Every week, I take a 10-minute tea break with one of my students at Fontes Foundation Youth Centre. It helps me to understand them better. This particular guy was excited since it meant free tea and escort (yes, escort. What do other people call it?)
Me: Are you working?
Him : <silent for a minute> yes..
Me: That’s good. Why did you not want to talk about it?
Him: Because it is not a good job.
Me: What job is that is not a good job?
Him: I am not comfortable talking about it.
Me: Ok. Did you finish school?
Him: I dropped out of school when my mother died. My father just stopped paying for my brother and myself.
Me: <At these moments I don’t know what to say > Eh, Sorry. Why did he stop?
Him: I don’t know. He just stopped so I went to live with my grandparents who also didn’t have money
Me: So what did you do?
Him: I collected pocket money from my uncles, went bought the things I needed and started burning bricks.
Me: That’s good. Did you make any money?
Him: Yes. I made 1.8 M
Me: Wow!! That’s impressive. So you went back to school.
Him: I was supposed to. I gave the money to my grandparents to pay for the school needs. I went to class but I was chased out after a few weeks.
Me: <At this point I had abandoned my chai and samosas> Eh, why?
Him: My grandparents had paid for all the other children but not me. I was so hurt. I wanted to cry. I had worked hard for that money. I would do house chores during the day then run to do the bricks every evening.
<At that point he got quiet. I could see him fighting not to be overcome by emotion.>
Me: That was bad. So what did you do?
Him: What could I do? I looked for odd jobs and got more money. I started a poultry project and burnt more bricks.
Me: That’s good. How much did you make this time?
Him: This time I made 2.3M UGX.
Me: Wow!! That’s even better than the first time. What did you do with it?
Him: My grandparents came to me and apologised and said they would handle the school fees payment properly this time. So I gave them the money.
Me: You are joking. Why would you do that again?
Him: What could I do? These are people I have known my entire life. They used to help me and I was staying at their place. Of course, I trusted them.
Me: Did they pay the school fees this time?
Him : <silent for a minute. Hurt emotion playing all over his face> No. They didn’t
<I kept silent>
Him: Then one of my aunties chased me away from the land. She wanted the chicken project. They told me that I was now old enough to get married
Me: What did you do?
Him: What could I do? I left with my young brother and came to Kampala. Then I got that job. Then I heard about this chance to study at Fontes. I have always loved studying. I love knowledge. Actually, sir, I need your understanding in case I come late or doze off in class. I work as a night guard and most times I don’t sleep.
Me: That’s the job you didn’t want to mention?
Me: That’s not a bad job. I had thought of much worse than that
Him . No sir. It’s a bad job. It pays very little. I need something better. That’s why last month I started a chapati stand.
Me: You also make chapatis?
Him: No. I hired someone. I used my savings from the job and started one. I pass by every day and we go through the sales.
Me: That’s good.
Him: It’s a start. One day I will make enough money and go back to school.
I looked at that guy and had the deep-most profound respect for him. At 21 he had survived what would has crashed many and was still looking forward.