How I Lost My Sweet Childhood Nickname, “Tiyenda”

— By Sam from Uganda

What I didn’t learn from home, I learnt from Kindergarten. I spent my first three years of life at home learning how to eat by myself, brush my teeth, bathe on my own, greet people while shaking their hands and looking them in the eye, making alarms in case of danger, and notifying mum in case I was feeling pain.

Since I was mum’s first born, she had all the time to be curiosity and to learn about mothering. She had to know what I was saying, why I was crying, and what I needed. Dad was an occasional visitor in the house since he was always on the move on errands and his other families. On days when mum was away, grand mum would always step in to play the motherly role, with occasional assistance from Uncle Sam, Richard, and Fred who ended up being my playmates because my siblings were too young. I was never allowed to leave home to play with children in the neighborhood, everyone lived in their own fenced house, and it was hard to know what was happening on the other side.

I started school when I was 4 years old and by that time; mum knew she had equipped me with all the basics I needed to socialize with the rest of the children. She instructed me to do what the teachers told me, never to fight, never to have bad manners, and never to leave school until I was picked up by someone from home.

Mum would pack for me enough food, with instructions not to admire anyone else’s food and not to beg from others. Bread, popcorn, and orange juice were a must have in my container, and once in awhile they would pack me chicken. My school was just a stone’s throw away from home, though I kept insisting on being dropped off in a car. Initially, I felt weird walking through the neighborhood while putting on a school uniform. I kept having this feeling that everyone was staring at me and making fun of my appearance. The car offered me some sense of assurance that no one was seeing me.

School had its own dynamics. The teachers dictated who to sit with and where to sit. I never wanted the front rows because of the unnecessary attention from the teachers and the expectation to learn faster than the ones seated behind. I was also shy, too shy to be seen in front by all of the class, but that is where the teachers instructed me to sit.

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“Here is a family photo taken in 1991. That’s me in the red trousers, next to me is my brother, Allan, next to Allan is my last born sister, Wini, next to Winnie is my mother’s cousin, Nsadha, and next to him is my sister, Lillian. Behind me is my Uncle Sam, my late mum, Loy, my uncle Richard, my uncle Ronald, my grand mum’s friend, Tezira, and my grand mum Leah. This was the first Christmas we were having after my father’s death.

Seating me next to a girl worsened my manners. I had barely interacted with any girls before and one of the instructions I had from home was not to have bad manners. In my head I thought the teachers were indirectly choosing a marital partner for me, and completely going against what mum had told me to do.

During breakfast, it was mandatory to share food with the neighbors. To me, sharing anything with girls was criminal and I utterly refused to follow that rule. The teachers tactfully changed my breakfast schedule for me to start sharing with the boys, but I remembered that mum had told me not to covet other people’s food, so I still refused. Whenever they offered me their food, I would respond to them with “tiyenda” (“I don’t want”).

Little did I know that I was innocently hurting other people’s feelings and self-esteem by refusing their genuine offers. As time went by, no one wanted to associate with me; as the rest were seated in pairs sharing their breakfast, the teachers decided to seat me by myself. I felt so hurt and isolated. My pain was worsened when the whole class started sarcastically calling me Tiyenda instead of Sam. I felt like they were mocking me as being proud, arrogant, and selfish because I refused to share with them. I started crying whenever someone called me Tiyenda. The teachers sat me down and advised me to start sharing and playing with everyone if I wanted them to stop calling me Tiyenda.

Hard as it was, I had no option but to abide, because I found the Tiyenda name too derogatory to bear with. I unconditionally started accepting food from all the kids. I had to do away with some instructions from home and started playing with the girls. All my classmates enjoyed playing with me and everyone wanted to share with me. I stopped feeling shy and I grew comfortable with everyone around me. I learned how to co-exist with my peers, and to this day I have never heard anyone call me Tiyenda again.

Girls and Science: Can ‘Boys’ Champion the Journey?

— By Ibrahim from Uganda

It is Saturday evening and the sun is scorching hot. There are already only four boys waiting for the event to begin. The guest of honor has arrived and everything seems blurry. They sit there faces chocked with half smiles as they hold on a little bit longer. Promisingly members start flocking in. In 20 minutes, they were ready to begin.

This November 26th 2016 Boy-Talk moment organized by Girls in School Initiative had unraveling surprises of its own. It’s not the pizza that they all enjoyed at the end but the thrilling talk from Concern for the Girl Child’s Executive Director, Catherine Opondo, the guest speaker. She first scribbles through her phone notes and then smiling poses that rhetorical question members didn’t expect; ”Will you be a Champion?” The whole meeting grew silent.

This month’s topic centered on whether girls education in science subjects helps bridge the gender disparity gap in the world of sciences, and as always, seeking to understand the greater role boys play in support of this initiative. Mrs. Opondo took a very firm stand on this, that indeed “Girls involvement in sciences helps to bridge the gender disparity gap in the world of science.” She drew examples from her lifeline and career experiences alongside places she has lived in like the Middle East. Mrs. Opondo made the members to re-imagine where science goes beyond the test tube to daily life experiences practices. To her, what is science and where is science? She imagines boys playing a leading role in challenging a girl on what her future plan/dream is in relation to science? Or is it simply, what is it that she likes in a lipstick? A lipstick is just a lipstick but she nuances it with this scientific aspiring girl who is made to rethink on ‘eco-lipstick’ and how it would revolutionize a healthier woman in a cosmetology world.

That; when girls are pushed to think, they too can progressively become better like boys. Her emphatic ideal was “Boys can point girls to hope,” plus “raising aspirations is really important” in any human lives especially girls. Mrs. Opondo stressed out three main wayshow boys can help: Through, (a) Socialization; where they can help bridge the cultural gap; (b) Protection, where boys protect girls against ill derailleur’s by acting as ‘Big Brothers’ and, (c) Advocacy; where boys become champions for change.

In these modern times, there has been a lot of rumbling and calling for girl’s education. But where do we place the men and what is their role in all this? There is still a lot that ‘boys’ can do to champion the cause, more so in the world of science. Mrs. Opondo gave pointers from leverage the using of the existing structures to get organized and seek support through networks; spear heading men’s groups in informing about both the urgent and long term need/impact for promoting girl child education as well as acting as ‘changemakers’ where they promote and encourage girls to pursue sciences in schools.

As the meeting drew to a close, members were already battering with ideas from their own their experiences afar. They agreed that its high time men stopped giving girls dolls but surround them with gadgets to harness their imagination, i.e., procreating a science mind. On a sad reality, many girls drop out of school when they become pregnant and so are giving up on their dreams. This is where men can come in as supportive and counselors that having a baby is not the end of one’s career aspirations.

The whole event seemed quite mind boggling and yet mind changing. It stems from boys’ testimonies of how they perceive the concept of gender while relearning anew. The talk by Mrs. Opondo was nothing less but exploratory, inspirational and more so, relational. The Boy-Talk Moments have had one important impact sofar; continuous dialogue even after culture shock. Muslim boys who are members are battering with perceptions about ‘who is a woman’(both at a personal, religious and societal level) than ever before. The greater hope that seems to looms allover is that members are endlessly questioning while seeking answers of their own without failing to commit themselves to the cause. Wholly, they all seemed to agree with Mrs. Opondo in her assertion that, “The power imbalance cannot be ignored. We maybe different physically but we are all equal”.

Reunited with Family after War

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— By Clare from Uganda

We are having breakfast at home, in Mpondwe, at the border of Uganda and Congo. The environment is so quiet, and all we can hear is our conversation and the sound of the birds in the trees surrounding our home. It is 1996 and I am only three years old; my elder brother Ronald is five and the younger one Kenneth, only one year old. Our parents are at school in Kampala, which is 346km from home. We are under the care of the house help, Betty and a cousin Janet, who are 20 and 17 years old.

At the time, there is an insurgence in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is said that the Allied Defense Force (ADF) rebels are planning an attack on the government of Uganda. Our home, being at the border of the two countries, is a potential target for the rebels.

As we enjoy our breakfast, Betty is telling us stories of how the rebels raid places. She is a refugee from DRC, who settled in Uganda. She tells us about how rebels attacked her home in Beni, in Eastern DRC and burnt their house to ashes. Her story is cut short, as we hear a loud bang in the back yard.

Within no time, unknown people surround our home. Some are dressed in leaves and others in rugs. Around their necks, they carry guns and other machines. Betty has been through this kind of situation before, so, she shouts; “Nibarebo!” meaning “They are rebels!” I am so scared to the teeth that I pee in my pants. Janet and her carry us to the house and tell us to hide under the bed in the master bedroom. As soon as we get there, the rebels start firing gunshots to our end. Some of the bullets land at our feet, but we cannot move an inch. A few minutes into the firing, Betty orders us to move to the next bedroom. The gunfire is intense outside the house, but the rule is no crying nor getting hungry.

It goes on for hours, but we just hang in there. Janet tells us to pray; but we tell her that the rebels will hear us. She insists that rebels are against God’s will, so they will not hear us when we pray. We start reciting the rosary. Within no time, darkness has fallen. We cannot sleep, but the light rays striking through the window indicate that it is a new day. Phewww! Thank God we are alive.

The goats are bleating and making big stamps, as if being released from their shed. Betty and Janet peep through the window and watch them being taken away. “One of them has a knife; he is slaughtering the fattest of them all.” Janet whispers to us. “Oh yes, that is the one which recently gave birth to twins!” Betty reacts. “Are they going to give us some meat?” my elder brother Ronald asks. We are very hungry, and Kenneth cannot hold it any longer. He crawls out of the bedroom. We try to pull him back, but he insists and returns with a dish of left over rice from the store next door. That is like finding water in the middle of a desert. We all take a bite and get some energy to keep us going. But while we eat, one of the rebels outside shouts “I think they are still alive!” We then hear a loud bang on the roof, this time it is louder than before. The next bedroom is on fire. There is so much smoke and we are all chocking. The place gets quiet again. We are wondering; “Should we move out of the house and surrender to these beasts?” “No we cannot!”

The wait is too long, we are anxious, so we decide to move out. The roads are filled with burnt tires, bullets and ash. We begin to trek, but where are we going anyway? We are not even sure whether it is safe to even walk around. As we walk through the empty streets, we find an old man seated by the roadside.
“My children, where are you going?” He says to us.
“We do not know where to go, but one thing for sure is, we want to go where other people are” says Betty to the man.

“I do not have the strength to walk, like you young people do. Because if I do, I will die, so I have decided to sit here and wait for the rebels to shoot me dead. But since you are young and energetic, please go to Kasese town. That is where everyone ran to when the rebels came. When you get there, pray for me also, as I pray for you my children” He said.

He hugs us and off we go. At that time, all I feel is joy and renewed strength. Kasese is about 55 kilometers away. We start our journey, as Betty narrates to us stories. She says you can never realize how long your journey is, if you converse. It is quite a peaceful journey until we reach the Queen Elizabeth National Park. Here, darkness begins to fall, and we wonder how we are going to walk through this danger zone filled with wild animals. As we wait in the dark for another morning to come, we notice a car approaching us from a distance.

It is our parish Priest Fr Augustine Kithendere. He asks us to enter his truck and says to us “I was with your father today; he is very weak because he thinks the worst happened to you. Oh thank you Jesus for keeping these angels safely.” Fr Augustine then takes us to the church in Kasese town, and we are reunited with dad. Dad has lost so much weight, but the joy of reuniting with his children surpasses everything. He cannot believe that he is seeing us again. To date, dad says it was because of patience that we survived.

Brave Girls like Paulina

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— By Maria from Uganda

I met Paulina* in Masaka on International Day of the African Child. It’s her bravery that stayed with me. She is in her mid teen years but she’s already fought tough battles none of us will ever dream of, nor understand, and yet she’s not shy about speaking up for what she believes in.

When people stand up for what is right, despite the disapproval of others, I admire them. As we get older it tougher for adults to do. To survive in the adult world you must be part of the social circle and adher to its subtle rules. The ones who step outside may become GREAT, but the socials risks involved will deter many, therefore it is rarely encouraged. Let’s get back to the story….

We arrived at Hotel Brovad in Masaka around 9.40am. My colleagues and I were late. We had missed most of the children’s roundtable discussion with Government representatives. In the last 30 minutes the MC asked the children, “Children, does anyone have anything else to say to the adults?” After three or four children had spoken, up went Paulina, given her skin you really couldn’t help but noticing her, grabbing the mic she confidently stated: “Children like me want to be treated like everyone else, we can run, we jump, we can play. We shouldn’t be left out. The Government should consider us too!”

Shortly afterwards the discussion concluded, but I was curious about her story and what had prompted her to speak out so loudly and assertively. We all made our way to the grounds where the celebrations would continue, I sought out the MC of the roundtable discussion to see if I could learn more about Paulina. When I found her, she agreed to share some of her story. Because she’s a minor I have changed her name and used a picture without her face.

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Paulina says her eyesight is a problem, she’s been out of school for a year so that she could get a special operation. The operation helped, but she still has sight problems because in school when it rains her classroom becomes dark and she can’t see the board. When I asked if she had electricity in school, she said they did, but her classroom’s light wasn’t working and they had neglected to fix it.“ Other classrooms have light” She said. Paulina told me that children like her have to put special ointment on their skin but not everyone can afford it. These are the things she wants the government to consider supporting. “They make a huge difference in a child’s life” She said.

She told me she is brave because she comes from come from a loving family , that’s why she can speak up for herself, “Many children like me don’t come from a good family. School is difficult if your teachers don’t understand. They are scared to be themselves, to be free. I want to be a human rights lawyer when I grow up, so that I can speak for children like me.” She told me.

That is what my blog #HappilyFlawed is about. It’s about being comfortable in your own skin, no pun intended, and sharing your life lessons with others. It’s about accepting that we can’t be perfect and there is no need to be. We should just happily be ourselves.

Thank for sharing Paulina! #BraveGirls #HappilyFlawed

Albinism is a rare, genetically inherited condition found in all ethnicities. People with albinism have little or no pigmentation in their eyes, hair and skin owing to a lack of melanin. They are sensitive to bright light and have a higher than average risk of skin cancer from sun exposure. Most people with albinism are also visually impaired.

Visit Maria’s blog: Happily Flawed

“Darling You Have to Learn How to Live!”

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— By Maria from Uganda

From a very early age, I started to feel like I didn’t fit in. I was awkward, shy, and an introvert. There is nothing profound about that revelation, because most people feel that way about their life. I mean we’ve been doing this human thing for thousands of years and we are still discovering new things about our minds and our bodies every day. Being Human is not easy! Dealing with other human beings is also not easy. Depending on our personality, background, culture, beliefs, or environment, we all handle it differently. My naïve adolescent self decided that I needed to find a way to fix my wallflower nature. I wanted a book that would help me figure out the best way to deal with people. I felt it was necessary to become a person that fits in effortlessly, someone that everyone loves. At the time I didn’t know the true meaning of the terms introvert or extrovert or the extent to which they affect our environment. I would just pray for God to change me. I would daydream about being someone else, some beautiful girl somewhere who was popular and successful.

When I reached 19 years old I started searching through libraries and bookstores. I started buying books mostly from  the self-help section. I must have looked so strange in the bookstore. But, despite all the books, my best learning experiences have been life experiences.

My twenties have been a decade long lesson on mastering the art of being an adult human being. I thought my husband would be in my life by now. I thought my mother would hold my first-born child by now. I thought I’d start gingerly climbing up the career ladder in one lateral line. However, in this decade my mother passed away. I got a job in my dream organization and realized how damaging and unhealthy competition can be. I have not met my husband. My room is still untidy. Life is every shade of grey you can think of, instead of just being plain black and white.

In my strange imagination, I can see my introvert myself as the soul who was probably shoved into the birth canal, to start her journey as the female Maria Nabatanzi. I can see myself refusing all attempts by my heavenly spiritual teachers to convince me to come to earth and learn some universal lessons about being human. I can imagine me as a soul who told the teachers that I agree with ALL the theoretical lessons but I have no interest in learning the practical side of being a human on earth. I probably threw tantrums and spent time in the naughty corner of heaven for my behavior. Of course none of that worked because I am here.

I am here on earth as Maria Nabatanzi.

When I got to University in the first week, I realized the opportunities available to me were endless! How could I let such good fortune pass me by? One evening I sat in my new bedroom and gave myself an internal pep talk. I wasn’t going to let my timidity stop me from living my life. So I got dressed in my favorite dress, slid on my leather boots, grabbed my jacket and matched out the room to my first social event alone. My stubborn soul has finally accepted the wisdom of my teachers.

Life puts me in situations that challenge me. This is what I think God would call LIVING. But it’s not my lesson alone. We must all bring something new to the table through human experience. Just look at all your favorite heroes; whether they’re a saint, president of sports hero throughout life, they did one thing. They taught you a new way of living, a new way of handling a challenging situation.
I bet my spiritual teachers are high fiving themselves in jubilation, “You see, she is not a lost cause after all!”

Visit Maria’s blog: Happily Flawed