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: 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: 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.

Peacebuilder and Writer Tony Macaulay Partners to Present the Together Stronger Program, a Youth Drama Project

Macaulay joins 174 Trust and Youth Action in Northern Ireland to engage youth

Tony Macaulay, peacebuilder and critically acclaimed author of Paperboy and Breadboy, has entered a partnership with 174 Trust and Youth Action Northern Ireland as a writer and volunteer artist for the Together Stronger Program. This youth drama project aims to create an issue-based piece of theatre focusing on sectarianism through which 13 to 18 year-olds can share their voices and talents within their communities.Image

Macaulay has offered to write a script in consultation with local youth around the union flag dispute that arose in late 2012 and led to widespread protests and unrest. Youth Action will provide a core cast of experienced young actors from their Rainbow Factory Project, while 174 Trust will attract further participation from other local young people to fulfill roles in script development, lighting, sound, extras and so on. Two performances of the drama will run at 174 Trust and Youth Action NI in College Square North.

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Tony Macaulay

“The opportunity to assist in the development of this drama is an honor,” Macaulay said. “It is a wonderful chance for these young minds to develop their views and opinions, as well as showcase their talents, and I look forward to seeing the outcome of their work and collaboration.”

Throughout the creative process of the Together Stronger program, thirty young people will be given the opportunity to explore, develop and publicly express their views and opinions on sectarianism. Additionally, they will learn and develop devising, rehearsing and performance skills.

“Our objective for the youth drama project is for these young people to challenge and provoke debate in their communities around issues of sectarian division, stereotyping and prejudice,” said Together Stronger Program Coordinator Geoffrey Kerr. “With Tony’s guidance, the program will be a great success and a meaningful experience for our local youth.”

Macaulay has been involved in community development, youth work and peacebuilding for the past 28 years, and worked in establishing the community development project 174 Trust in North Belfast in the 1980s. He established Macaulay Associates in 2001 to provide facilitation and developmental support to organizations committed to creating positive social change. These goals coincide with the 174 Trust and Youth Action’s commitments to build peace amongst communities and to enable the voices of young people to be heard and valued.

For more information on the Together Stronger Program, visit 174trust.org.

As seen on: PR Web