One Year of 40/40: An Interview with the founder Esther Kalenzi

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Baby-Gift-and-some-chic

MUWADO: Who are you? (as in introduce yourself)

ESTHER: Haha mbu who are you, smh! Don’t you know me?

Kalenzi Esther it is.

MUWADO: It’s been a year since 40 40 began, give us some background on how it began all began.

ESTHER: Well, it began last year a few days after lent began. I woke up one morning and decided that I should make the 40 days of lent worthwhile. As a result, I opened a Facebook page which I called ’40 days over 40 smiles’ because I wanted us to impact as many children as possible.

That year I collected 3.1 Million along with tonnes of clothes shoes and toys. I used the money to buy flour and beans for two orphanages, hire a caterer to cook for two days i.e. Good Friday and the Saturday after then used the remainder to buy household items like soap, sugar other materials.

I was joined by 30-40 friends on each day and we made merry. It was so much fun.

MUWADO: How comes you chose these two orphanages and why did you end up narrowing down on one eventually?

ESTHER: Well, I originally had NO idea where I was taking all the stuff. I knew I wanted us to help vulnerable children but wasn’t sure. My dream included lots of orphanages and pediatric units of hospitals. Luckily a friend had once posted about ‘God’s Grace Orphanage’ on Facebook so I called her up and asked for more info. Another friend told me ‘Make the Children Smile’ was ideal because it even rhymed with ’40 days over 40 smiles.

I said yes to both. I had no idea the amount of time and dedication it would all entail. I was just excited with a ‘we go we go’ attitude. Somehow, it worked.

We ended up working with God’s Grace on a long term basis because they were in dire need.  The kids live in a three bedroom house doubling as both a school and home for several children with no permanent source of funding? Sounded like the right candidate to support. The other home also had donors so we thought we would stay at GG.

MUWADO: Tell us more about Gods Grace Orphanage.

ESTHER: The orphanage currently has 121 kids. The number keeps increasing because it is the only home in the area. Even the Police Station nearby sends abandoned children to the home. The children are brought up with strong Christian values and are so kind and courteous. Obviously I could go on and on but they really are the most adorable children you will meet.

MUWADO: What kind of assistance do you give the children?

ESTHER: Well, we provide stationery during the term, food on a monthly basis, take care of their health needs and also provide mentor-ship so they have people to look up to. Basically, we look after them the way a parent would.

MUWADO: What moments have stood out for you during this one year? Things that you never dreamt would be happening when you started this and even the small gestures that touched you.

ESTHER: Well, I have several. From the sweet letters the children write saying thank you to contributions from total strangers. One child wrote a letter thanking me for stopping him from going back to the street. I simply have it engraved in my memory. Each time I see him, I am glad he stayed.

To be honest I did not even know we would make a year. I thought we would do an Easter drive annually but it has transformed into a beautiful lifestyle.

The kids have never gone hungry, meaning we have always had Good Samaritans to contribute, our fundraising events have always had people yet we are just a bunch of ‘nobodies.’  I mean, even International musicians have shows that flop but somehow we have been blessed to the very end.

When a visitor tells me a child looks happier or has put on weight, my heart leaps with joy.

Some friends say they want to spend their birthdays with the children, take off weekends to be at the home…It is all very special really.

I would like the changes we make to be remarkable not just average.

MUWADO: Any stories from the children that have really touched you?

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ESTHER: The thing about pain is that no one goes through it the same way. Some have become stoic from all the pain while others are vulnerable.

There is one who was abandoned by her dad because she was disabled and a little boy who was burnt by his dad because the latter had got a ‘new woman’ and dumped the boy’s mother.

Each of them is unique and sometimes you wish you could unhear the tales or just not know.

MUWADO: How has this impacted you as an individual?

ESTHER: Wow! Where does one start? Perhaps the lessons.

I have become more patient because no matter how soon I want things to be accomplished, if it isn’t ‘their time’ they will stall. On top of that my patience has been tested on several occasions and rather than blow up, I have had to learn to stand still and wait.

I already had faith in humanity but it is constantly rejuvenated. People have been so kind, I feel helpless when I say thank you because it does not seem like enough. Of course there are the disappointments too.

I have definitely become a stronger person and learnt a few things about who I really am. What builds me or crushes my spirit. I have also built a strong support system of family and friends that is simply PRICELESS.

MUWADO: Have you ever had moments of where you thought to yourself, I want my old life back? I just want to have fun instead of taking on all this responsibility?

ESTHER: Not in that way. Like, it isn’t the fun I miss. In all honesty it is the ‘me time.’ I get to a point when a weekend ends and I have no idea what transpired. Staying home to just ‘chill’ or catch a movie is a luxury. The funny thing is that life won’t stop for you. So you have to deliver while at work, you can’t be in a terrible mood when you see the kids because they look up to you and you have to keep every area of your life in check while still making sure you have your responsibilities under control.

What I miss is living in the ‘normal’ but then again, normal is so overrated, don’t you think?

MUWADO: What are the future plans for 40 40 and Gods Grace orphanage?

ESTHER: Well, we hope to buy land and build a more spacious home with a farm and better facilities.  Big dreams you might say..but we have already raised over $5,000. It may not seem like much but it is a little more than Zero 🙂

We hope that God’s grace shall be sustainable in future and we shall visit just as family and not as donors.

MUWADO: God’s Grace Orphanage is just one of many such facilities in the country? What measures do you think can be put in place to eliminate the need for such facilities or at-least reduce the number of orphans?

ESTHER: I pray for a world where children are raised by their own parents and only need an orphanage when, God forbid, the parents pass on. The unfortunate fact is that many children are abandoned by parents who either weren’t ready to have them or feel like they are a burden.

Let us start from the bottom.

Why or why do we give birth to children we can’t afford to raise.  Well, we can cry ignorance. From the example of Ugandan millionaires; (with exception to the polygamous ones) they have less than four children who live a comfortable life. Enter drunkard X who feels like each time he feels the need, he should plant a seed in the poor wife. The woman goes through child birth like it is the most normal thing and goes back to chores soon after. She no longer has a life of her own but to ‘dish out’ babies. 8 babies later; you are still having unprotected sex? Chances are the man is getting others from different women or barely taking care of them.

These family planning ads are not simply so the media houses have something to show, we need this. Problem is we are preaching to the already converted. Perhaps we should also implement the one child policy.

If women were empowered enough (no matter which income group they belong to) so that they plant their beans, weave their mats or sell their mats with their heads up high so that if their husband decides to disappear, they have a starting point in form of some income.

The authorities should also be able to track families down so that parents don’t get away with dumping their kids.

However, for the genuinely vulnerable children, it would be helpful if there was a waiver on school fees and direct access to Government health facilities so that perhaps only food is a challenge.

This too can be taken care of if they stop looking at themselves as victims and actually grow food that can be eaten and/or sold.

We want to promote a sustainability model in which homes like this eventually support themselves without reliance on donations which are often sporadic.

Wow I have practically recited a novel. *hides face.

MUWADO: What do you do for fun when you are not being saintly? Job, hobbies?

ESTHER: Me? Saintly?  Hahaha. I am so far from it!

I work at Captiva, a Business Development and Marketing firm.

Fun..Hmm, let’s see.. I love to dance, whether it is in the middle of the dessert or my room, sing off key, write and spend time with the people I love.

When time avails itself I catch up on movies and series (later than everyone else I might add) but I am current when it comes to the Bukedde show, ‘abanoonya’..haha..It cracks me up!

If I could afford it, I would travel the world too, but for now, it is a trip out of Kampala once in a while.

People you look up to and sources of inspiration?

ESTHER: I think Mahatma Ghandi and Mother Theresa were very noble in their work. To be selfless is a quality that can’t really be taught. I find myself referring to quotes from them even when it is not deliberate.

However, my own family has taught me several lessons in kindness. They did not always have the best of everything but still managed to share when the need arose.

I have been blessed.

MUWADO: If someone in Uganda or in outside countries wanted to contribute and be part of the cause, what means and methods can they use?

ESTHER: Our Facebook Group “40 days…over 40 smiles” constantly has updates.

For Uganda, we use mobile money for monetary donations.  One can send to 0773152701 or 0777499991.  If someone would like to provide food, meds or anything else, they can call those numbers for assistance on how to.

For those in outside countries, we have a page on Go Fund Me where donations can be made. This is the link (http://www.gofundme.com/1fedjw) and very soon we shall have a website with these details too…exciting stuff!

MUWADO: Any parting words of wisdom or reflection for the readers?

ESTHER: Words of wisdom?  Me? *coughs

Well, I believe each of us has mind blowing potential and if we do not utilize it, all is indeed lost. So if your niche is music, business, art, architecture, the law name it, find a way to use it to give back to someone who has less than you.

We can’t all build orphanages or adopt a child that has no home. However if you start small, with a stranger, a neighbour, messenger at work or even a friend who seems lost, you will find that by the time of you leave this earth, you have changed the world in your own little way.

For everything that doesn’t sit well with you in your society, be that change that you want to see.

If you feel your time with 40 40 has impacted on your life and you also want to share with the world, click to download the interview questions, answer them as honestly as possible and email the answers to [email protected] Attach a picture of you having fun with the kids at the orphanage if you can. Thanks and may the force be strong with all of you 🙂

We have added a mini gallery for some of the activities that have taken place through the year but if you want more pictures, head to the Facebook Group Gallery.

Written by Muwado

Muwado is an arts, lifestyle, entertainment, humour and entrepreneurship and social networking website tailored for Africa.

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