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Unsung Heroes

Ugandan Girl in Shanghai

Meet Nantongo Mercy Angela a Ugandan Student living and studying in Shanghai, China.  She is a poet, feminist, blogger, a lover of life and people. She shares with us her story.

Nantongo Mercy Angela... Used with Permission

Briefly tell us about yourself!

Haha this is always the hardest of the questions! Let’s see, I turned 21 on 24th March. Yay me! I’ve loved the colour purple and lions since age 6 (yes, I’m that loyal!), I’m a Muganda of Nkima clan (I take so much pride in that it even needs publication lol),committed Catholic that was raised by her Muslim mother. I read too much it’s been said I read unnecessary things but, I just can’t help it. I listen to so many genres of music that I can’t really narrow down my type anymore but Viva La Vida is my favourite album of all time. (Don’t judge!)

 Share with us your educational History, please!

Hmm this is simple, I haven’t been to many schools! 😉 I went to Kampala Parents’ School from P.1-P.7, then was lucky to be admitted into Mt. St. Mary’s Namagunga for both S.1 and S.5 even though I left during S.5 on scholarship to Concordian International School in Bangkok, Thailand to pursue what I consider the best curriculum for anyone – the International Baccalaureate. I am currently pursuing my undergraduate degree at New York University Shanghai on scholarship.

What does International Baccalaureate even mean?

So the International Baccalaureate (IB) is like the A-levels. It’s the pre-university level (we call it diploma) but not on the same level as university two year Diplomas I think.

How often do you visit Uganda?

I visit Uganda for sure every year, and if necessary maybe twice a year.

What do you miss about Uganda?

The truth? I miss the fact that the weather is constant at home (I hear it reaches 30°C these days though). I miss my family and best-friends that know me well because they’ve seen me grow. I miss matooke, chapatti, ffene and nsenene. All of them.

Ardent Reader... Used with Permission

Being a young Ugandan abroad, What challenges do you face?

I think the biggest challenge isn’t being homesick, as one would expect because I talk to my family and friends constantly through the week. Even a simple text suffices. The bigger challenge for me lies in projecting a good, and “normalised” image of Ugandans, and Africans in general to my peers at the schools I’ve been to. To show them that while we might have the problems that are projected in the media, we’re also normal teenagers who love our parents and jajas (grand parents), and are happy with our lives. When I can engage in such dialogues, I’m glad because then I don’t have to constantly remain disappointed in people that maintain their stereotypes about people that are not like them. I guess my challenges don’t seem very personal, but yeah this is a thing I find that I can make a personal contribution too as a young proud Ugandan living away from home.

We feel your pain. Okay now back home, what have been your most memorable and worst moment in Uganda!

Hahaha anyone who knows me well, will tell you that I’m not good with memories especially if it involves singling out a particular incidence. Let’s just say I’m glad for the love I am given unconditionally while I’m back home, for the fact that my opinions and advice count to some people and that I have an unbreakable support structure. My worst moments? I don’t know really but I know I complain a lot about the lack of work ethic a majority of my peers and adults alike display.

Talking about work ethic, Given a chance, what would you change about or in Uganda?

As I probably mentioned above, I don’t think the average Ugandan has the inherent drive to accomplish beyond the ordinary, to like burst that ever-present glass ceiling nor do I feel like my peers are open-minded and interested in engaging in thoughtful dialogue on world issues. But maybe everyone shouldn’t be like that. I don’t know. What I would like to be able to change in the future when I can teach the growing generations that charity begins at home – that we can lift each other up and we need to aspire not to be like our elders but better than them. The world is changing, and we’ll have to change with it if we wish to remain autonomous.

We understand that you are a poet. so, If someone were interested in your writings, where would he/she find them?

(Laughs) They could tweet me or visit where I’m currently establishing a blog space with a few friends of mine. A fully functional website might pop up soon, so watch this space 🙂

You are a fashion fanatic, why not start-up a fashion blog?

hahaha fanatic yes, such proper phrasing! I have contemplated that and a beauty blog oh so often but I don’t think I would be offering my audience the level of commitment this would entail. As a college student, I only blog for leisure because that’s all the free time I have. With a fashion or beauty blog, I’d have to set time (and money) aside to styling either myself or a few people, doing tutorials, etc. If i did such an endeavour, it would definitely be for the audience and not just myself as the writing blog I currently have so I wouldn’t want to short-change my readers when I go too busy or otherwise. That said, I never say never. I’m always telling people that the way they carry and present themselves says a lot about them so, one day when I no longer have a closet filled with more jeans and on-sale blouses, this is definitely an idea I’ll consider!

Being pro-woman, what would you suggest should be done about gender inequality in Uganda?

Hahaha pro-women? yes! I think this starts with society collectively raising girls and ladies that are confident in their own abilities. I personally believe that we need to teach men and women, boys and girls alike that in social, economic and political terms, there is nothing the one gender can do that the the other cannot. Women can lead, so can men. My biggest inspiration on all terms gender equality is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and my mother. I was raised by a family of strong independent women. In my household, I never once felt that I was of the inferior gender or that there were things I needed men to do for them to get accomplished. I knew my “place” in terms of respecting the adults and not in terms of respecting the men and then the women. And above all, I was always told by father and mother both that I could be whatever I wanted to be, and I would be the best at it. All I hope for Uganda is that one day we shall get to a stage where the way society pays respects to women is similar to the way it has always paid respect to the women that in-fact do hold the nation on their shoulders. We all deserve that much.

#Nkima Used with Permission

I know you don’t mind at all, so, drop us a poem about Uganda. (poem should be less than 15 lines)

Like a well-loved artefact she is

Of countless nooks and crannies

Of ev’r-changing facets she has

Like a diamond, she truly is

But only for me

And those that have known her

Lived with her, Heard of her

She is the treasured gem

That we want to sing of to the world

Yet keep so hidden

Such beauty shouldn’t be concealed

Anyone that seeks should experience it

But how I wish to keep her just mine

It’s not my call though

So I’ll let you shine – dear Uganda.

Do you agree with the notion that, asking a lady for her age is a rude gesture?

Personally I don’t think it’s rude. I’m proud of my age, while I might wish to not get any older, age is not a variable I can change so why lie about it? So if anyone asks for my age, I won’t be offended, and I’ll tell it to them straight up! But, if a lady tells you that she wouldn’t like to tell you her age after your first inquiry, please don’t insist, then you’re not respecting her and are just being nuisance. As we say, to each his (her) own.

Any message you would love to pass on to people back home (Uganda) and those Ugandans studying from other countries?

Both people at home and abroad, do keep being the warm affable bunch that Ugandans generally are. Love yourself above all else but don’t be selfish. Be proud of where you come from because personal identity is something that we can very easily lose in this world of social media, and the aim to “please” and “fit in”. Above all, aspire for knowledge for it grounds you, and never resist the opportunity to help others when you can.


With Love from Shanghai

pro-woman, lover of life, poet... Used With Permission




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  1. amalialoves

    March 30, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    What an inspirational young woman. I’m sure she will achieve all the goals she’s got set

  2. peachfire

    April 2, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Reblogged this on peachfire.

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Collective Good

He Grew Up in Bwaise Slum. Today, Kisirisa has Educated and Empowered Young People like Him

Muhammed most commonly known as Slum Ambassador, was born and raised in Bwaise, the most deprived and perhaps largest slum area in Kampala. At the tender age of 11, he found his first job as a tap water operator. He would also carry water and pick garbage from people’s homes. On some occasions he would sell metal scrap all in an attempt to get an education, put clothes on his back and get something to eat.

“I picked interest in Computers when I was 25 years and began to teach myself at various internet cafes. I focused on creating profiles for HIV orphans and trying to see if I could link them up with potential sponsors for fees and assistance.” Mohammed says

Later, in 2009, together with 3 other young people, he formed Action for Fundamental Change and Development (AFFCAD) a community based organization set out to transform Kampala’s poorest areas by empowering the young people, children and women through health, education and economic empowerment programs like vocational and entrepreneurship training.

A vocational training for youth underway at AFFCAD. (Photo by AFFCAD)

Since its establishment, AFFCAD’s primary focus was supporting orphans and vulnerable children and making awareness on health issues including HIV/AIDS awareness and adolescent sexual reproductive health. In June 2011 they established a community nursery and primary school called Excel Education Center that supports 200 children from Bwaise slums.

Todate, it has graduated 1,047 youth. This equates to a completion rate of 90%. Of those who have graduated 697 are female and 350 are male.

“AFFCAD’s Youth economic empowerment program provides the hands on skills that enable the disadvantaged youth in Kampala’s slums to transit from lives of crime and poverty to lives of productive occupation. “ He explains.

Through AFFCAD’s Bwaise Business and Vocational Institute, the targeted youth between 16-25 years participate in a 6 month vocational training program in applicable skills like Computer Graphics Design, Photography and Videography, Cookery and Bakery, Tailoring and Fashion design, Electronic installation, Hairdressing and Cosmetology, Decoration and Ushering among others.

Women during a graduation after completing the Women Business and Financial Access course (Photo by AFFCAD)

“As part of the program, the Youth are also equipped with entrepreneurial skills, financial literacy, soft and hard skills for career and professional development (How to Make it in the Contemporary Business World) and they Youth take on one month internships at the end of the training to expose them to working environments.” Muhammed explains.

In addition, the project also provides IT Training to the youth on how to strategically use ICT (including internet, social media, Web 2.0 and mobile technology) to market and sustain their business ventures.

Each year AFFCAD runs The Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge and Award, to support the business ideas developed by the youth in the program, a mentoring session and a scholarship to attend a 5-day entrepreneurship foundation course at the innovation entrepreneurship boot camp. Every Friday, AFFCAD invites successful youth and other leaders to motivate and inspire our youth.

Muhammad standing next to one of the entrances at AFFCAD. (Internet photo)

AFFCAD runs the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge and Award, 15 winners have received micro start up grants between $1500 to $2500 to develop their business ideas, a mentoring session, and a scholarship to attend a 5-day entrepreneurship foundation course at the innovation entrepreneurship Boot Camp.

In August 2017, Muhammad received the 2017 Young Achievers Award for Social Entrepreneurship in recognition for his work with AFFCAD.

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Unsung Heroes

Being HIV Positive, Diagnosed with Cancer & Tuberculosis Has not stopped this Superwoman From Looking After 150 Kids in Slums

“A strong woman doesn’t give up even though her heart may feel heavy. She courageously takes one more step, then another and then another.” –Anonymous

Stella Airoldi first met Susan laker in 2009 when she first came to Uganda while doing research about post war victims and witnesses.

“I visited her house, where she was living with her 3 teenage kids. Back then I was 24 years old and Susan 26 years, so just two years older than me.  But her kids were already 9,10 and 13 years old.” Stella says.

Because Susan got pregnant for the first time when she was only 13, her kids didn’t go to school and neither did she. A soldier was responsible for her first pregnancy while she was living in a military barracks which by then, was the only safe place for her to go to escape the insurgency caused by the Lords Resistance Army in Northern Uganda.

“Getting pregnant when I was 13 years old was so traumatizing. I lost my childhood life. I wasn’t able to go to school which made me lost my hope for living a good future. I hated my parents for forcing me in to early marriage, my growth was totally destroyed and I segregated myself from people because I felt inferior.”- Susan notes.

Susan with some of the beneficiaries of 22STARS. (Photo credit: Stella Airoldi)

When Susan was 15 years old, she conceived again but got a miscarriage when she received a message notifying her that her uncles, nieces, a brother and sister had been mutilated and killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels.

“I was shocked and lost the pregnancy. After a few months, I conceived again and gave birth to a second child at the age of 16 and when the baby was 6 months, the father died and since I had nowhere to get financial help from, I was forced to  remarry another soldier from the barracks to get protection and when I was 19 I gave birth to the third child.” Susan says

In 2007, her husband was deployed to Somalia on a peacekeeping and never returned, a thing that left Susan very frustrated. It was shortly after that, that she found out that she was HIV positive, had cancer and Tuberculosis (TB). It was not until an organization called Reach Out Mbuya came to her rescue that she was able to start cancer chemotherapy and TB drugs for six months and now am on ARVs treatment for life.

She then fled with all her children to Kampala which were (and still remain) her main reason and motivation to keep going in life. Her kids were tested negative and she wanted them to go to school. She started making jewellery, which initially her kids would sell in the streets.

Susan and some of her children (Photo credit: Stella Airoldi)

“It was then my pastor introduced me to Stella. I was making paper beads jewellery and Stella decided to buy me jewellery on a yearly basis. At the end of 2012 when she came back to Uganda to see how I was doing, she was surprised to learn that I was going back to school by myself and I had improved.” Susan notes.

Susan has been able to buy land and built a bigger house for her family. She completed high school and did a couple of short courses to improve her skills and knowledge for example a  certificate in Clearing, Forwarding and Shipping management, Certificate in Electronics, Certificate in Counseling People Living with HIV/AIDS.

“At first, all my friends and family thought I was completely crazy starting with women who cannot read and write and I cannot even communicate with. So true, things didn’t go that smooth the first 2 years. So end of 2014 I came back to Kampala and since 2015 I am here myself 2 to 3 times a year and things improved a lot.”- Stella says.

Stella (left) and Susan during one of the jewellery making sessions (Photo credit: Stella Airoldi)

Susan is now managing the whole team of at 22STARS jewellery that comprises of over 20 women and supporting 150 children in slums. Thanks to recurring monthly donations, she (Susan) has been cooking in Acholi Quarter every Sunday since October 2016 ( so more than 14 months!) with the help of other 22STARS group members. The group started back then to cook for 50 kids and that is now 150. They get a hot meal with either fish or meat.

22STARS is a team of artisans made up by strong women living in the slums of Kampala and Jinja in Uganda making jewellery for a living. The platform is giving women in slum areas like Susan to sell their jewellery on the international market and earn a living, and in addition war running small social programs on the ground.

“Our choice for environmentally friendly products is a very conscious one. By using 100% recycled paper, the jewellery you wear does not only look good, but it also feels good. Our beads are hand made from paper and varnished with natural products.  This makes each peace uniquely different, lightweight and waterproof.” Stella says.

Some of the 22STARS women that make jewellery (Photo credit: Stella Airoldi)

22STARS also uses education and entrepreneurship to empower children and their families to rise above poverty by creating long-term sponsorships for children in Uganda, and also run several community development initiatives including a nutrition program, basic needs program, small business training and micro loans program and our holistic educational program with extra-curricular activities.

“Without the help of Susan this all would not have been possible. As she knows how it feels like to sit in the stone quarry with your kids, crashing stones all day, not being able to send them to school, she is pushing very hard to help all the families over there to send their kids to school. She is so amazing how she is managing everything. Susan is a true superstar and really the strongest woman I ever met.” Stella concludes.

Stella and Susan at the 22STARS office. (Photo credit: Stella Airoldi)

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Uganda Innovates

Athieno Mary Lucinda is changing girls’ lives one sanitary pad at a time

She stood up in class, her classmates laughed at her. The boys said that she had slaughtered a chicken. They made fun of her for a long time. She couldn’t afford sanitary towels, the anxiety of the monthly period coupled with the embarrassment she had faced which would have destroyed her self-esteem as a young girl instead stirred her resolve.

Meet Athieno Mary Lucinda a YALI fellow, the founder of Eco-Pads a social enterprise dedicated to the production and distribution of reusable pads and environmentally friendly to girls in Uganda.

“That experience kept me wondering what I would ever do to save a girl the embarrassment I had gone through. While at university, I went to volunteer with Kadama Widows Association where I am the Executive Director now and as I interacted with the girls, they had similar challenges. I then started saving part of my stipend to make the pads and that was my aha moment.” Lucinda says.

The sanitary pads are distributed to young women in rural Uganda. These Eco-pads are Menstrual Kits that are made from very high performance fabric and provide comfort and supper protection for a period up to 12 months.

“The Eco-pads project started in 2008 as a local thing trying to just help girls in the community. In 2014 we realized we can improve on quality and start selling for sustainability and we have been growing daily from just the local community to many parts of the country with over 20 full time  and 35 part time employees.”

“I am most proud of last year when we reached 50,000 girls with Eco-Pads, the feedback from the girls attending school daily is heart-filling. The involvement of parents and the whole community in the cause is great. We have reached over 75,000 community members on Menstruation being an issue and how they support. Mentored over 10,000 girls” Lucinda says.

There are challenges that are still to be overcome. Being a local product, Lucinda’s biggest challenge has been in marketing and getting the product to be known, convincing the clients that it is a good product since it is new. The very first money that they used was grant money that they used to buy equipment and set up and buy some few materials.

Despite the challenges, she has mentors that encourage her when things are going down hill. my “Atuki Turner the ED of Mifumi, Tracey the founder of glad rags U.S, Mary Mosinghi the ED of KwaAfrica. They remaind me that I need to remain a learner and humble in whatever I do.”

At the heart of this project is the desire by Eco pads that every girl child remains in school. Eco-pads give affordable sanitary pads for girls, because many miss out of school during their menstruation. They are competing against appalling statistics 80% of Girls in Uganda are absent from school during their periods. 70% of female students reported difficulty of attending class attentively due to menstrual related problems. 90% of the poor women and girls do not use (off-the-shelf) sanitary pads, but instead improvise with unsanitary materials. Prior to their first period only 51% of girls had knowledge of menstruation and its management

“We educate girls on MHM, conduct mentorship sessions and educate the parents and teachers on the need to support girl child. We shall continue to do something regardless of the tide. One sanitary pad at a time.” Lucinda says

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