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: 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 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.’