one of her flight trainings.

How does it feel to fly?

I can say it’s the best feeling in the world. It’s a high that cannot be compared to anything else in the world, it’s really an amazing feeling.

What motivates you on a daily basis?

I have two things that motivate me on a daily. The first is to make my parents proud and the second, is the Captain seat of the Boeing 777, I want to get there.

What Ugandan phrase/quote interests you the most and why?

Haha i will say the phrase “Nozakubaje” meaning “You will be fine” cause whatever you are going through, no matter how difficult it is, at the end of it all you will persevere and be fine.

Comment on Uganda’s aviation industry.

The Aviation Industry in Uganda is one of the small industries that has not yet been fully exploited and developed. But I think it’s slowly developing and with the right management it could grow bigger and faster.

What African/Uganda literature are you reading of recent?

I haven’t really read any Ugandan/African literature of recent but i am open to any ideas. A good book can make any day better.

What advice do you have for girls or people out there that are limited and discouraged by stereotypes?

Go for it. Don’t let society hold you back. If you have a goal in life don’t stop, keep pushing, keep turning the pages till you get to the end. Cause once you let self doubt creep into your mind cause of what society thinks, you will never achieve what you are capable of.

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Unsung Heroes

How Nyana Kakoma Is Creating A Generation Of Book Readers Right From The Grass Roots Through Sooo Many Stories

Nyana Kakoma is the founder of Sooo Many Stories, a publishing house and online platform which allows Ugandan writers to express their creativity. To date, Sooo Many Stories has published two books: The Headline That Morning and Other Poems by Peter Kagayi and Flame and Song by Philippa Namutebi, along with several other short stories. The blog she started in 2014 with the support of her husband has now morphed into a publishing house with a dedicated staff of four, and a wealth of Ugandan literal content in short stories, poems and book reviews.

After several years in the journalism and communications industry, Nyana quit her job and dedicated herself to creating this space that would be home to Ugandan writers and an outlet for so many stories. Her inspiration to start the blog was rooted in the fact that not many people knew about Ugandan literature. While an editor for the in-house Magazine and other publications at Madhivani group, she horned her writing skills and got to interact with other people in the African literary space.

“It was during this time that I started traveling for workshops outside Uganda and people were talking about publishers, writers and editors in their countries, but there were not so many from Uganda. I started getting a hunger for a platform that would talk about Ugandan writers.”  Nyana says

Renown poet Peter Kagayi leading a session at the Tot Tales. (Photo by Sooo Many Stories)

When she took the plunge into the publishing world, she attended several trainings and an editorial internship with Modjaji books in Cape town where she learnt from the extra ordinary Colleen Higgs, who still remains one of her biggest influences alongside Ella Allfrey, Jennifer Makumbi and Goretti Kyomuhendo (Founder of African Writers Trust). Through this internship, she learnt the ins and outs of publishing and got the necessary tools and motivation to expand her blog into a publishing for Ugandan literature.

“I wanted people to take me seriously, to take the blog seriously. I was doing this for real, not as a part time job. That meant that I  put in a lot. I would do interviews, book reviews and attend all these events. No one was paying me but the sheer joy of doing what I love made it worth it.”

Sooo Many Stories has taken on the responsibility of cultivating a reading culture in Uganda through book clubs for adults, teenagers and children. The Fireplace: Tot tales  is where children from the ages of 4 to 12 gather to read books. Divided into groups of 4 – 6, 7 – 9 and 10 – 12 years, these books clubs see up to 45 children at every session. These sessions are held in Ntinda at the Innovation Village and in Bugolobi. Two more chapters will be opened next year in Muyenga and Entebbe. This initiative has gone a long way in nurturing a keen interest in books both for children and adults.

Solomon King, the Founder & CEO of Fundi Bots leading a Tot Tale session. (Photo by Sooo Many Stories)

“People throw around the phrase “reading culture in Uganda is so bad” but you don’t know how quite terrible it is that is until you try to sell a book, until you try to convince someone to buy a book. It was terrible, we started thinking. So we decided to start book clubs, which are called fireplaces. To boost the reading culture, it has to be done from the grass roots. If we are to promote Ugandan literature, it has to be through a holistic approach by making books available for children to read.” Nyana says

This brilliant concept has had a visible transformational effect on the children.

“The book clubs have created an explosion of reading. We’ve seen results. We’ve seen parents say “watch out for my kid he doesn’t talk to anyone” but that kid will be the first one to speak when we ask for volunteers to read. We’ve seen parents tell us that my kid is interested in books now. We are approaching reading from a fun side. Showing these kids that books are fun. They don’t have to be academic.”

Nyana (2nd left) posing with her team at Sooo Many Stories. (Photo by Sooo Many Stories)

Nyana envisions a time in Uganda when reading will become a thing. For people to stay in doors on weekends just to read without having people ask “Do you have a paper?” With the state of the economy, buying a book may not necessarily be a priority like soap and food but just like food, when you do not read you die too. It may not be a physical death, but lack of knowledge kills.

Like this story or have something to share? Write to us: info@thisisuganda.org, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Collective Good

How Not For Sale Uganda is Fighting Human Trafficking

Human trafficking, a criminal activity that is often described as modern day slavery, has become a world-wide industry, incorporating millions of people annually, and generating an illegal annual turnover of billions of dollars.

According to the Uganda 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report presented by the US Department of State, Uganda is a source, transit, and destination country for women, children and men subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically conditions of forced labor, child labor and sexual exploitation.

On record, there are about 837 reported cases of human trafficking according to the National Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Office under the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Raymond Kagumire and his team are trying to fight this status quo through Not For Sale Uganda, an organization that has set out to build a strong network of advocates to fight against modern day slavery.

Raymond (In white) together with his team during one of their recent outreach awareness campaign. (Photo credit: Not for Sale)

“My story begins when we were having dinner about 4 years ago at home and mentioned to my sister that one day I would love to market a beer. She later introduced me to a Swedish technology executive, Ulf Stenerhag who had a desire to expand his beer brand “Not For Sale Ale” that donates 100% of the profit to Not For Sale organization to fight human trafficking.” Raymond states.

In July 2014, the team kicked off after the Founders of the Global Not For Sale Campaign based in USA David Batstone and Mark Wexler chose the name “Not for Sale Uganda” to start fighting modern day slavery most notably, Ugandans being trafficked to the Middle East.

“At Not For Sale, we understand that root causes of human trafficking or commonly termed as human trafficking is poverty and we build scalable, design driven social business solutions that can help us to inoculate communities susceptible to human trafficking as well human trafficking survivors.” Raymond says.

Not For Sale during one of their public awareness campaigns. (Photo credit: Not for Sale)

Not for Sale combines the best elements of social programming and business in its proven, 3-step process. The first step is social intervention where it partners with local experts, community leaders, and business people to understand the root causes of slavery in the region.

The group then provides food, shelter, education, and healthcare to people affected by modern slavery. This supports it when it goes to research and development to investigate the local economy asking key questions like, “why are people here susceptible to slavery? What could we do to create economy for them?”

“Our  third step is to partner with entrepreneurs who have a vision to build an economic engine for the project. These businesses feed revenue back into the project, so that we can give them jobs, stable income, and fund more social intervention.” He explains.

Raymond (left) with his team ready to inform locals about human trafficking

To date, Not for Sale has built a team of dedicated ambassadors/volunteers working to eradicate school going children/students and communities. Given varying objectives and differing understandings of how to conduct more effective outreach, the group targets different populations in its anti-trafficking efforts.

“We have also been able to provide informative community based lessons about the crime of human trafficking and the advice available to the survivors of the crime and remain focused to task various organizations to fight this crime. It is not simply about finding and advising the survivors, it is about creating a self sustaining economy and a society which is more alert to the crime.” Raymond states.

Building a dedicated team of ambassadors committed to do good in their respective communities remains remarkable to Raymond, something he prides in.

Currently, Not for Sale conducts a school/community out reach program “The Not For Sale Campaign” to raise awareness against human trafficking in schools and communities.

“In January 2018, together with our mother organization, Not For Sale in partnership with Coburwas International Youth Organization to Transform Africa (CIYOTA) will launch a million dollar project to help refugee children to access quality education and amplify their entrepreneurial skills through seed funding opportunities for innovative solutions in Kyangwali refugee settlement on Uganda/Congo border.” Raymond says.

Not for Sale conducts a school/community out reach program “The Not For Sale Campaign” to raise awareness against human trafficking in schools and communities. (Photo by Not For Sale Uganda)

Seven (7) years from now, Raymond and his team wants to be able to answer the question; “What are the reasons that contribute to people being trafficked and communities being at risk of human trafficking in our country?”

“That’s the question that fuels the vision of Not For Sale Uganda and is the key factor in our next 7 years because while we provide answers, we understand that the lifestyle of the people in the 21st century is ever on a change and new methods will be designed by the traffickers.” Raymond explains.

It’s in this essence that to achieve their vision, Not For Sale has a dynamic road map and will remain committed grow self sustaining social projects with purpose-driven business to end exploitation and forced labor.

“I would say, energizing would even makes stronger and find innovative solutions in our anti-trafficking efforts.” Raymond concludes.

We all agree that modern day slavery is on the rise and all efforts can’t keep but Not For Sale understands and has proven scalable, innovative business concepts and desire to do good to change the world and we can inspire others to create a world where no one is for sale.

Like this story or have something to share? Write to us: info@thisisuganda.org, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Unsung Heroes

Food, Education, Clothes & Shelter: Ddiba’s Way of Rehabilitating Street Children

Joseph Ddiba 28, is the Founder and Team Leader of Ba Nga Afayo (Act like you care) Initiative Uganda, a youth-led charity organization providing assistance to former street children, orphans and families struggling in terrible poverty in Uganda.

Ba Nga Afayo literally means “act like you care”. Which according to Ddiba means that if it is too much to ask that someone becomes part of solving a problem, can they at least act like they care. This itself would require action.

“It is all about restoring lives and equipping less fortunate children with the knowledge and skillsets necessary to discover and live out their true vocations, thereby creating the opportunity for them to lead successful and fulfilling lives.” Ddiba says.

Over the past three years, the initiative has been providing shelter and basic care to homeless children and orphans as well as providing children from surrounding community with free care, counseling, school supplies and education scholarships. Many of these Children come from broken or poverty stricken families and the center is a haven for them, whenever they need it.

And it started with one story. “It all began with just one abandoned child. She was dumped and left to starve to death by her unknown parents. My mum being a nurse, she brought the little malnourished kid home, I believe the kid had like a week to live. So about two years later when I was out of University, this little kid had completely recovered and my mum said there were many cases where this one came from.” Ddiba remembers.

Her recovery inspired Ddiba to go save more himself. “ I remember I was hoping to help one or two children but unfortunately the number of cases was overwhelming and the root cause was poverty” Says Ddiba.

Ddiba is providing children and community with free care, counseling, school supplies and education scholarships

That’s how he started a movement among his friends and family to “Act like they care” and donate something to help these children survive.

For the last two years, the initiative has been able to place 45 children into school who would otherwise be without a family or education. “I have not only witnessed the lives of children being transformed through sponsorship, but have furthermore become convinced that Uganda can be restored through education of these less fortunate children.” Ddiba says.

One of touching stories out of the initiative is a story of a beneficiary called Ezesa (in English Esther). Eseza was born out of incest, a relationship between a niece and her uncle. In their tribe she was an abomination. She was thrown away at birth and no one wanted to be near her.

“We met this girl when she was three years, never been breast fed, never been loved and always fed on left overs. She slept in the bush and she was hairy.” Ddiba says.

Eseza is now 6 years and she is going through recovery. “seeing her run around playing with other children makes me wonder where she would be if she was never found.” He says.

“Her story really touched me. I no longer have any choice but to acknowledge the heavy reality of it all: These children don’t just need our help–their very lives depend on it. It is mostly her story that keeps me going every time I think of giving up. I believe God brought her into our lives for a reason.” Ddiba says.

For the last two years, the initiative has been able to place 45 children into school who would otherwise be without a family or education

This however does not come off easily. His biggest challenge is that there is a lot of need and yet very limited resources. One incident he cites is a story of “Sula” one of the beneficiaries who got a sponsor and after just a few months, lost touch with his sponsor. “That right there is my worst moment. Until now, we have never told this child the bad news we don’t want to see that glow fade away.” Ddiba says.

One way how he is however fighting these challenges, is through partnerships. The initiative is currently working with Individuals, private companies, and churches in Canada, USA, UK, Romania and Argentina even though he is still working on creating a few local partnerships.

He also does not do this alone. He commends his team for being part of his journey. “Maria our manager, Sylvia our manager for child sponsorship, Deborah our community coordinator, Hope our manager for child relations and all house mothers who act as mother figures to the homeless children.” He lists them.

Some of the volunteers at work during one of the initiative’s Back to School Charity drive

Six years from now, Ddiba sees BaNgaAfayo growing as one of the major players eradicating Poverty in Uganda with more branches all over the country bringing real and lasting change to families and children living in poverty.

Ddiba wants to be remembered as someone who set an example and left a footprint in humanity. He hopes that the work he does at BaNgaAfayo Initiative will live past him and continue to touch a life here, a life there.

“Keep this verse in mind, Hebrews 10:24. And let us consider how we may spur one another on in love and good deeds.” He concludes.

Like this story or have something to share? Write to us: info@thisisuganda.org, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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