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.

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.

Author Tony brought to book in braille by Maghaberry prisoners

IMG_0295aPRISONERS at Maghaberry have reproduced in braille a trilogy of books by local author Tony Macaulay for Lisburn Library. Copies of ‘Paperboy’, ‘Breadboy’ and ‘All Growed Up’, which draw on the Belfast author’s experiences growing up in Northern Ireland, were each painstakingly translated into braille by a group of 10 prisoners. And earlier this week, 15 volumes of the specially compiled books were presented to Tony and Lisburn Library to make available to partially sighted and blind people throughout the province.

Mark Mooney, Instructor in the Braille unit at Maghaberry, revealed: “This is the first time we have reproduced anything by a Northern Ireland author. We’ve done Bibles in braille, children’s books, which we sent to Malawi, and even an Irish language text book, but this is quite a new venture. “It took about four months to complete all three of the books. It was a real team effort, but I know, individually, each of the guys involved got a lot out of it – an innovative rehabilitation project which allowed them all to give something back to the community.”

In his books, Author Tony Macaulay, who was raised at the top of the Shankill Road in West Belfast at the start of The Troubles, draws on his experiences growing up with stories which reflect a turbulent social history, with entertaining insights, wit and humour.

Speaking at the presentation of the braille books in Maghaberry, Tony said: “I am delighted to have my books translated into braille for two main reasons. Firstly, it means that blind and visually impaired readers can enjoy the books. Secondly, I believe the Braille Unit at Maghaberry is a brilliant example of prisoners contributing positively to our community.”

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Lisburn Library manager Diane McCready added: “Libraries NI is delighted to offer partially sighted and blind people in Lisburn and beyond the opportunity to enjoy this trilogy of books by renowned Belfast author Tony Macauley. “Tony’s books have proved very popular in our libraries and by offering this range of his books in braille, we are fulfilling our commitment to make our services accessible to customers, including those who are blind or partially sighted.”

The books can be borrowed from Lisburn City Library for free and can be requested through any public library in Northern Ireland.

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Belfast author presents Duke of Edinburgh Gold Awards

Tony meets DoETony recently met HRH The Duke of Edinburgh at Hilsborough Castle when he was asked to present the Gold Awards to young people from Northern Ireland on behalf of the Duke of Edinburgh.

Tony congratulated the young people on their achievements and shared his experiences of voluntary youth work, the Duke of Edinburgh Award and writing with the award recipients and their parents.

In Tony’s speech he said: “I believe the most important trait today is to be resilient and your achievement today indicates you’re resilient young adults and that will continue into your lives. I think you will remember this day all your lives and I think you deserve to. Congratulations!”

Belfast author supports improving educational attainment

Picture of Tony Macaulay visit

Belfast author, Tony Macaulay recently visited a local integrated school to support their commitment to improving educational attainment in English.

Tony commented:

‘I was thrilled to hear that students are studying ‘Paperboy’ for their GCSE. I was delighted to meet the enthusiastic teachers and students at Parkhall Integrated College for two main reasons. Firstly, it is an integrated school and I believe that educating our children together offers the best future for Northern Ireland. Secondly, the school has prioritised improving educational attainment in reading and writing for young people from a similar background to mine, where educational attainment has been lower for far too long.’

Here’s the article written by the school:

Year 11 in Parkhall Integrated College are studying Tony Macaulay’s ‘Paperboy’ on the theme of ‘change’ this year, for their GCSE controlled assessment. To tie in with this; luckily, we were able to contact Tony Macaulay and ask him to come and visit Year 11; Tony said he would be delighted to do this for us. This is what happened:

The visit took off ‘like Thunderbird 3’. It was ‘[him] and us’ – chatting and learning. Year 11 said, ‘It was great to learn about Tony growing up in Belfast during the troubles’ – so it was! We also heard him dramatically reading, we found out – there is future chemistry with ‘chemistry girl’ and that he DID ACTUALLY KICK WOODY!

A big thank you Tony Macaulay – from Year 11 students at Parkhall Integrated College. You inspired the topic for our controlled assessment and have helped make our results the best they can be, so you have. Yeah!!

Sharon Hagen (HoD English – Parkhall Integrated College)

Tony will be speaking at Parkhall Integrated College Prize Day on 22nd October.

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 writer Tony Macaulay honoured to be guest author at Milwaukee Irish Fest

All Growed Up in Times Square

All Growed Up in Times Square

Belfast writer Tony Macaulay returns to the USA this weekend to appear as a guest author at Milwaukee Irish Fest. Tony will be signing copies of his books, ‘Paperboy’, ‘Breadboy’ and ‘All Growed Up’ which tell his story of growing up in Belfast during the Troubles.

Milwaukee Irish Fest is North America’s largest celebration of Irish music and culture. The four-day festival, which occurs every third weekend in August, showcases more than 100 entertainment acts on 16-stages and attracts more than 100,000 people. The 2015 festival takes place August 13-16. Tony will be appearing Literary Corner in the Cultural Village.

Tony Macaulay has enjoyed a series of successful book tours to the USA over the past 5 years. He has been a guest literary speaker at the Celtic Cultural Alliance, Lehigh University and DeSales University in Pennsylvania, University of Denver, Colorado and Notre Dame Bookstore and Goshen College Indiana. He has given book readings in book stores in New Jersey, Colorado, Upstate New York and Indiana.

Paperboy on sale in Barnes & Noble in Fifth Ave, New York

Paperboy on sale in Barnes & Noble in Fifth Ave, New York

In 2012 the W.B. Yeats Society of New York invited Tony to present a reading of Paperboy in the National Arts Club as part of the 1st Irish Festival.  In 2013 and 2014 he performed a series of readings from his books at the New York Irish Center.

Tony reading from 'All Growed Up' at the New York Irish Centre

Tony reading from ‘All Growed Up’ at the New York Irish Center

Commenting on this latest trip Tony says:

‘The interest in my books in the USA has been a surprise and a delight and I feel honoured to have been invited to be a guest author at Milwaukee Irish Fest.’