FAITH OVER FEAR

Sarah calls me one Monday afternoon and she requests me to be part of a team she is raising to visit Butabika Hospital specifically the children`s Wing.

We call these visits our outreach campaigns .We use them to go and deliver a message of hope to people in an otherwise hopeless situation.

The last one we had was in June where we had visited the Luzira Prisons and had very rich interactions with the inmates, we have also visited the cancer section in Mulago hospital but those are stories for another day.

So as I pondered over Sarah`s call many questions run through my mind:- Butabika is for the mentally sick people – how are we supposed to deliver a message of hope to the inmates in ways they understand, Was our personal security guaranteed from the unpredictable inmates?

She had even suggested we will go and have them a bath – did she know how that exposes us?  Does it have to be me on this trip? The more I pondered the less answers I got. Anyway, she had said we would meet with others soon and plan the trip.

We had the meeting a few days later and truthfully many of my questions were not fully answered even when I was told some others had been at this before. At that time I didn’t realize that many of my questions were really masking real fears in dealing with this section of our population.

I was tasked to share the plan to a wider group that had a team of more volunteers so as to create a critical mass for the trip; at that moment it was only 2 people who had confirmed their participation.

As the plan was shared the response was muted and I suspected many had similar fears or questions.

On the morning of the visit, Saturday October 25th, I had a perfect excuse; my Wife had, had an accident the previous day and needed my presence around. When I shared this with her she instead encouraged me to go for the trip.

It was therefore time to face my fears head on and I obliged.

The eight of us who had confirmed the trip had a central meeting place and we set off with two cars to our destination, we were apparently also supposed to be joined at the destination by another team coming all the way from Watt Biira…

It was a wet morning and we gotten to the destination about an hour earlier than the other team.

As we got to the gate the security man asked for our letter, we did not have one but there had been a prior discussion with the Reverend of the Butabika Church Rev Dismas Mwesigye a very fine confident servant who together with his family had been serving at this facility for over 8 years and looked unfazed but relayed his experience with such passion and exuberance even when he talked of the challenges they had faced..

That morning he was also excited because they were having their first wedding celebration at their worship Centre and he would be presiding over it.

As we wait for the other team and have a chat with the Reverend, he does go a long way to allay some of the fears. For example he states that in all his more than eight years history at the facility he had witnessed only one violent incident and even then he blamed it on the approach of the security guard.

By this time there was no retreat or surrender for myself.

The second team arrives and we are taken through a brief which included the dos and don`ts. We are handed to Mrs. Tusubira Faith .the head /coordinator of the children’s section which we are to visit that morning. This is another person deeply passionate of what she is doing at the facility. She leads us to the gate and calls out to the teams who come to the gate and include a nurse and inmates, dressed in their  stripped pink outfits of light material on this cold morning ,they all seem to quite understand that they were hosting us visitors. I thought Ms. Faith was also a nurse only to discover she is a lawyer by profession and has opted to sacrifice a lot of her time to serve these people

We are initially taken through a tour of the ward by the nurses and we are closely watched, admired and touched by the inmates, we find some sleeping and many looking drowsy, I guess effects of the medicine.

However, there is this young inmate in my estimation around 8 years old who looks very hyper, running around and I guess he was sizing up his visitors. Before I could know it , he had jumped on me in search of that cuddle , I quickly give it to him while the nurses tried to manage him , I guess they had noticed the anxiety in my eyes .

We are told that they have already had their bath which is clearly evident and therefore will not need another bath; however one of our team insists we can give them a second one since they love it.

I quickly offer to keep watch of the bags of those who are going to offer the baths. We interact and as the minutes turn to hours I noticed we have all started enjoying our environment and developed a connection with the inmates.

They offer to sing for us as entertainment. I also notice they have some form of hierarchy which they recognize among themselves

We mingle, chat, listen to their sometimes incoherent stories, apply Vaseline to those who have had a bath and offer them the little eats and drinks we had carried. You clearly see they are enjoying. I recall this particular inmate telling me his parents were picking him the next day (not true). Then there was this girl probably about 14 years who could not just leave my presence after my initial hugs and inquiring of her personal details

At the end of our interaction we take some group photos and make our exit. Clearly they did not want us to leave. I could not stop to appreciate the nurses who are in the front line with these inmates on a daily basis and yet serving with dedications.

As we gather for our debrief we are told the key challenges like limited resources to feed and take care of the inmates , many are just dropped by KCCA having been picked on the streets and cannot trace their families .

We are also told many of the kids come from broken homes.

However, apart from the wonderful people tending to them we can’t fail to realize the very well-manicured and kept premises, in fact we are told it could be one of the cleanest government health facilities.

As we leave the premises I can’t fail to be so glad that I was part of the trip and glad I did not pull out in spite of the huge temptation to do so. It showed me the reality of a world so many of us don’t understand and look away from. Faith conquered my fears that morning.

WHEN LIFE SERVES YOU LEMON MAKE LEMONADE

Thursday afternoon the 6th June 2019 am driving down towards Mukono to attend the HMT (History Makers Training-, a 3 day residential culmination of a 6-month National transformation course) and wondering what to expect , am I going to enjoy? or will I regret my time ?,….what do I expect to go through ? ….what group of people shall I meet there? I had heard stories about it but nothing quite prepares you for the real experience. I was supposed to attend with my original group in December but missed it.

But first things first. I need to find the venue since I had not been there in a very long time though I heard about it. At Mukono I ask the boda boda guys for directions….Where is Ankrah? …and to my shock the first two do not know what am talking about. My anxieties grew. Finally one who knows directs me and am there around 5.30pm. My intention was to get there early and have at least an hours sleep because I had been having long days and I knew it was going to be hard work. That hour of sleep proved to be one of my wisest decisions that day. It was to account for more than 30% of the sleep I was going to have the entire course.

THE WORK BEGINS

Lectures begun at 8pm and I get in at 8.01pm. Madame Harriet, the overall coordinator, welcomes me when all are already seated, I apologize for my lateness (really 1 minute only..I think to myself) but little did I know I would really understand the value of one minute as the course progressed and we fought to meet deadlines.

Harriet, took us through the program and it looked tight but not too bad. I jokingly asked about sleeping time. Harriet gave a vague answer. Only to find out later sleep was going to be a real issue.

HIGHS

I took a quick cursory look through the class I could identify two people that I knew / remember personally. Ivy, whom we had attended class 23 together and was similar to my case, the other was Catherine Opondo, a family friend for long. The rest of the class were a much younger lot late 20s and in their 30s but sounded engaging in their questions, very warm in their jokes and intelligent in their submissions. We even had a 17 year old attending a national transformation course. What were you doing at 17 years? Our country has hope.

As the lecture ended, one of them called Edna came and introduced herself to me, I had studied with her brother and sister in high school. Such gestures made me feel very welcome and as the days went by, the participants I got to know turned out as one of the highs and most enjoyable experience. The group made light of the stressful moments we were to go through, detoxed the near bursts like when a colleague felt he had been given a card for a wrong reason. A card system was one of the disciplinary measures at the course.

The group was such a mix , those who were willing to help when one was stuck, the high sense of humor, there was this naughty neighbor of mine, Raymond, who kept Ivy laughing throughout the course and myself at various points. There was the moment when he caught me sleeping, as the body had taken its toll, took a photo and the next morning I found the class in bouts of laughter. We even found time to dance, to exercise.

The other high and enjoyable time for me were the movie hours were the selection was simply full of lessons, from the American Ranger, Mahatma Gandhi and the others were great ways of reviving faith in what Man can do when pressed against the wall and how he can rise to great heights in spite of the adversity.

The highly packed program, pressed with assignments across the day, class work ending at midnight and assignments required by 8am the next morning not forgetting a mandatory exercise at 6.30am, we quickly discovered that sleep was a luxury we could not afford and by the time the course ended I discovered that cumulatively I had slept for a maximum of 3 hours for the 3 nights and days we were hosted. The high for me amidst the stress was the discovery that I could actually push my body to achieve amidst adversity. Another high!

The lectures also did offer some highs like I remember this particular one delivered by Harriet.

It offered some practical advice on how to manage your diary pretty efficiently while linking it to your overall purpose.

The other high for me in this punishing schedule was the discovery how my speed to deliver within the set deadline kept improving by the day having missed DAY 1 deadline by a mile. It`s important to inform my readers that working well with a laptop had been a bit of handicap due to the fact that for a good part of working career I had the privilege or was it?….of having a personal assistant .But continuously working on these assignments helped me on self-improvement with technology .

LOWS

With such a punishing schedule there was bound to be both lows and least enjoyable moments

One of the big lows was when we had spent one of those sleepless nights working to deliver the assignments on the deadline , only to miss it by a couple of minutes and be told that was a zero after such a high sacrifice . And particularly for me they had been posted to the wrong address .But is that not what life is like many times? …not fair! But I had to dust myself and keep going.

Our Trainers were going through an equally punishing schedule since they had to go through about 5 scripts of 20 different participants every 12 hours, while delivering the lectures and were only 2 with one amenable but tough facilitator, Cathy. It was therefore very heartbreaking to hear that one of them Mr.Stirlings daughter was admitted and on oxygen during our time there yet he looked energetic and did not give away any emotion. Doesn’t life serve us such moments? Another low but being fought with a bold face!

Another low was during the presentation of the individual projects .Colleagues presented many projects borne out of pain but there was particularly this painful one concerning a friend of one of the participants Raymond, fighting drug addiction and continuously having relapses. The beauty though is it had produced a project, from him on how to help drug addicts. Indeed that was to be the theme of most of the projects borne out of the pain around society and people saying we are going to make a difference. Who said National Transformation is only about joining Politics?

Therefore this was a very rich experience of enjoyable moments and not so enjoyable.

The real enjoyable moments apart from the company of participants, the movies and a couple of lectures and the morning exercise program also included some of the delicacies especially the bundazi.

The least enjoyable were of course the punishing schedule especially navigating the very cold nights with eyes deprived of sleep, Lack of warm water to take a bath in a cold environment was also unenjoyable

LESSONS

Certainly such an experience offers valuable lessons:

  1. The benefit of perseverance was a common thread
  2. The reinforcement of a winning attitude that takes one to their desired goals
  3. Planning our time and maximizing its value
  4. Lessons on how silver linings exist in every cloud came out strongly
  5. Valuable leadership lessons were also offered in the leadership challenge

In summary this was a lesson on how life’s unfairness can be conquered and I would highly recommend it for anyone desiring to make a positive difference in their community and the nation but don’t go expecting lemonade or chocolates be prepared to make them. And by the way to crown it all we cut this very delicious cake.