dancing with my daughter


The Luther Vandross song, ‘Dance With My Father’ has made my eyes moist every time I have heard it play since my first daughter came forth into this world, right into my very hands; and that’s when I truly began understanding why my wife always got maudlin over it.

This evening it will play at the Serena and my daughters will still be too young to join me on that type of dance floor but I will dance with them at home in tandem with the charity event at the Serena, because of two hundred and two (202) daughters of other people.

The first two of those 202 are part of the organisers of the event; two girls who are fascinating representatives of Ugandan youths, like the ‘40 Days and 40 Smiles Foundation‘ kids who are slowly by slowly one tweet and Facebook post at a time building up and equipping a school for disadvantaged children in Luwero.

In my days as a youth, not many of us spent too much time outside of bars, nightclubs, and other such light-hearted, light-headed pursuits; if you only read the newspapers, watched TV and kept a distance from projects such as today’s dance, you’d think the same of today’s youth. Alternatively, you’d believe that they spend all their time queuing up for sacks of cash, attending rallies with government ministers talking about rape, or hopping about saying, “Tusaba gavumenti etuyambe.” (“We are asking the government to help us.”).

These latter youth are despicable, annoying, and yet get all the attention from the government and media.

Yet there are the serious ones like the ones organising this Father-Daughter Dance; when one called me to ask for help I almost dismissed her down the path of myriad organisers of beauty contests, award ceremonies and other catchphrase fundraisers; but this is December, the month of good cheer, so I let her talk some more over the phone as I dispatched emails.

One thing led to another and eventually there were two of them puzzling me with their eager, sober vim and vigour, and almost making me choke on my breakfast as they explained their concept. They’re inviting fathers to take their daughters out to a polite dance to help them bond, because too many men aren’t ‘involved’ in their little girls’ lives, which leaves many girls open to the machinations of young men when they eventually cross their paths.

My struggle with the food was not because of that – I already consider men who leave their daughters to be raised generally by women to be as stupid as farmers that rely on rainfall for good crops without weeding, fertiliser and so on and so forth. Or, put more simply, motor vehicle operators who use only one driving gear and expect to go long distances; the analogies abound, all leading to one word about their intelligence.

These girls confounded me; one of them had began this journey back in secondary school, changing the ‘ABC’ (Abstain, Be Faithful, use a Condom) anti-HIV/AIDS campaign concept to ‘Abstain, Be Faithful, focus on your Career’ because she felt it resonated better with her peers; and ran anti-HIV/AIDS awareness events as a student, using music and dance because, again, it was their language; and, on finishing school, joined up with a group of others to start up a Non-Governmental Organisation.

Registered? Yes. The Haven Anti-AIDS Foundation.

Then, because of the jiggers stories and one group mate having originated from Busoga, the group decided to go over and check it out, and eventually found themselves involved in supporting a school – Seven Hills Primary School, in Buikwe. I looked incredulous as they told me they used pocket money, earnings and savings to make weekly trips to Jinja to do their charitable works.

I couldn’t help interject to re-confirm their ages (both less than 25) when they arrived at the 200 other girls who are the focus of today’s event:

After a number of visits to the school, run by a rather committed community member there, these youngsters realised that besides the great amount of need amongst pupils there due to poverty, there was a deeper problem that affected the girls in Buikwe. The girls there all started school late, and so were beginning menstruation while in the lower primary school classes; because they are so poor, though, they have neither sanitary pads nor underwear, and so miss about a week of school every month. That leads to them generally performing much worse than the boys, besides locking them down to do housework or hang about their homes a bit extra as tends to happen.

The combination results in their poor examination results proving to their backward or misguided parents that they aren’t good enough for education, and they therefore get married off as soon as the schooling adventure ends. Or, as also happens, they get caught up in relationships on the village that get them knocked up and they end up married or otherwise but with no further education in sight.

Worse, because the school is in such dire need, there is no space on the curriculum or structure for a female counsellor to speak with the girls about the facts of life, and they don’t get that at home either.

And so besides the bonding opportunity for father’s and their girls this evening, the proceeds from today’s Father-Daughter-Dance will go towards buying a year’s supply of sanitary pads and underwear for 200 girls in Seven Hills Primary School in Buikwe, and take counsellors over to talk to the girls on occasion.

The story doesn’t end just like that; the cost of keeping each of these 200 girls in school by way of pads and panties, at a rate of about Ushs2,000 per panty and Ushs2,000 per pack of pads, for twelve (12) panties a year and two (2) packs of pads per month, is Ushs96,000. Per girl. That’s less than two crates of beer, four boxes of corn flakes, lunch for two at the Serena, a Saturday family jaunt anywhere in the city…I know people who lose that in change every time their clothes go for washing or dry cleaning.

And we go on with our lives unaware.

While these two young ladies and their friends spend their pocket money and savings driving to Buikwe every other weekend to interact with those 200 young girls and try to give them a better chance at life. Actually, not just their pocket money; one of them quit her job two months ago (earning Ushs2million monthly) to focus on this NGO because she believes that organising events such as today’s will be more meaningful than just coasting through life as a trendy Kampala-ite.

Every so often I meet youngsters who restore my faith in the future of this country, and I throw my little in with them just in case I have in the past made anyone lose faith in us.

So I’ll be dancing to my own carefully prepared soundtrack at home, but I am sending sanitary pads and panties for a couple of Buikwe girls whose fathers can neither imagine dancing with them nor afford to buy them the essentials of life. And I’ll toast to the two girls who brought me into this initiative, and to their own fathers, who passed on long ago and won’t be dancing with their own daughters this evening, but should be proud of what they are doing for many, many other fathers and daughters; Jamilah Mayanja and Agnes Ninsiima, may you live long!

using social media to over-run poverty


The reason social media is important is because it is having a major impact on the way we live our lives – even here in Uganda.

Social media is not just Facebook and Twitter even though those are two of the most popularly known platforms in Uganda. It’s what we do with those platforms and many more, and how we use them to relate with each other.

Last weekend I interacted with some Rotarians over this, and one of them said quite resolutely that he simply did not have any time for or interest in Facebook. Two minutes later, after he heard that there were 1million Ugandans on Facebook alone today and that he could reach them in some way or another for his benefit, he changed his mind.

Another Rotarian perked up more when he heard about crowdsourcing – which is really an old concept that has just become much more powerful because of social media. It’s harnessing the power of numbers to achieve a goal or task quicker – and most Ugandans would recognise this through a fund-raiser.

A couple of months ago the Rotary Club organised a charity run to raise funds for the Cancer Institute. Lots of resources were expended over many weeks to get this done and eventually a good many people with big public names and heavy corporate and government jobs responded to the letters and newspaper ads, turned up and about Ushs100million was raised.

Good. That’s what Rotary is about – service about self, contributing to social causes and networking among well-heeled and influential people to do this.

A month after that, a small group of youths started mobilising amongst themselves for a charity to raise funds to build a dormitory for some school in Luwero. After a couple of weeks of tweeting and Facebooking about their event, code-named #Hoops4Grace4, the youths pitched a tent in a field on Lugogo By-Pass, sold home-made juice, t-shirts and wristbands, and played some basketball – all in all raising Ushs8million.

None of these youths is the usual big-name type and all of them threw a few shillings into the kitty to get to the Ushs8million.

I’m not following the lines of the Bible story about the donations by the rich man and the poor widow, instead, I was fascinated that a small group of little known youths with no corporate, church or political backing whatsoever had deviated from the path of consuming alcohol, partying hard and general recalcitrance, to collect money for some school in Luweero.

I rounded up the ringleaders and demanded an explanation, and they hit me with more shocking news – they all had ordinary jobs doing ordinary things, and this was just a side thing they had gotten into. Plus, they had identified a serious need at that Luweero school (the name doesn’t matter because there are many of these around us) and decided to address it themselves.

These kids had even mobilised their friends to go down to the school and physically do some work there, and all done via Twitter, Facebook and their mobile phones!

And while I was interrogating them, I was a bit dazzled by the sparkle in their faces as they said things like, “We felt that, surely WE can also do something” and “We thought that maybe we could make a small contribution”.

Their small contribution will certainly result in a dormitory building in Luweero because this week, as Uganda celebrates 51 years of Independence, these youths are mobilising again – campaigning among their friends and contacts to either buy a bag of cement (about Ushs30,000) or a brick (Ushs500) for the cause.

Just that – harnessing the power of the crowd by getting each of us to buy one bag of cement or one brick and turning that into a dormitory.

In 2011, the Arab Spring revolutions used Social Media to mobilise protests that eventually overran entire governments; here, today, if these efforts catch on perhaps some of our youths might be using Social Media to mobilise and…overrun poverty and shortfalls in social services?

We should certainly hope so.

And we should hope that the next generation of our societal managers is drawn from these types of eager, socially aware, and technologically networked Ugandan youths.