Stories From Uganda: From the trauma of the 1970s to a better future for the children of Uganda

Bernard Masaba (54) is the Outreach Co-ordinator with Fields of Life, based at the headquarters in Kampala, Uganda. Bernard and I are the same age. He was one of eight children born to his parents, William and Susan.  When I was a child in West Belfast, Bernard was a boy in Mbale in Eastern Uganda. We both grew up during a turbulent time in the history of our countries. But Bernard’s story as a child during the time of Idi Amin puts many of the stories of Northern Ireland into perspective.

When I met Bernard in Kampala he shared his memories of the political turmoil, economic disintegration and insecurity in Amin’s Uganda in the 1970s. This had a huge impact on ordinary people’s lives. ‘We didn’t have anything in those years’, he told me, ‘There was no bread or sugar or soap.’

When I was getting my first job as a paperboy in Belfast, Bernard was facing much more danger in an effort to survive. In an attempt to find a source of income, as a boy he became involved in coffee smuggling. From Monday to Thursday he went to school, but on Fridays he carried 20 kg of coffee on his head on a dangerous trek through the mountains and across the border from Uganda into Kenya. The main danger was to be caught by Amin’s soldiers. They caught and killed some of Bernard’s friends. If the soldiers were on their track the children had to escape through the forests. Bernard told me about the time when he almost died after fleeing into the forest to escape from Amin’s army who were killing the smugglers they caught.

‘I walked through the forest for four days and four nights,’ he recalled. ‘In the end I couldn’t walk any more. I thought I was going to die. But then a stronger guy came along and carried me and my coffee and he saved my life. I wasn’t sure if I was going to survive. It was a tough life.’

But Bernard did survive. He completed his education and went to teacher training college and he has spent his life teaching and promoting education in Uganda.

Bernard married Miriam and they had six sons together. Sadly, Miriam died in 2012 and Bernard has had to continue to raise and educate his children on his own. It’s an indication of Bernard’s resilience that his eldest son has now graduated as a teacher, another son is a business graduate and another is studying as an engineer. His other three sons are still at school and the cost of raising them alone and paying school fees has not been easy. However, Bernard explained to me that once he has covered the costs of his own children he now supports the education of other children. He told me that he was inspired to do this by people in Northern Ireland who raise money to support children in Uganda. He said, ‘It’s so encouraging to see children’s lives transformed, from having their own shoes to having an education, thanks to the donors to Fields of Life.’

Stories From Uganda: Parents investing in the future of their children

When I was in Uganda I enjoyed meeting Stephen Tusilme and his wife Christine. They welcomed me into their home in the village of Busingiro in the Ibanda District of rural South West Uganda. Stephen told me the inspiring story of how a group of parents in the village are investing together in future of their children.

Stephen and Christine have seven children of their own and look after one orphan.  Stephen was born in Busingiro to his mother Faith and father Baziro. However, his early life was influenced by the history of Uganda. His mother’s first husband was among the Asians deported from Uganda by Idi Amin. When Stephen’s father then married another woman his mother gave her property to the sons of her first husband, leaving Stephen with nothing.

Stephen told me how he developed a strong desire to have a piece of land of his own to construct a temporary shelter so that he could marry and have a wife and children in his own property.  ‘When the passion developed,’ he said, ‘I started working on other people’s farms. When I earned some money I constructed a grass thatched house at my sister’s place. Then I started a business making and selling ropes and taking them to the market. I started making pancakes and baking bread as well, until I had earned enough money to marry my beautiful wife Christine.’

Stephen told me how he continued to develop various business enterprises, buying and selling maize and beans. He began to rent out other people’s land so that he could grow his farming business. Today he has ten acress of land with four cows producing 20 litres of milk per day, a small shop and two motorbikes that he hires out. As a result of his hard work and entrepreneurial spirit, Stephen has been able to educate his children through Ryamugwizi Primary School. One of his children, Patience is sponsored by Fields of Life.

Along with parents and guardians of other sponsored children at Ryamugwizi Primary School, Stephen established a SACCO (Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization) so that they could sustain payment for their children’s education once their sponsorship by Fields of Life comes to an end. The twenty parents established the SAACO in 2015, and have made regular savings ever since, which the SACCO has invested successfully in maize. This has produced a very good return each year so that the members have been able to buy piglets and goats while continuing to grow the SACCO profits at the same time. Stephen even showed me the books!

It was inspiring to hear how this group of parents had come together to invest in the future of their children. I asked Stephen of their plans for the future and he said the parents group has three main goals:

  1. To develop members of the SACCO
  2. To sustain our school
  3. To continue to educate our children when sponsorship stops

‘When it grows to the next level,’ said Stephen, smiling broadly, ‘we will be able to provide a cow for each member. Then, if we can get some technical support and advice we can become a regional SACCO to help more people to reach their dreams.’

Stephen and Christine are typical of so many of the people I met in Uganda. They are very grateful for the support of people from other countries such as the Fields of Life child sponsors from Northern Ireland, but they are determined to build self reliance and to sustain their families and schools for themselves. It was privilege to meet Stephen and Christine and to hear yet another inspiring story from Uganda.

Stories from Uganda: An inspiring single mother in rural Uganda

This is the story of Alice Bamacungura, a sixty four year old woman with a passion for nurturing children.

Alice grew up in a single parent family in the Bushenyi District of Western Uganda. After her parents’ divorce she lived with her father until marrying Wilson and moving to the village of Busingiro (where I have been hearing the stories of local people during my visit to Uganda this week). She depends on the natural spring well that that I wrote about here).

Alice had five children, but two of her children died and her husband abandoned the family and went to live in Kampala in the 1980s. ‘He left us thirty years ago,’ she says, ‘and he never showed up again.’ In the years that followed Alice struggled with the loss of her children and with a serious illness but she was determined to earn enough money to raise her remaining children on her own. She tells me that she used to grow crops and when the crop was planted and growing she would go and dig in other people’s fields so that she would have enough income for her family. The house her husband had built fell down and so she started to work for others and to save money in the local SACCO. Eventually she earned enough money to build a small home and today she also has 2.5 acres of land.

Unfortunately when her children were young she could not raise enough money to pay for school fees and instead Alice taught them skills to help them to get a job. Her daughter, Scovia took a course in hairdressing and now runs her own hair salon. Her daughter, Jenessca is now a business woman, selling footwear in the local markets and her son, Dezi has become a well known local artist, singer and drummer.

However, this remarkable woman did not stop after raising her own children. Today she has five more children living with her that she looks after. Some of them are attending Ryamugwizi Primary School (the school being supported by the REAP Project). She tells me she has taken in these children because they have been abandoned and were not being looked after. She says, ‘Even at my age I still go to work in other people’s fields to make enough money to raise these children. Living a single life is not easy!’ After struggling to raising her own children alone Alice, at the age of sixty four, is still out in the fields digging the soil, to give other children a good start in life.

‘I have a passion for nurturing children,’ she says, ‘and children come and stay at my home’ She explains, ‘I didn’t get a chance to study or go to school, so I want to see children pass through school and get an education. Without skills and education, children cannot survive life.’

I ask Alice where her strength and resilience come from and she talks humbly about her faith in God. ‘God is the source of everything’, she says, ‘I cast all my burdens upon God.’

I ask Alice about her hopes for the future. She tells me that she wants to see the children she raises getting good qualifications and becoming a teacher or a nurse. She says she hopes the children she has raised will remember her and perhaps support her when she is elderly.  She would like to have a proper door and windows in her house. ‘I pray that if I live long enough, God will allow me to finish my house with a metallic door and windows, and I will forget the bad experiences of the past.’

It was a privilege to meet Alice. Her hard work, resilience and faith and her love and commitment to children is truly inspiring. I hope she lives a long and happy life and that her hopes for the future will be realised.

Stories from Uganda: A Leader with Vision

This is the story of Rev Robert Mugume, a leader with a vision to transform lives and his local community.

Robert (50) is the Regional Bishop for Ibanda with the Full Gospel Churches of Uganda, a pentecostal denomination. He grew up in the village of Birongo III in Ishongororo and married Mrs Jolly Nabasa Mugame. They have five children and two adopted children. He began serving as a pastor in 2001. While Robert was studying Theology at Glad Tidings Bible College he was inspired to work for the development of children. He developed a vision to start a school in his local community where children could have a quality education. He says his vision is to raise children holistically by supporting their physical, spiritual and educational development. In 2005 his vision became a reality when he started Birongo Primary School with 120 pupils. He connected with Fields of Life to assist with the construction of the school and today the school has grown to 530 pupils. As the partnership with donors from Northern Ireland continued a new vision developed to start a school in Ryamugwizi. This vision also became a reality.

Ryamugwizi Primary School is the school supported by the REAP Project that I’m visiting this week. It now has 310 pupils.

In partnership with Fields of Life and donors from Northern Ireland Robert has also established two primary schools in the neighbouring district of Kiruhura; Ulster Farmers & El Shaddai. Projects have been supported to drill boreholes and protect natural wells in the school communities (see yesterday’s blog) to ensure the community has clean water so that children remain healthy to attend school.

‘As a leader,’ says the Bishop, ‘I feel proud and thankful for the partners and donors from Northern Ireland.’

In the Birongo school they have built dormitories for children to enhance their access to education. Fields of Life has also gifted livestock and sewing machines to parents to enable them to generate income so that they can earn money to pay for their children’s education themselves.

‘I’m seeing the vision I had in 2001 now become a reality’, says Robert, ‘Lives and communities are being transformed.’

When I ask Robert how it feels to see his vision become a reality he smiles and says, ‘I thank God. I’ve seen transformation in the lives of the orphans and vulnerable children we are supporting.’

Robert is delighted to see children from the schools now becoming teachers, nurses and students at university.

Of course visionary leaders like Robert Mugume do not stop when one vision becomes a reality, so I ask him about his latest vision for the future. He does not hesitate to respond. He wants to see the children from the schools become successful in life. He wants them to aspire to be doctors, engineers, lawyers and bishops.

He has a vision for a secondary school in the region with the same ethos. He also wants to establish a vocational school for young people who cannot go to university so that they can gain practical skills for work. In addition Robert wants to establish income generating projects, such as businesses and farming, so that each school will raise funds to sustain itself and Robert’s vision will be secured for the future.

I have no doubt that this determined leader will see his vision sustained. Once again on my visit to Uganda I am inspired by hearing the story of a visionary leader creating hope and transformation in his local community.

Stories from Uganda: A young leader with a dream for a better future

I’m visiting Uganda with the REAP Project, a team of brilliant volunteers from Northern Ireland who have returned to Ryamugwizi Primary School in Ibanda, to continue to support the growth and development of the school and the local community. I’m blogging live from Uganda every day, sharing the stories of some of the most interesting and inspiring people I meet.

Today I want to share the story of another inspiring young leader – Caleb Malwadde, who works for Fields of Life.

Caleb was born the youngest of sixteen children in Central Uganda after the end of the Liberation War in 1986, when the current government came to power. His family had suffered hardship during the war in the Luwero Triangle and had lost their home, garden and cattle. As a result the family were very poor and felt like they were refugees in their own country. Caleb’s parents could not afford to send him to school. But then one day at the age of eight, Caleb was wandering around his village when Trevor Stevenson, the founder of Fields of Life, happened to be visiting with a colleague. Trevor noticed Caleb walking around and asked the boy why he was not at school. He asked if he could speak with Caleb’s parents. Then Trevor went to meet Caleb’s mother and promised her that he would find a sponsor for Caleb to go to school. In 1997 Caleb became a pupil at the First Fields of Life School in Uganda. He recalls starting school in P3 and getting shoes, a mattress, blankets and free meals. He speaks warmly about the transformation in his life due to the values and spiritual growth he experienced as he went through his education in the Fields of Life Academy, then Grace High School and ultimately to university, the first child from his family to do so.

When he graduated from university Caleb went to work for Fields of Life as the charity’s Logistics and Procurement Officer in Uganda.

He says, ‘I’m happy I’m working for the organisation that nurtured me and I am part of a team that is changing people’s lives.’

Like myself, Caleb has been inspired by the life and writings of Martin Luther King, so I asked him if he has a dream for Uganda.

He says, ‘My dream for Uganda is for respect for human rights and everyone enjoying the basic facilities of human life.’

Caleb believes this requires a change in mindsets and a type of politics where the government puts the people first. A type of democracy where political leaders want to give back to the community. The result of this would be a political commitment to massive improvements including clean water, food, free education and healthcare for all.

With young leaders like Caleb emerging in Uganda I believe his dream can begin to become a reality.

Stories from Uganda: Inspiring young people with a passion for social change

Meet Trinity Heavenz and Shamir Wiseman! Yesterday when I visited the Kosovo slum in Kampala I met these two remarkable young men who are passionate about creating positive change in their community. Their stories will fill you with hope.

Trinity (25) grew up in the Kosovo slum seeing poverty, crime, disease and a lack of hope all around him. As a boy he had the opportunity to go to the Treasured Kids School (which I wrote about in yesterday’s blog). As he learned and grew up in this positive school environment he developed a great sense of responsibility to help his community. Trinity told me of his firm belief that his community can change and it starts with a change in mindsets. With his talent and love for computers, design and the arts he started his own business called Era92 which trains and mentors young people in technology, design and the arts. But Trinity is more than a successful young entrepreneur, he also wants to have an impact on other young people. He started 92hands with his lifelong friend Levixone. It’s a youth movement to empower Ugandan young adults to transform their communities, through intensive community service. This vibrant organisation is active in many social change activities such as feeding families, empowering women, job creation and improving adult literacy. I was inspired and moved by Trinity’s story. He said ‘The only way Africa can change is to mobilise our young people to change our communities.’

Trinity introduced me to Shamir (23), one of the young people he mentors. In 2003 Shamir came to Uganda as a refugee from Burundi where he had lost siblings and friends in the violence. He met Pastor Deo in 2005 and was given the opportunity to go to Treasured Kids Primary School in the Kosovo slum (which is supported by Fields of Life). Shamir told me that when he went to the school he experienced values, love, support and opportunities that he could not have previously imagined. He said, ‘I never knew I could get a good place like this’. He went on to study at High School and now he is at university studying Graphic Design. He shares Trinity’s love for design and says his mentor has inspired him to become a success in business and to be an agent for positive social change. He said, ‘I dream of empowering and helping young people in my community. I want to impact young people to be the change.’

When I visited the Kosovo slum I was expecting to leave with heartache for the poverty and suffering I would see there. It was certainly the poorest community I have ever seen. But after meeting these two inspiring young people, I left with a sense of hope and optimism for the future of their community and the future of Uganda.

Tomorrow I will share the story of another inspiring young leader who works for Fields of Life in Uganda.

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 shares his stories with international students in Germany

AGU Launch

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.’

Belfast author supports community arts project

Tonight Belfast Author of ‘Paperboy’, ‘Breadboy’ and ‘All Growed Up’ congratulated a group of men from different communities in West Belfast on the launch of their photographic exhibition in the Shankill Library. The initiative is a project of Community Dialogue.

Tony said ‘I’m delighted to speak at this launch for three reasons. Firstly, I have great respect for the peace building work of community dialogue, secondly because men in this community who express their creativity in the arts are role models to younger people, and thirdly because the exhibition is in Shankill Library where I first discovered a love for books’.

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International authors backs Rotary appeal

Breadboy and Paperboy author Tony Macaulay has joined in the latest Coleraine appeal to Give Blood, Save Lives.

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Tony Macaulay and Rotary Club of Coleraine president Cliodhna Rea

The internationally acclaimed author has joined with the Rotary Club of Coleraine to encourage people across the town and borough to come on Monday and Tuesday, 11 and 12 November, and give blood in the donation sessions at the Baptist Church in the town.

Tony has just returned to his Portstewart home from a book launch tour of the USA, where his unique style has been going down a storm.

Speaking at a meeting of the Rotary Club last week Tony said: “I have been a blood donor in the past but this year I have seen the benefits at first hand.

“My mother was very ill and it was in a large part due to blood transfusions that she was able to recover. It made me realise how terribly important a simple act like giving a blood donation can be and the dramatic effect it can have when people are in need of a transfusion.

“I would encourage everyone to go along and give blood at the next donation session in the town. They need new donors but they also need previous donors to come back and donate again.

“There is no doubt that the logo is correct. ‘Give Blood. Save lives.’ You know you want to help.”

Rotary Club president Cliodhna Rea said on behalf of the club: “The Blood Donation Service need donors and they need them now. Please, please come along and make a blood donation.

“It can have the most important effect on someone’s life – and, remember, it only takes a short time to give that most precious gift.”

The blood donation sessions are on Monday and Tuesday, November 11 and 12 at Coleraine Baptist Church Hall from 1.30pm – 4pm and 5.15pm – 8pm.

Everyone welcome.

As seen on: colerainetimes.co.uk