This blog was first published on www.civilconnections.org in December 2021. Here is it if you missed it.
What gives you hope, Andrew? This is a question I have encountered countless times over 2019, 2020, and 2021 as the world struggles with the Covid-19 pandemic. The shadow of the pandemic has understandably cast doubt, fear, and worry, but I refuse to lose hope and I hope that the world agrees too. That is the purpose of this blog – to take you down memory lane 15 years ago, and to tell you that we still have a lifetime ahead to change things for the better.
True, the world has and continues to struggle with Covid-19, variant after variant, two years down the road of the pandemic’s outbreak.
And as I write this short message, students across primary and secondary schools in Uganda (save for candidate classes), will only be concentratedly rejoining schools on the 10th of January 2022 after a complete 2-year stay at home – a real-life impact we have seen if you need one.
I am sure you also know that school dropout rates have more than tripled, teenage pregnancies have followed the same trend, low-resource communities have been hit hard, and international development as a sector has seen many of its gains over the years rolled back – especially in relation to gender, poverty, education, and economic inequality aspects (UN, 2021).
But as I reflect on 2021 on this morning of 19th December 2021, from the rural Mayuge district in Eastern Uganda where I am on a mission to monitor some of the projects and activities, we laid the foundation for this year, I am filled with optimism. I explain why in the following paragraphs.
Let’s go back 15 years:
To paint a clearer picture, yesterday I had an unexpected meeting and consequently a 30-minute conversation with two young men that never thought I would remember who they were – Sulayi and Abed. To be honest, I felt a little offended by their thought that I could not remember them given the period I have been away – 16 years. but how could I when they are among the people that laid the foundation for what I do?
You see when I first came to Mayuge in 2004, Sulayi was only about 12 years old and starting secondary school; Abed was slightly older. Both the sons of peasants, Sulayi was offered a place for education at a local school – Delta High School, that we (RISE Uganda, the NGO I was working with) cooperated with. Sulayi was orderly, captivated by anything called to do with knowledge, and aspiring to be a respected professional. Hearing about my arrival to Mayuge from Kampala, Sulayi automatically started working closely with me.
He went on to set up a club at his school (replicating the model we were using in other communities) through which RISE carried out different activities – from simple information events to actions in the local town, and before long Sulayi earned his place as one of the 9 volunteers RISE worked with across the 6 years I worked in Mayuge. As we spoke yesterday – me and Sulayi, I could not hold back my tears of joy as he told me he was a headteacher of a local school and would like me to visit his school and local village to see how many initiatives they were running – based on the RISE model we built years ago.
Abed is the lesser resourced of the two, coming from a peasant family of 17 children, and never gained the chance for school, but he was probably one of the most hardworking boys I had ever met. As we set up an office and needed a handy helper Abed stopped at nothing to do his job. Cleaning, shopping, receiving, and settling in guests, connecting us to the local community, and eventually supporting information activities in the local communities were all a piece of cake for this young man. We at some point decided that his capacity would not be fully reached without education. So, in working with a local junior school – Montessori Primary School, Abed started in the 5th grade at about 16 years (others were about 9 – 10 years), and after 3 years went on to join Sulayi at Delta High School.
And although the motivation to stay in school quickly dwindled, this was because of a mix of his struggling family and the consequent need for income — as I talked with Abed yesterday, like with Sulayi, I was warmed in my heart. Abed now works with a local Solar Energy supply company as a field agent, has built a little three-room house just outside of Mayuge Town, he has a wife and three children. Like Sulayi, Abed could neither hold back his wish for me to visit his house so he could show me what my association with him years ago, and the work of RISE had given him. He is still a proud hard-working young man.
Over 30 minutes, we reminisced about the different groups we facilitated to start name after name popping up – Gili Gili, Budhebera, Delta, Wakalama, Wairama, St. Mulumba, Kyabando, Nsango, Mpungwe, etc. It was like music from a golden oldie, but the most impactful aspect of this trip down memory lane was that these groups are still active and call themselves RISE groups to date.
In Sulayi’s words “RISE was not just an organization, it was a way of doing things, and that methodology continues to guide all of us”. Abed added, “I was little known, but I get surprised when I go deep in Mayuge, and people start asking ‘are you, not Abed from RISE’ and wondering when we are coming back to continue building on what we started”.
Moses, another young man standing by joined in with a saying “when you plant you have to come back and harvest your fruit and Mr. Andrew (as I was called then), if you just dare take a trip into these groups you will be surprised by what you and RISE achieved”.
This is what I really call hope – this to me is real hope – 2021 and the years leading up to this delivered us somewhere – and we will work on strengthening this legacy many more years to come.