Stories from Uganda: An exceptional young entrepreneur in rural Uganda

Yesterday I met 19 year old Benjamin Mujuni in his home in the village of Busingiro in rural South West Uganda. He’s an exceptional young entrepreneur with a high motivation and a talent for business.

Benjamin tells me that he went to Ryamugwizi Primary School (the school being supported by the REAP Project) but he was always more interested in practical work than books. When he left school he learnt how to grow crops and he started digging, cultivating and growing plants.

He started out by planting a quarter of an acre of beans. He harvested a bag of beans and with the profit from the beans he bought chickens and when he sold the poultry he bought a goat. While expanding his crops to a half an acre of both beans and maize, he farmed more chickens and goats, and each time he sold his produce (more bags of beans, more sacks of maize, more chickens and goats) he reinvested the profits in his business. Eventually he raised enough money (570,000 shillings) to buy a cow and continued to make enough profit to then purchase five cows. This is an exceptional achievement for a 19 year old in rural Uganda. He proudly shows me his cows (even though I was a little nervous around the long horned bulls!).

I ask Benjamin how he has been so successful in such a short space of time.

‘I don’t waste and I invest!’ he replies.

He tells me that he enjoys trading and doing business. The biggest challenges he faces is having a limited amount of capital to invest in the business and also losing out at times when his produce loses market value. He is concerned about the impact of drought on his business and explains that he wants to invest in a water pump and an irrigation scheme for the dry season. He also wants to be able to buy pesticides to protect his crops from pests and disease.

Benjamin’s eyes light up when I ask him about his dreams for the future of his enterprises. He tells me how he wants to continue to grow his business so that he can construct a good home and become a businessman, buying and selling produce across the region. Having met this smart and hardworking young entrepreneur I have no doubt he will achieve his goals. It’s another inspiring story from Uganda.

Stories from Uganda: The Women at the Well

Today I met three women from the village of Busingiro in rural Uganda, who told me the story of the natural spring well which their families depend upon for water.

Grace Kemydngyere has lived in Busingiro since she got married forty years ago. She has eight children and seven grandchildren. Grace tells me that she has used the the natural spring well, at the bottom of the hill beside Ryamugwizi Primary School, for the past 38 years. She explains that the well never dries up even during the dry season, although this can cause problems because people come from miles away to find water. This is what the well looks like today.

Grace’s family fills a Jerry Can from this spring five times a day for drinking water, food preparation and washing. When the well is dirty the food she prepares changes colour and her children get sick. She says currently every animal uses the well and there are many diseases in the water. Her son is ill with an abdominal infection and she thinks it might have been caused by drinking water from the well. She also has worries that when her grandchildren are fetching water they might fall into the unprotected well and drown.

Grace tells me that when the well gets dirty the local community come together to try to clean up around it. She says the well is very important because without it her family would have to migrate from their community. Grace smiles at the thought of the well being protected. She says then it can be safely used to fetch water to boil and drink. With a protected well and clean water she believes her grandchildren will grow up healthy, without chronic waterborne diseases and be able to go to school, to study and acquire skills to earn a living and improve their family situation. Grace hopes for a future when her grandchildren will get an education, change their environment, construct good houses, have more land and have a better way of life.

Dinavence Kyohairwe (25) lives in Busingiro village with her husband and three children. She explains how she uses water from the well to cook food, to bathe and to wash clothes and utensils. She visits the well three times a day to fill up Jerry Cans and she boils some of the water for drinking water. Dinavence worries that sometimes when the water is full of algae that her children might become ill after drinking the water. She’s delighted that the well is going to be protected. She tells me that she expects the water to be clean and that the children will have fewer sicknesses. As a young mother she is happy that her children will have a chance to be more healthy and to grow well. Dinavence has many hopes and dreams for her children. She wants them to be physically healthy and to continue their schooling. She dreams that one day they will be a lawyer, a doctor and an engineer and that they will support the family.

Dinavence Nabwine (49) also lives in the village of Busingiro with her husband James, ten children and nine grandchildren. She explains to me how important the well is for her family. They fetch six Jerry Cans of water every day to cook food, wash their clothes and bathe. But Dinavence is concerned that the water is dirty and unsafe because when it rains, water flows down the hill through faeces and brings contaminated water into the well. As result people can get diarrhoea, typhoid and other waterborne diseases. She explains that sometimes the young children forget to boil the water and end up getting sick.

Dinavence says when the well is protected and the water is clean she will no longer have the stress and worry of bad water causing disease in her family. Her eyes light up when I ask about her hopes for her grandchildren. She says that with safe water they will be healthy to go to school and get a good education and skills for the future. She dreams that one of her grandchildren will become a doctor. Dinavence says she is thankful to people from Northern Ireland who have donated money to secure the well. She believes that with clean water and a good school her family will have a community to be proud of.

The REAP Project has allocated £2500 from the money raised by the team to protect the natural spring well beside Ryamugwizi Primary School. As you can see from the photograph above the well is not protected and as a result contains dirty and contaminated water. This is the well that Grace and both Dinavences and their families fetch water from five times a day.

However, this is what the well will look like in a few weeks time, as a result of the fundraising efforts of a small group of men from Northern Ireland in association with Fields of Life, and a partnership approach to development with the local community at Ryamugwizi Primary School.

It’s an important step on the way to ensuring that the women I met at the well today will see their dreams for their children and grandchildren becoming a reality.

Stories from Uganda: Discovering treasures in the slums of Kampala

Today I visited the Kosovo slum in Kampala. It’s the poorest community I have ever seen and on the surface it seems like a hopeless place. However this afternoon I listened to the stories of some of the most inspiring people I have ever met and I discovered treasures in the slums of Kampala.

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In the coming days I’ll be sharing the stories of local people who are committed to creating positive change in their communities. Today I want to start with Pastor Deo M. Mwanje of Word of Life Community Church who runs the Treasured Kids School, kindergarten, community development and social enterprise projects in the middle of the Kosovo Slum.

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Meeting with Pastor Deo at Treasured Kids Primary School in the Kosovo slum in Kampala

Pastor Deo grew up as a street kid himself. His mother came to Uganda as a refugee during the first genocide in Rwanda and met Deo’s father at a bar where she worked. His parents were divorced when he was 9 years old and from the age of 10 Deo went to four different schools. He moved to a different school, between five and ten miles from his home, every year because he was unable to pay the debt incurred after one year of education. At the age of 14 he got a job with accommodation but after two years he remained unpaid and finally he was thrown out on the street. Deo discovered that he had to be tough to survive on the streets and ultimately ended up in prison. When he was released from prison he hit a low point in his life and became suicidal. The transformation of his life began when he met a missionary who took him under his wing. Pastor Deo talks movingly about how he found new faith and hope for the future. He trained as an evangelist, studied theology and ended up in the Kosovo slum, which was nicknamed after Kosovo in the Balkans because of the similar levels of violence experienced there in the 1990s. Pastor Deo started the church with just three people and it has grown ever since under his leadership.

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Pastor Deo with his daughter Amanda

In those days the site of the school was a garbage dump where street kids foraged through the rubbish looking for something to eat. He recalled his own experience on the streets and remembered, ‘When I was on the streets I was a troublemaker to everyone but I was a treasure to God’ He looked at the children in the dump and saw them as treasured human beings and had the vision to start a school for them. With support from Fields of Life, the Treasured Kids Primary School was established and since then it has grown and developed into a range of education and community projects. The school has educated many children from the slum to give them a better future including one of Uganda’s most successful singers Levixone Lala.

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I was particularly impressed with the SACCO project which is a community bank that seeks to eradicate poverty through developing a saving and investment culture.  It reminded me of a Credit Union in Northern Ireland. Members of the SACCO can secure low interest loans for small businesses and job creation. Pastor Deo explained that this was a model of empowerment and development for people living in the slums, and was more effective in changing the community than simply giving people charity aid.

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Pastor Deo’s next dream is to build a Technical School in the slum so that young people can  gain vocational skills and then start their own business with a loan from the SACCO.

I was inspired by Pastor Deo’s story.  He sees himself as a pastor to the slum rather than a pastor to the church. He prioritises the huge social needs in the local community. ‘We love God by loving people’ he says. ‘We serve God by serving people’. I was moved by his vision and commitment and his view of the poorest people in the poorest communities in one of the poorest countries in the world, as treasures.

Tomorrow I’ll share the stories of two remarkable young men I met in the Kosovo slum.

 

 

Belfast author to blog Stories from Uganda

This Easter bestselling Belfast author, Tony Macaulay will join a team of volunteers from Northern Ireland who are returning to Ryamugwizi Primary School, in Ibanda, Uganda, to continue to support the growth and development of the school and the local community.

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Tony will be blogging live from Uganda, sharing the stories of the people he meets every day. The daily blogs can be found here.

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The REAP Project – Realise East African Potential

The REAP Project is committed to bringing about positive change through the provision of quality education, clean waterhealth promotion and other community based projects, by collaborating with Ryamugwizi Primary School and the surrounding community in Ibanda, Uganda.

REAP is working in association with the charity Fields of Life, who have been involved in projects with local communities and churches in a number of countries in East Africa such as Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

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Belfast author Tony Macaulay launches fourth book at Milwaukee Irish Fest

The USA launch of Tony Macaulay’s latest book, ‘Little House on the Peace Line’ will be at the Hedge School in the Cultural Village at Milwaukee Irish Fest on Saturday 19th August at 2pm. Milwaukee Irish Fest is the world’s largest celebration of Irish and Celtic music, culture and sport at Milwaukee lakefront from August 17 – 20.

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Tony MACAULAY. Book launch of Little House on a Peace Line (Tony MACAULAY), Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Tony arrived in Milwaukee earlier this week and recorded this interview with WUWM local public radio.

‘In 1985, I went to live on the other side of the peace line. Everyone said my head was cut.’

Driven by the conviction that things can change and that he can change them, Tony Macaulay takes up a job running a youth club in the staunchly nationalist New Lodge, in an area known as Murder Mile, with youth unemployment at 90 per cent.
Challenge enough you might think, but it’s also a requirement of the job that Tony, a Protestant from the Shankill Road, and his wife Lesley live in the local community.

As the realities of life in a working-class republican community start to hit home, Tony’s idealism and faith are pushed to the limit. Inspiring, heart-breaking and often laugh-out-loud funny, this is the story of how one couple kept the faith in a little house on the peace line.

Tony Macaulay has spent more than 30 years working for peace and reconciliation both here and abroad. He is also a writer and broadcaster, and his first three books, Paperboy, Breadboy and All Growed Up, were critically acclaimed bestsellers.

 

It’s the Paperboy Audiobook, so it is!

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This week in Los Angeles, Belfast author Tony Macaulay launched the audiobook version of his bestselling memoir ‘Paperboy’.

The audiobook is narrated by the author and brings to life the stories and characters of 1970s Belfast. It also includes an hilarious ‘Glossary of Terms’ as a special extra feature to help listeners who are not familiar with the Northern Ireland vernacular to understand everything from ‘hallions’ to ‘guiders’.

The audiobook is published by Black Dog Media and is available for download on Audible, Amazon and iTunes.

Tony says, ‘I’m excited to launch the audiobook while in the USA as I have had so many requests for an audio version during my book tours here over the past six years.’

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Tony reading from ‘Paperboy’ in Malibu this week.

Belfast author shares his stories with international students in Germany

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This weekend Belfast writer Tony Macaulay will be the guest speaker at a workshop for international students in Germany. The author of a series of bestselling memoirs of growing up in Belfast during the Troubles, will read from his books and discuss the role of storytelling in peacebuilding.

Tony will talk about his experiences as a writer and peacebuilder from Northern Ireland and support the students from around the world to consider storytelling as a tool of reconciliation in their home countries.

The workshop entitled ‘Stories in History and Culture’ is being organised by the STUBE Project of the Diakonie Mitteldeutschland in Halle, Germany. The Stube Project offers students from Africa, Asia and Latin America, who are studying in Germany, weekend seminars, workshops, field trips, summer schools, workshops and evening events on development-related topics and intercultural studies.

Tony says, ‘I’m delighted to have been invited to speak at this workshop on storytelling and peacebuilding. I’m really looking forward to visiting Halle and meeting the students from Africa, Asia and Latin America. I’m excited to support the students to write their own unique stories that can contribute to building peace in their home countries.’