BENJAMIN: I am Benjamin Rukwengye, a volunteer team member with the charity group 40 Days…Over 40 smiles
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MUWADO: It’s been a year since 40 40 began, how did you become involved and what made you so attached to it?
BENJAMIN: Like a lot of other people, I was added to the group page by the founder, and my friend, Esther Kalenzi and then helped her organize the first Easter Party at both God’s Grace and Make the Children Smile.
I think I got attached after the first visit we made to the orphanage to do a recon of the place before the real Easter Party. Speaking to a couple of the children one-on-one made me empathize with their plight and convinced me that something had to be done to try and help them get to a better place.
MUWADO: What moments have stood out for you during this one year? Things that you never dreamt would be happening when you joined this and even the small gestures that touched you.
BENJAMIN: I would have to start with the 1 year itself. I don’t think any of us knew we’d be there for a year, or even knows how we’ve made a year – but we have.
Then there’s the fundraising events we organize, each one of them has more people than we had planned for and the donations that people make sometimes take my breath away – people pay up to 100k for wristbands that cost 3500 shillings!
The day we bought and took the tent to the Orphanage so that it serves as a classroom ‘block’ because the children were studying from their bedrooms. You should have seen the children ululate, dance and clap at the mere sight of the tent.
There’s been trying moments too, but I’d prefer we dwell on the goodness of this because honestly, nothing has broken us.
MUWADO: Any stories from the children that have really touched you?
BENJAMIN: Hakim. He told me how before God’s Grace, he used to crush stones and bared his hands to I could look at the rough patches in his palms. This boy is only about 9. It is not fair.
Scovia. She’s disabled. After her parents died, all the relatives shunned her for her siblings, reasoning that her disability meant she couldn’t do house work. Somehow, she ended up at God’s Grace. Now she’s happy and plays with the others but I look at her sometimes and wonder if she has forgotten what she’s been through or if her relatives wonder and care what became of her.
MUWADO: How has this impacted you as an individual?
BENJAMIN: One, I have made more friends. We have an amazing team that does all the preparations and we have grown closer mostly through the trials but also through sharing the little successes that come with this.
I think I am a lot more responsible now. I have learned to share and mind others. To give, and above all, to pray. These children a little prayer warriors – looking at them believe in life and the future and God’s ability to make things right has sort of made me see life differently.
I whine much less about my issues than I probably did one year ago
MUWADO: What are the future plans for 40 40 and Gods Grace orphanage?
BENJAMIN: Wow. This is when I dream. In the next one year, we hope that the mushroom and farm projects we have planned for God’s Grace will take off – God willing so that the vision of making them a self-sustaining home is achieved and then we can stop the constant badgering we do to solicit funds.
We also hope that they will have a permanent and more spacious home that can accommodate more children of a similar plight.
For 40/40, my prayer is that we’ll still be doing this. Taking care of other children, learning to love, continuing to give, being blessed and growing in numbers and in deeds so that more youths will see that this generation can make a change.
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?
BENJAMIN: If you follow up on the stories of most of these children, you’ll realize that a good number of them are not orphans actually. They are from broken families. So I think putting emphasis on family relations would be the most important priority.
If families were put right, you’d have fewer such cases and even if a child was orphaned, such a facility should be the last resort. We are supposed to be our brothers’ keepers and I don’t think orphanages ought to rank at the top of that list.
MUWADO: What do you do for fun when you are not being saintly? Job, hobbies?
BENJAMIN: Oh! So this is being saintly?! Well, I am a pretty boring person really. I don’t have that much of a life outside of 40/40 and the friends I have in there – so my ‘plot’ is usually in tandem with 40/40…. don’t ask me what I did before the group started.
To make matters worse, I am a researcher so that means half of my time is spent on reading and solving information puzzles.
MUWADO: People you look up to and sources of inspiration?
BENJAMIN: I have always wanted to be like Malcolm X. Be intellectually obstinate, resolute in conviction, unconventional and selfless, be misunderstood – and yet inspiring. I am not even close, yet I’d love to think that I share the slightest of traits with him.
Most importantly though, I just want to be happy, to see happy people. That’s why I try.
MUWADO: Any parting words of wisdom or reflection for the readers?
BENJAMIN: Thank you for supporting this cause. We do not do this because we are more righteous or have time and money to spend. We do it because it has got to be done. We do this because God needs someone to do it. And even if you are not involved in the planning or running around that goes on behind the scenes, every time you make a donation, come to our events or even speak to someone about us, you are playing your small part in making being the change we all want to see.
[box type=”info” align=”alignright” ]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 :)[/box]