On many days, I have repeated myself; told you the same story, the same words over and over again like you never heard them before because I just really wanted to keep talking to you.
On other days, I have exploded inside with those words, pretended to tell myself my own stories because I was unable to talk to you. Because we were both sulking and broody over trivia and it’s relatives.
On those days, I have prayed for a sooner sunset. For the sun to go down on that day and wipe it off the memory of the universe, as I awaited the innocence of the morning.
But today, I will repeat myself; tell you the same story, the same words over and over again like you never heard them before because I just really want to keep talking to you.
Once upon a time – I’ve only started a story in that manner once, don’t be frowning – in the evening of 2015, I got an opportunity to be part of the team of adults to supervise a group of young people in a youth club; but really to share with them a few of my new ideas and activities, to widen their understanding of the world around them and to foster an intercultural learning. Sounds like a lot of clever stuff right? I thought so as well, haha.
In Denmark, (I later learnt that it is locally written as Danmark) the local authorities are obligated to offer leisure activities to children over 10 years old after their usual school program, and with that, they set up youth clubs in every community where kids will go to immediately after school at 2pm.
The youth club is a building set up like a home for the comfort of the kids. It will look like a typical house with couches for lounging, a kitchen to make snack and drinks, play areas all over the place for all kinds of indoor games that the particular youth club could afford. The youth clubs prioritise social activities like music, art and performing arts, sports, films, and various outdoor activities; they’re supervised by adults who are paid by the local authorities. I think it is an awesome government initiative.
The younger kids in what we’d call primary level will get off school and come in at 2pm until 5pm. While the older kids in high school will come in from 5pm until 10pm. These clubs serve as an alternative for otherwise reckless activities children might want to stealthily get into after school, but also as places where they can get extracurricular learning. The parents sign them up, and roll calls are done for accountability to parents.
Despite the freedom the youth have in there, it is a smoking and alcohol free zone. On a normal day, they’ll come in and play their favourite games, hang out with their friends from different schools while they have the best time of their lives and all that is going on in your mind is the memory of your childhood when you had to be back home immediately after school to go do the dishes, mop the house and do your homework with hardly any games to play until you reported back the next day and had that game of “bladder” (jumping the rubber rope) at break time that made you no more clever than you were in your school work. But cultures differ, right? A lot of us turned out alright after all.
So here I was, trying to make this intercultural thing work, but boy was it hard! The children mostly, were so shy. They’re not very familiar with their English, as all their lessons in school are taken in Danish except for the English class. On inquiring from the other facilitators, they said that the children were not confident enough to express themselves in the little English that they were just learning in class. But hey, work had to be done, right? I told my other colleague, Raphael that we had to mix it up with signs to help us get it done. So we did.
You’d find us trying to get into their space and get them to do stuff with us while waving our hands all over the place, hoping that we were making some sort of communication with signs that made sense. It worked most of the time, even though it was really exhausting. The high school kids that showed up in the evenings knew English alright, save for the fact that they were seeing strange African faces and they weren’t sure they had so much to let us in on. They eased into it a little later but honestly, English is not their cup of tea. It seemed like an exam you gave them if you were holding a conversation with them. I almost felt sorry for them and wished I could speak Danish to relieve them of the discomfort.
It was nice to know them. I made more friends with the younger children who came earlier in the day though. This particular boy was one heck of a rebel, he basically ran the whole place crazy and could not make friends with us until he realised we were going to be in his face all fortnight long, then he caved. He’d pronounce Raphael’s name as “Raphi-Lion.” We tried to help, but that’s the best he could come up with, and Raphael decided it was a cool twist to his name after all. My name, Karen, was pronounced Kayuhn, “Care-un” like you’d say the word care and un in one go. It sounds strange…but I found out it is an actual Danish name and is pronounced that way. How cool, right?
Then came this little girl one bright but yet chilly afternoon that warmed my heart and left me bewildered at the same time… you know how other continents still think we live in caves and trees? (True story) Yes. Even the children, somehow they either get it from the discovery channel, or they get to hear it from a friend who heard it from a friend whose mother watched the news about donating to a naked African child somewhere in the Sahara. Well, the children that need help really do exist, but even apart from that, Africa has made major steps of growth in civilization and economics and to know that is just a click away on Google. But that’s a story for another day.
The little girl about the age of 10 or so was burning with concerns and questions and because she couldn’t properly communicate in English, technology came to her rescue. Armed with her iPad, she came over to the kitchen where I was trying to help with their afternoon snack, and she was determined to use Google translate. She would type her questions in Danish on the translator and then I’d read the translations and respond accordingly.
“Do you have iPhones in Africa?”
“Of course we do!” I’d say with a broad smile. “We also use technology back home; smart phones, tablets like the one you have now. Here. I also use a smartphone that I bought” I took out my shiny slim phone and showed it to her. She nodded. (But really I didn’t buy it, I borrowed it because I messed mine up and yet I had to take pictures and stay online and in touch with my people while in nchi za nje, Hahaha. But you get the point. We buy smartphones here too)
With a poor communication system with the children, I almost felt uninspired for what to do some days until one of the facilitators (who rarely ever spoke with us for the same reason), suggested through a translator that I should involve the kids in a new hands-on skill. I immediately thought about making paper beads. What’s funny is that the only way I knew about making paper beads was because I watched someone explaining the procedure about 3 or so years ago on Television. Television, people. How convenient. It was an easy process and so it stuck in my mind somehow but I trusted my memory, even as I explained and listed the materials we needed, all the while thinking that if I mess this up and can’t come up with a proper paper bead in at least two attempts so I can teach the kids, I am screwed.
You can’t blame me. I used to be an artist, but not very crafty with my hands. It is the girls that showed up obviously to make jewellery the next day. I had to quickly try out a couple of samples to make sure I knew what I was doing! Otherwise, I’d be a laughing stock. I desperately needed to get closer to these kids to find a point of interaction and if it meant forging a supposed skill, I had to do it. Ha! That was crazy, right? I know… but what is so hard about paper beads; I cracked the trick, and suddenly I was a pro. The satisfaction that filled my insides, even I could not contain. When the children would finally ease up to me (still with signs and a few English words) because they had no choice but to ask me for clarity, I felt that my job was as good as done. It was a major accomplishment.
While in our awesome paper bead making class, another set of questions came up;
“How come you know how to make these beads? Do you guys have papers like this in Africa?” – This was the kind of paper used to print magazines, brochures, flyers, you know that kind? Yes. Art paper.
For two seconds I wondered what to say. Bambi the children also imagine we have no kind of education, paper, pens or pencils that we use over here. But my job was to get them talking and eventually change those perceptions.
I smiled. “Sure. We have all kinds of paper and also old magazines, which we use to make these beads. We find all the other materials we are using in the supermarket as well.”
Another added, “I don’t want you to go back because you may not have food to eat.”
Now, it was our last week and we were just about to leave for home in a few days, and they knew it.
“We do have food at home, and we buy it in the market and at groceries just like you.” I assured her.
In this business, you can’t just be laughing fwaaa even as much as you are dying to. You have to remain as objective as possible and understand that these stories and perceptions are real and we have the opportunity to change the narrative.
The biggest memory for me is another one of the little girls. She was very slim, blonde, and quite taller than the others and reserved in big measure. I had never really had an interaction with her because she preferred her peace and quiet and hanging around her friends. So much so that on our last day, when all the girls, including her friends, came in to make paper beads with my final supervision, she had no choice but to come in as well only to watch them while she remained her usual silent self.
She knew how to play the guitar. She must have thought to herself prior that she needed it there for the distraction, and she plucked the strings now and then as everybody else was busy with glue, paper, toothpicks and all. I didn’t know what was running through her mind. What I would learn later would melt my heart. Somewhere towards the end of our exercise, she started to play a real song and eventually sing along to it. She was singing a song in English.
American hip-hop artiste, Wiz Khalifa’s “See you again” ft. Charlie Puth.
She kept going with the lines “It’s been a long day, without you my friend. And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.” She kept going and going, singing the whole song apart from the rap. I even caught myself singing along. She was very calm and almost sombre while she sung; I can remember the sadness in her voice as she sung the sorrowful tune like it was yesterday. I remember telling her that she had a beautiful voice, and she managed a smile. When she was done singing, she left the room.
It was way later after that episode that reality remembered to visit. It hit me. The little girl was singing for me, seated right in front of me while I bent all over the table trying to make sure the kids were getting their beads right and while I sung along to her serenade. She sung for me; that somehow, while she avoided me the whole time, it was because she was only a shy little girl who secretly loved my presence every day and was sad that I had to leave eventually. I must have developed a lump in my throat from that realization, because I hardly paid so much attention to her in that moment.
Moments such as those defined my stay, and every time I think about it, a smile plays on my lips.
We clearly have a problem, and it needs no introduction…
Heading out to work on a field-day, driven on the Kabale – Kisoro high way far off in the South West, I sat by the window of the double cabin every morning so I could do the usual; think my life through and wonder how I got myself to a particular point in my life that I happened to be reminiscing on that morning. There was however a constant sight I didn’t miss; the little girls and boys in blue shaggy and faded uniforms walking barefoot in a single file on the side of the high way as they knew to be the safest way to get to school, lest they get run down by a crazy driver at those sharp turns on the hills.
The thing that caught my attention was that every day the children carried brooms and others, the older ones, hoes to school. As my daily assignment was to visit as many schools as possible, I took the opportunity to inquire from one teacher in one of the schools about it, and he said that the children were required to carry brooms for general cleaning and the hoes so that they could dig and till the school land as part of the afternoon program; it is from that land that they would grow some of the food they feed the children.
I felt my heart sink a little lower. In that moment, I started to think about the children back in Bweyogerere, a Kampala suburb where I live, who get to be picked up by buses to school and never have to carry along with them a broom or a hoe because one child pays school fees enough to educate 10 others of the ones I saw every morning along the high way. But of course, one is poverty stricken and can only depend on the questionable government initiatives, while the other has got it all together.
Poverty is definitely a longer story for another day, but I believe that Uganda can do much better in educating its poor children. That at least a rather comfortable education can be afforded to these children so that we are rid of the shortfalls of illiteracy in the future of the nation. With billions of dollars given to the education sector every Financial year; my focus is really on primary education where school begins, that actually spends about 54% of the Education budget, at least according to FY 2015/16 which allocated approximately 1,095bn, you agree that it’s probably not much, but that for starters, the children can be afforded a meal at school and not have to dig in their free time when they should be taking the chance to play and just be children, because these same ones come from homes where they have to follow their parents to the garden to do just the same; sometimes before they head out to school.
On top of having to go through imposed child labour at school, they are most likely to miss a couple of lessons because their teachers won’t show, or they just simply lost enthusiasm about going to class. In a recent visit to a Kamwokya KCCA school, one of the counsellors and founder of a sponsorship program sadly expressed to me that “…the kids no longer want to come to school, because they see no reason why; they have little or no inspiration. They fall out and end up not doing their PLE…” Children (pupils), I found out, are quickly affected by their surroundings, and so they will either be eager to learn or hate their school experience altogether. This definitely affects their general performance.
We clearly have a problem, and it needs no introduction; although in a report by the New Vision, the minister of Education and Sports highlighted in her speech at the 23rd annual education and sports sector review workshop saying… “…I can honestly dare say that the largest giant of a challenge we have today is indiscipline and selfishness that make people misappropriate the resources meant for Government work which we will now have to fight and try to plug those holes so that all the resources we get in our budget serve the purposes of this sector…”
And with that, we can only do so much as citizens to implore that these fights indeed be fought so that the nation’s children are afforded a normal education that could change their stories and give them a chance to celebrate knowledge in the wake of their dreams.
I wore all black, with a cap, even though the sun was blazing hot. Well, the sun has never been cooler. The weather was roasting hot and as dusty as could be in Nansana, a municipality of Wakiso district. I was looking for Kabumbi, also known as the Green Slum as it’s a one of a kind slum surrounded with a lot of green; mostly trees. I was going to meet a young man called “Woria”, the proprietor of Nansana Stop The Violence Movement. He goes by the name of Tente Joseph. Woria is a stage name that he picked up as a hip hop (Bboy) dancer. I walked with him to the project area, sat on a bench in a shade and we had a long chat.
As i might have earlier mentioned, the project at the Green Slum is called the “Nansana Stop The Violence Movement”. It is a small non-profit project under the hip-hop community in Uganda which is fast growing in the background.
There are quite a number of hip-hop projects budding in different communities and this is just one out of many. The element of hip-hop is being used to spread peace, unity and love and hope in various communities and at the same time equipping young people with life skills to lead productive lives. That children in disadvantaged (or otherwise) situations will find an alternative for violence, theft and other conditions, where they meet up with other kids to learn hip-hop, dance, music and emceeing. This is so that they’re able to express themselves in the things they believe in and those that have affected them.
The children and teenagers are taught above all, to share knowledge. The projects thus come up in a way that a young person learns the elements of hip-hop and life skills and on seeing the need in his/her community, they then move back to set up their own where they host children and teenagers in one place to teach and impart the skills learnt, that their issues might somehow be addressed.
This is also how Woria started the Nansana Stop The Violence Project.
It begun on the 23rd November 2015. Although it is a hip-hop founded project, it mainly focuses on stopping violence in the area of Nansana where the children come from. Woria said he drew inspiration from an incident that saw his friend killed after he had been beaten for stealing a few things; he admits that his friend was quite the gangster.
He believed that his friend could have turned out differently had he been under the right influences. He hoped that he could do his part in nurturing the children in his community to avoid any kind of risky behavior in the near future and for them to grow up to be responsible citizens through music, dance and life skills.
Woria passionately stressed the issues affecting the children in Kabumbi saying that on top of the environment being chaotic, children as young as 10 years old would become thieves as others would lose interest in going to school but instead look for scrap to sell, whilst their parents hardly cared for their wellbeing.
He said that the project helps to bring up these children better, they find clothes for them, with encouragement, while putting their minds off the troubles in their homes. He meets the children every evening at 4pm. But above all things hip-hop, he says the children learn discipline, respect for elders, art and craft, English, to believe in themselves and most of all to love God.
So far, parents are happy with Woria and even though the project has close to 100 kids coming in, he says 27 of them are sent directly by their parents who have registered a positive change in their children.
So being the passionate volunteer of my knowledge on leadership, life skills and project management, I was wondering what I’d do with it come 2017 besides taking it to an office or field every morning with a possible salary at the end of the month; I decided I’d find a project I could be part of in my free time (thankfully being a hip-hop dancer too, I’d blend in with the kids.)
I pledged to Woria that I’d visit once a week or twice every month for a couple of hours to share with the children as much as I can as they’re dangerously limited on knowledge. I’d also help to think about and build an Income Generating Activity of their own so they can educate a couple of kids at a time as most are challenged by school fees; so in the end, his project would be self sustainable as opposed to his current situation of looking for funding.
Woria is doing a great job as are so many others that have put up these dance projects in their communities to provide a safe space for the less fortunate.
I toast to them!
“They should get informal education, where they stay home.”
“Girls are not supposed to learn.”
I turned around to see who it is that was speaking. It was one of the students at the school a couple of friends and i had gone to carry out some reach out sessions.
The young man who must have been about 17, had been standing outside the classroom just like I was with all the others, preparing to go out for a street march while also looking at the “LET GIRLS LEARN” banners that had been put up.
You see, there are days when you could go on and on about the things that are important, that matter to you, and then there are days when those same things just put a gape on your face, getting you dumbstruck. At a loss for words because at that point, you look at what is around you and you know in that instant that you have to think hard for what to tell this young mind, putting across your point in the shortest time possible.
“Why do you say that?” I asked, rather composed with an encouraging smile on my face.
“Aaah that’s what I think.”
“But what makes you think so? Are the girls not contributing in class?”
“Girls should stay home.”
“And you have no reason why…?”
He kept a shy smile the whole time, which puzzled me.
“They should get informal education, where they stay home.”
“So you’re saying this education is not helpful to them?”
“Do you have sisters?”
“And they go to school. Right? ”
“Yes. But they are not supposed to.”
“Would you ever let your girl children go to school?”
At this point, I was getting nowhere with that conversation. I got down to business and told him about education for everyone and why he should not think such thoughts because of what he might have witnessed in his youth.
I started to think about the danger we are still in if even a young man in the outskirts of Kampala still believes that educating girls is a waste of time and money.
These thoughts stem from the communities these young people come from. Communities where girls’ youth is cut short when she is married off, or when the living conditions and cultural norms have pushed her into the arms of a deceitful older man.
In that case, we have and are doing our best to support their education materially or with skills that give them a hope that they will get through their youth unhindered, whether their parents can afford school or not.
An agitated headmaster in Moroto once complained, when my team visited, that nothing changes even when we keep coming to talk and talk. The girls stop studying in P7. And there’s not much they can do, he said.
Sometimes an older man comes and points out a girl he would like to marry soon. And he says he can only do as much… because the parents have no problem with it either.
He left us thinking that even as we continue talking to the girls, let’s also groom these young men to understand that everyone has a right to education, and that marriage or getting a girl pregnant because he gave her some nice things, will alter her education and a chance to a beautiful future full of hopes and dreams.
Maybe they can grow to outlive their societal and cultural norms.
So I have been reading. In the post about book tags, one question asked which of the two kinds I preferred; sad books or happy books (I forget how exactly the question was phrased, but y’all get the idea). Of course I said I love reading books that make me cry. Books that could even make me cry so hard even if that was what I was doing all day… crying so hard, in this case, just means when tears roll down my face with not so much of an effort to stop or hide them. My point here is I am not wailing, weeping, or even sobbing…my face is just leaking.
Mable of the sweet growing painsheard my plea and emailed different collections of over 30 books, it was extreme excitement, thanks Mable.
Growing up, I was, and still is, a happy person. In some conversations (normally with new people) I’d be smiling all through uncontrollably. To laugh is not a hard job for me; just throw in the slightest joke and I’d be laughing so hard. Real life jokes…not comedy shows or TV whatever(s). They’re funny, but it’s not too real except for the few times when I can’t really help it, hehe… I have a big laugh, and it can be really loud sometimes; I basically laugh with everything I’ve got, it’s infectious.
The only people I ever hang around, are happy people and it’s not that they don’t have problems… they do, a closet full. But it seems to me that they like to each deal with them in their own way inspite of your probing. So I thought I would go on a quest, to find out how other people dealt with sadness because the truth of the matter is that I didn’t know how, given that I had a baggage of damage on my shoulders. It was instead translating into anger over a period of time. I feel like I am telling you too much of myself already.
Anyway since I loved to read, I soon realised that between the funny and sad books, the latter seemed to dig into me more. I need you to remember they’re not entirely sad, some of them have endings that are too good to be true, and you only realise what’s going on after you discover your wet face. I find out that crying was to me some kind of anti-depressant, a stress reliever. I often felt a lot better after I let a few tears roll out between deep breaths; although I am aware that this can be very much the opposite for a lot of other people.
I found the realness of life, in the sense that I no longer had to brush things off because I wanted to stay cheered up. I could actually give myself a minute to tear up and acknowledge my thorns. So I fell in love with sad stories, movies too sometimes because they taught me how to cry. And when someone has pissed me the heck off, the anger seeps out all my energy I can hardly speak; at that point, I learnt that all I have to do is let some tears fall while the anger rafts along them.
….that was real sweet Nicholas Sparks, real sweet.
Date check: Sunday 26th June 2016. I am under house arrest for a few days in an unknown location; not as if secret, but well, i haven’t mentioned where i am yet otherwise I could easily be found if one wanted to. Don’t ask me for details but just so you know, if I were discovered by a certain group of people, my near future would come crumbling down in uncollectable debris or like the murderous mudslides of Bududa. Not like a joke.
Like most people my age, this is the most critical time of my life when I am most concerned about what happens tomorrow at my desk, while on duty, etcetera because it basically makes me who i will be “tomorrow”.
Anyhow, I can’t sleep in, or I’d feel like a lazy bum. So i reach over my bed to find my phone that spent all night plugged into the socket to recharge. I winced at the thought of the pain it must have felt; being force-fed beyond what it could take. I knew deep down that one day it would completely resent me, stop feeding, and eventually leave me for 6 feet under. I wouldn’t weep, but take a deep breath and start the long holiday from the noisy pop-up notifications.
When I find my phone, i pick up from where I left off the last time I read. Now, i am reading books using my phone; i will tell you how I got them in the story next, they’re over 30. I haven’t got into the habit of buying books yet, (but my children gon get served books for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Granted) and having my temporarily-owned computer crashed, phone’s in handy. So don’t be thinking i am addicted to social media when I’m looking down at my phone all day. And away from people…ambivert alert.
I begin to read for a while, and the book prematurely comes to its end. Yes. It actually leaves me hanging but i am thinking that maybe there was nothing more left to do. Landon loved with all his heart, Jamie lived with all that she was and there was nothing Hegbert or I, could do if not further the already sad situation. Although, i must say that was real sweet Nicholas Sparks, real sweet.
The hunger pangs have kicked in. This is the worst possible moment of being under house arrest, i tell you. I finally find breakfast, a very awkward breakfast… Even spinsters live better than I do sometimes.
Between the weird breakfast, i was writing this post, about what kind of book(s) i have just read and why i love reading them…