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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 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.

#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.

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With Love from Shanghai

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

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3 Comments

  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

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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Collective Good

This organization is building sustainable solar programs and changing the future for thousands of children

At age 16, All We Are founder Nathan Thomas started taking change in his own words. Collecting used computers from friends, family and his local community, he started sending them to villages in need of technology, laying the groundwork for All We Are’s continued focus on educational access. Eight years later, he has built a team that is creating sustainable Projects that are locally supported in Uganda and built to last. He had a chat with This Is Uganda team and we bring you the interview.

Let’s start with the name- “All We Are”, Why did you choose that?

I was lucky to, at a very young age, discover that the best version of yourself is the person you truly are. For many of us this journey of fulfillment is one that spans a lifetime. All We Are is the hope that by living a fulfilled life we can take our talents, passions, and all that we are to help others realize their true potential. We believe that “it starts with us.”

What inspired you to start All We Are?

The belief that if you get to a certain point of your life and decide that now is the time to start giving back, you took too much. I was a 16 year high school student living in Findlay, Ohio USA who wanted to do something to change the world. I luckily found several people who believed in me. Eight year later, I lead a platform of over twenty young professionals in America who volunteer their time to our mission, and an incredible team of employees on the ground in Uganda who implement our work.

Let’s now talk about your work. What are your focus areas?

By the end of 2017 we will have equipped 20 schools in Uganda with electricity through the design and installation of solar power. We are scaling a women’s empowerment project to educate and provide female personal hygiene products that allows girls to remain in school. This year we have also launched a pilot water program to provide access to clean water to these partner schools.

As young change makers, All We Are’s focus is on responsibly building infrastructure for schools in Uganda. We focus on sustainability and putting money into the local economy with an emphasis on stewardship. Every member of our USA team is a volunteer and is personally investing in All We Are’s mission, which enables us to put 100% of public donations to use on the ground in Uganda. We believe that development is only successful when it is fueled locally by the communities. We work with the Rotary Club of Nateete-Kampala to conduct needs assessments for our projects. They are the face of our projects on the ground.

And the communities, where do you work in Uganda?

We have worked in Kampala and the surrounding area in the past eight years. This year we are pushing into more rural areas where there is no access to Umeme and the existing schools’ infrastructure is much weaker. We will be working in Rakai, Luuka, and Kakumiro to name a few Districts, and hope for further expansion in the near future.

At the end of the day, what are you trying to achieve?

A world in which we all have the right to dream. A world where every child receives an education because it is the young people who are the future of our countries.

What has been All We Are’s impact in Uganda so far?

We have spent the last eight years in Uganda helping build educational program in and around the Kampala area with the hope that we are having a positive impact on the schools we partner with. We have also been able to positively impact the lives of many members of the All We Are family on the ground in Kampala through job creation and by providing them with a means to support their families.

In a week we are launching our largest solar project to date. This project will bring electricity to nine rural schools in Uganda.

All We Are’s focus is on sustainability and putting money into the local economy with an emphasis on stewardship (Photo credit: All We Are)

Any particular impact story you can single out?

One of my favorite stories is a spotlight we did on Nambuli Rogers, Headmaster of Mackay Memorial Primary School in Kampala.  We electrified this school in 2016 and also partner with them on our women’s empowerment project. The school’s motto is, “Temudda Nnyuma” and we believe that perfectly describes the work we trying to accomplish.

With development work comes a lot of uncertainty and questioning whether the solutions we are providing are impactful. In February 2017 we were in Kampala and visited Mackay Memorial. I will never forget getting out of the bus and walking up to the HM’s office to be greeted by a big hug from HM Rogers. It is in moments like this that we remember why we do what we do. (Read the full story here)

Where do you see All We Are 5-7 years from now?

In 2015 we set an ambitious goal of electrifying 50 schools in Uganda by 2025. At the end of 2017, just two years later, we will already have 20 schools in the All We Are family. In five to seven years it is very possible that we will have realized our planned goal of 50 partner schools. As we scale our work, we will expand our women’s empowerment program and clean water initiative. We are committed to a problem not a solution. The problems we address surround  education. As we progress as an organization, and as new technologies and opportunities become a reality, we will continue to innovate and refuse to stop challenging ourselves.

Through All We Are’s sustainable program, electricity costs go down by up to 80%, and student performance improves as much as 22% in a year. (Photo credit: All We Are)

Let’s talk about personal inspiration. Which people inspire you in everything you do?

It is easy to draw inspiration from people who live fearlessly. I draw inspiration from those who fear less. From my parents who moved from the comfort of friends, family, and what was normal in India to America before my brother, sister, and I were born. To members of the All We Are team who are so passionate, and so willing, to go far beyond what society deems “millennial engagement” to be.

If someone wants to get involved in All We Are, how do they get in touch with you?

We are always looking to engage with like-minded individuals who want to be a part of the global conversation on change. Take a look at our website at www.allweare.org and our social media platforms. If what we are doing interests you, send me an email at nathan@allweare.org. Remember that the best way to start is by simply getting started.

Any last words or piece of advice to someone doing a similar initiative like you?

Share stories of success with your networks and ensure that you do so with cultural sensitivity. At All We Are we gravitate towards empowerment versus charity. You will not find images that exploit the dignity of the communities we serve, or “voluntourism” opportunities. Instead you will find a group of young people dedicated to positive change that is tangible. The key to achieving this is patience. Take the time to develop a solid foundation for your work.

All We Are’s Founder Nathan (middle) is passionate about empowering young leaders all over the world and works to help people realize their potential. (Photo credit: All We Are)

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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