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.
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.
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 halfwaytherebloggers.wordpress.com 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.
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.
How This Group of Young Men is Creating Employment Through Art and Craft
BY MARVIN MUTYABA
A group of 6 youths in Makindye has embarked on a life changing journey, turning their passions and skills into a profitable business.
After attending a crafts exhibition at the National Theatre in 2015, these friends were inspired by the attractive crafts on display to start their own workshop making and selling crafts.
“We talked to Mr. Muwembo, the craftsman who was showcasing his work. He offered to give us training as we worked for him. His workshop was in Kanyanya so we used to come from Makindye every day to Kanyanya. It took us over a year to master how wood craft is done,” said Mark.
While at this apprenticeship, these young men started making their own pieces which they sold, using the profit to purchase their own equipment.
“We had a strategy. Every month we had to buy equipment. After a year, we had developed skills and were able to start our own workshop,” said Malakai, one of the proprietors of the workshop. “To start any business, it needs commitment, passion, and ready to take risks, consistency and involvement.”
In 2016, these committed youth started their workshop on a small piece of land given to them by Malakai’s father at Lukuli, Nanganda.
“After two months, KCCA came and demolished our workshop saying that they wanted only built up structures on the main road. Even all our equipment and materials were taken. We went back to zero and all our savings had been used to buy these things,” narrates Mark. “We visited KCCA offices several times trying to see if we could recover the materials. We had lost wood, vanish, paints and tools like small axes, carving tools, pry bars, clamps, hammers and marking tools. We never got any back so we gave up on them”
As a result, their work was put on a standstill for some time. This was a very big set back to their dream of building a very big craft shop. Their next challenge was getting another location.
“Towards the end of 2016, KCCA advertised a funding opportunity for the youths who had business ideas and also those that had running businesses. We wrote a proposal but this took a while and we never not get any feedback.”
Desperate for capital to start over, they sought loans from their parents to no luck. Only Abdul’s parents supported them with a small loan that wasn’t sufficient to cover the cost of materials and new equipment.
“During that time, there was a road construction project. we asked for jobs and worked there for 6 months. We saved all our money and rented a small piece of land where we put up a workshop. This time it was not on the main road. We started working again and lucky enough, we had market from our time at Muwembo”s workshop,” narrates Mark.
Due to their hard work, these six young men have managed to create jobs and employ more eleven young people who distribute and take on other tasks like filing, shaping, chiseling, painting among others. The group is constructing a workshop and a showroom on the main road in Lukuli. By next year, they believe, the workshop will be done.
“Basing on the current situation in the country, we are able to earn a living and also employ other people,” says Abdul.
When asked about their goals, this inseparable team wants to have at least 100 employees by the end of next year and also start exporting their craft. They encourage their fellow Ugandans to follow their passion and find a way of earning from it.
*This is a guest post by MARVIN MUTYABA, a student at Makerere University Business School, currently pursuing a Business Administration in his second year. He is passionate about entrepreneurship, skills development and fitness.
How Kasule Is Changing The Lives Of Children Of Prisoners One By One
BY SHANINE AHIMBISIBWE
Jimmy Kasule Chan is a 29-year-old man who has dedicated his life to supporting the children of prisoners in Uganda. With over sixteen children from twelve families in his programme today, he is working towards his vision of a prosperous future for the children of Ugandan prisoners.
His desire to change the lives of prisoner’s children was awakened in 2012 when he was wrongfully detained at the Harare remand centre in Zimbabwe for six months.
“My friend had told me to go with him to South Africa for work. When we got there, things were very tight and we decided to come back home after two weeks with some electronics for sale. We thought this could be our business. On our way, we had to go through Harare but we did not have some stamps in our passports. Because Uganda does not have an embassy in Zimbabwe, we had gone through the Tanzanian embassy but the people at the border could not understand this. We were taken to Interpol and on getting there, we were arrested for Border Jump. We were detained in Harare remand centre for 6 months without having any real contact with anyone. There were 12 Ugandans in total” he narrated. “My wife was seven months pregnant at that time and I kept thinking, what if I never go back to Uganda? Who will help my child? I resolved to help children of prisoners if I ever got out of this prison.”
Jimmy described his time as a prisoner in a foreign country as horrific and inhumane, with poor feeding and little to no medical care.
“It was terrible. The food was the worst and sometimes not cooked properly in fact, people used to get sick all the time. One Ugandan died from a stomach infection. We used to eat something called “Chingwa”, that tasted like spoilt bread. Winter was the worst because we were given these thin blankets and no mattress.”
With the tireless help of his wife, jimmy was released from Harare remand centre in 2012 and on getting back to Uganda, the first thing he did was to get a job that would give him the funds to support these children.
“A friend introduced me to a gentleman who gave me his car for business. I used to transport people most especially tourists and pay him UGX 300,000 every week. I got a very nice client called Mona, who I found out was the president of Children of prisoners, Sweden. After she left, I sent her an email asking for a meeting and she agreed to meet me. I told her about my vision and she seemed very excited about it. She was happy to meet someone who shared her vision.”
A few months later, Mona asked Jimmy to visit one of the children her organization sponsored, Chrispus, at his school.
“When I visited him, he was excited that a stranger could come to see him. I kept visiting him on Visiting Days. He told me about his father who had been serving a long sentence in Luzira. I went to visit him and I asked him to introduce me to other people in the prison who I could talk to. I met people who would directed me to their families now my wife and I go to visit them and take for them some things.”
For four years now, Jimmy has conducted monthly visits to families of prisoners and has taken on the guardianship of Chrispus, who he regards as his first born. He also hosts an annual Christmas party for the children where he invites other children from the neighbourhood to make merry and meet father Christmas.
Jimmy believes that children, more so whose parents have been imprisoned, need to be loved and cared for so they do not find the need to commit any crimes and end up in prisons as well.
Would you like to support children of prisoners or volunteer on family visits? Please call/text Jimmy on 0774739500 or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Turning Rubbish into Money In The Fight Against Unemployment
BY: MARVIN MUTYABA
Meet Calvin Matovu, a twenty-five-year old graduate from Makerere University who recycles wastes and rubbish into charcoal.
After attaining a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental science in 2013, Calvin searched for a job in vain. His life started becoming difficult as he had no source of income and he found it senseless to finish university and sit at idly at home.
In the struggle to fight unemployment, Calvin harnessed the idea of collecting wastes and rubbish from the community with his friends, to make some money.
“I asked myself, all this waste we collect and KCCA burns, can’t we reproduce a product out of it?’ Basing on my knowledge from campus, I came up with the idea of recycling wastes into charcoal.” Says Calvin at his factory in Erisa zone, Kyebando.
He set his plan in motion by gathering jobless youths in his community to create employment for themselves. Calvin and his team of seven started reusing wastes, especially organic wastes from agricultural products for example peelings from matooke. These are mixed with ash, clay, carbon and water to make a final product.
“At first we did not have market because people were already using charcoal from firewood with no clue about charcoal from wastes.” He says.
The idea of reusing garbage to make charcoal seems so unrealistic until he breaks down the process through which waste can be made useful and environment friendly.
“The raw materials include banana peelings, paper, clay, cow dung, cassava flour basing on your income level for example one can use clay or cow dung or cassava flour. The machines used are: a charring drum, crushing machine and a stick briquette machine. Peelings are collected and dried then sorted and grinded. Then they are burnt and put into the charring drum. The binder, which can be either cassava porridge, clay or cow dung is added to the wastes mix and the mixture is then poured into the briquette machine. the last step is to dry the briquettes to produce charcoal. This is done in the drying rack.”
Calvin and his team have faced a number of challenges but this has not stopped them from going further.
“In the beginning, we used our hands to mould the charcoal which was very tiresome and it left our hands spoilt with dead skin in the palms. Our quality also wasn’t that good. The market too was very low but we never gave up.”
“Use what surrounds you” is a common saying that we often do not give attention too, but instead, we keep asking our leaders for help yet what’s surrounds us can be very useful in our daily life.
Basic principles of Physics state that “Effort + Load = Work done.” Calvin’s hard work and desire to see his brilliant idea boom led him to overcome all the challenges that he and his team met. After months of several dynamics, critics and mental exhaustion, the season ended and he harvested fruits from his tree. Schools and some small companies started making orders for his charcoal. He has since received support from KCCA in form of a a manual machine that ended the hands era.
Calvin Matovu now he employs twenty young people from his own community in Kyebando. The charcoal briquettes they manufacture cost UGX 1500 and last for over seven hours, which minimizes the daily costs also reducing demand for firewood.
“Anyone can do this anywhere at any time.” He says in conclusion. “Every person should base on talent at least 50% of their daily economic activities.”
This is a guest post by MARVIN MUTYABA, a student at Makerere University Business School, currently pursuing a Business Administration in his second year. He is passionate about entrepreneurship, skills development and fitness.
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