THESE ARE STRANGE TIMES

Nature brings colour into our lives

Had it been rain, I would have said that a trickle has become a flood

Had it been a  fire I would have said that the simplest bonfire has  become a wild bush fire.

But it is the new Coronavirus, COVID-19,  which slowly crept on the world in late December 2019 and has now spread almost to the whole world. According to worldmeters.info, the new virus has infected  1.4555,522 , killed 83,664 and 309,825 recovered from it to date .It  has forced us  to be locked in. In Wuhun , China, the strict lockdown lasted 76 days! It caught us unprepared and unable to tackle such a huge health problem which is now feeding into an economic  crisis!

Lockdown has become very familiar; Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Africa are in it. Japan joined the group on the 7thApril 2020 and Ethiopia has  just joined.

I must admit that African countries like Sierra Leone, Uganda and Liberia  which had the painful experience of managing the devastating Ebola epidemics   in the past, came out aggressively on COVID-19 from the onset.

As of today 8th April 8, 2020, here in Uganda ,we are in  day  9 of the 14- day of the  government – imposed lockdown and a curfew from 7pm to 7am.

Everyone else has to stay at home except those offering essential services in hospitals, pharmacies, supermarkets, food markets and security.

What is happening in the whole world has never happened before so no country had time to prepare for it. Initially, it felt so far away in China but now we have 53 confirmed and linked cases in Uganda and thankfully, no deaths yet. The ministry of health has been giving a consistent message about the COVID-19 ,follow up reports on suspected cases and daily update of new cases.

By 6pm today, BBC had reported  10,700 confirmed cases in Africa, South Africa having the highest number -1749  while Algeria follows close by with 1,468.

 This morning, wearing a surgical face mask, I walked down to the nearby open pharmacy to buy my mother’s regular drugs. Life is almost unrecognizable: streets  are almost empty,  pavements are free of street vendors and bodabodas and  the whole area is relatively quiet.

A herd of cows was crossing the street at leisure. Mobile money kiosks were open to allow people to send  and receive money from loved ones. I crossed the ever crowded street with utmost ease.

These days, the commonest sound in the streets is the wailing of the ambulance sirens as they rush  seriously ill general patients to hospitals. On the  30th March, both  public and  private transport  were  banned. The dusk-to-dawn curfew could be extended depending on the surge in new cases.

By sheer coincidence, 41 years ago around this time, Kampala streets were empty as many people had fled to their villages to avoid being caught in the cross fire between the UNLA and Obote 11 government soldiers fighting to control  the city. This was a physical war unlike the current one where we are fighting an invisible enemy and trying to stop it spreading while at the same time trying to save as many lives as possible.

At home, there are three of us in a house surrounded by a perimeter wall, my octogenarian mother ,our young helper and myself . We have kept to ourselves since the 22nd March. The young helper keeps herself busy watching soap operas on the television while my mother  prays relentlessly on the Catholic Radio Maria. However, the three of us listen to the late news , official Ministry of health updates  and the President’s weekly  public address about the pandemic together.

 Never in my whole adult life  have I ever I had so much  free time  to  myself with minimal distractions and with my mother as well.  It has allowed me to do a lot of things that I had pushed to the side.

I am concentrating on keeping my body, mind and spirit in top shape in this confined space. I remain hopeful that the pandemic would be over sooner than later.

At this moment in time, I am religiously applying the mantra: A healthy Mind, a Healthy Body, knowing very well that health is my greatest wealth.

I have to pay attention to what I eat, think, feel and do every day.

  1. Taking care of my body- I have struggled to maintain a routine by waking up by 8am, keeping active during the day and sleeping around the same time at night.

Out of habit, I start each day with some exercises for almost an hour; to strengthen and tone my muscles. I  have been  doing fifty push-ups every morning for a long time.

I take timely meals; eating to be healthy, eating a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. Thankfully, I can still harvest  lemons ,some vegetables like red and green Amaranth (Dodo) ,carrots , beetroot and rape from our small garden.  Our regular bodaboda delivery man can buy us oranges, watermelon, passion fruits , pawpaws from the nearest markets. The mangoes are scarce.

By habit I take more than two litres of water daily but I must admit that my old mother  beats me at this. Water keeps us hydrated and helps to remove toxins from the body.

Adequate sleep –  As human beings, our bodies follow a daily cycle, responding to light and darkness in our environment. This is the 24 hours natural internal clock in our brains known as the  Sleep/Awake cycle or  Circadian Rhythm. Our energy and focus dip and rise according to this cycle . Generaly, it dips from 1:00pm -3pm then again, between 2am and 4am.

Regular sleep habits keep this circadian rhythm working at it best. Each one of us requires 7-8 hours of quality sleep to function normally.  During sleep, the  body repairs itself and the proteins needed to fight infections and inflammation are released .  Getting less sleep results in poor immune responses, opening us up to recurrent infections.

To stay healthy especially during this COVID-19 pandemic , ensure that you sleep 7-8 hours at night. Adequate sleep  combined with healthy balanced meals rich in fresh fruits and vegetables  will keep the immune system functional and protect you  further  and reduce the stress on you.

2.Keeping your mind healthy –  Mental  health is essential for a healthy body. Adequate sleep and regular exercise contribute to your mental well- being too.

We have been living in a fast-paced world and then suddenly we are forced to slow down. It has never happened in our time nor were we prepared for it and yet we are expected to figure out what to do and make it work for us positively. Otherwise we can easily tip into depression or become too angry and resentful.

I have been keeping my mind active by reading novels, writing short stories and blog posts, going back to do the Cross Word puzzles and Sudoku Number puzzles in the old newspapers that I never had time to complete. I have had time to check and file all my important documents. With strict discipline, I limit my time on the Social Media and instead lose myself in reading inspirational blogs, current medical advances relevant to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

I have attended two webinars about Creative writing. I read one Anthology  of 52 African  short stories second time round in one and half days.

 Listening to the daily update of the pandemic on BBC leaves me depressed and I  begin to wonder when it will end. I pick up myself by remembering what I was taught by my parents in childhood: In a difficult situation avoid being distressed by focusing on what you can change under the circumstances. Usually it requires me to change my attitude towards the problem thus helping me to regain some of my power and control.

I have been listening to Classic music and digging out some funny jokes that I share with friends for a good belly laugh.

 I never forget my professional responsibility so I look out for opportunities to be useful by giving out the right information to alley fear and panic, to encourage and uplift others .These are difficult times for the young and old, married and single , employed and non-employed.

I am  Incredibly grateful for the Mobile phone that  connects me to family and friends instantly. The mutual love and support is a strong anchor to us. I have a few essential  WhatsApp groups that I contribute to. We try to hold together by giving kindness and inspiration. COVID-19 may have taken away our freedom of movement and control over many things but it has given us an opportunity to develop strong relationships. This lockdown period has clearly emphasized to us how interconnected we are from  the family level to the community, to the nation and to the world at large.

3. Spiritual nourishment.

I believe in God and his promises. I count my blessings every day; it gives me hope and joy and lines me up for more blessings.

For some years, I have made time to read  and study the Bible with the intention of living it in my day-to-day life. The lockdown has given more time engage in this.

All in all, the Bible tells me that there is nothing new; what is happening now has happened before. In all these desperate situations, there is always a group that survives and flourishes. It is very comforting to know that there is a loving God watching over us and walking us to the other side. We shall come out more resilient and wiser.

The news that the first epicenter of the COVID-19  pandemic, Wuhun, China, was fully reopened at midnight on the  8th April(  a day after the official World Health Day) gives us all some hope. It may take a while for us to go back to close to normal: the New Normal but it will come.

Nothing lasts forever but what I know for sure is that the pandemic has changed our lives and the world forever. The lessons  we shall  learn from this painful , frightening and strange experience will richly inform us as we reset our lives and our world.

The  famous 1985 song : We are the World by  Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie  demands collective and coordinated global effort to defeat such a huge health and economic problem .

Our forefathers always knew the best approach to solving enormous challenges:

“ Sticks in a Bundle  Cannot Be Broken.” – African Proverb.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb.

QUESTION:

How are you filling up your free time?  What are the biggest challenges to achieving what you want to accomplish during this Lockdown?

STAYING HOME TO STAY RELATIVELY SAFE

I read my Bible regularly and that Book of the Philosopher known as Ecclesiastes, verse 15 of the third chapter confirms what we all know: Whatever happens or can happen has already happened before. God makes the same things happen again and again.

While I was reading about pandemics under Medical history and Ethics , I found out that influenza pandemics had occurred regularly every 30-40 years since the 16th century and the question that was always on people’s minds was: When is the next one?

The most deadly Influenza Pandemic of modern times was the Spanish one of 1918-1920. It did not originate in Spain but the 1st World War was raging in Europe from July 28th 1914 to November 11th 1918. The influenza pandemic was spreading quickly in war- ravaged Europe and regulations did not allow journalists  to talk about the pandemic  but Spain was a neutral country in that war so its journalists could report freely about the pandemic and its economic effect on Spain. This is why it was called the Spanish Influenza. Investigative research later suggested that it could have originated in Kansas, USA in the spring of 1918. It spread quickly to Europe, North Africa, India and Australia.

The movement of people and the military during the war, the poor food supplies, and the malnourished state of  the people, facilitated the spread of the virus. The Spanish Influenza Pandemic  is believed to have caused 500 million infections and killed 50 million of them. It killed people mainly between 18  and 45 years of age. The death rate of 2% caused great economic disruption and decline. It was declared a global public health problem and guidelines were put in place to contain it.

The main focus was on  Prevention and Control of the spread of the pandemic by :

  1. Identifying the classic symptoms  and alerting the public
  2. Obligatory confinement of suspected cases followed by tracing their contacts and quarantining them.
  3. Symptomatic treatment  of cases – many of the patients died of pneumonia  caused by a bacteria in lungs already weakened by the virus infection.
  4. Closure of all public places and stopping all public gatherings and congregations.
  5. Minimising travel and quarantining travelers from areas where there were outbreaks of the infection.
  6. The people were given the right information and empowered to take on their individual responsibilities of keeping themselves and others safe.

After this unprecedented pandemic, many lessons were learned from the mistakes and what was done right.  Public health was strengthened and Essential guidelines were  developed which are still being used today to fight pandemics

Coronavirus  disease – COVID-19

These are different times ; we are living in  a well-connected world ,connected through quick modes of transportation like aeroplanes, trains, marine, vehicles on connected roadways. We are living in the science and technology –driven 21st century. The Internet allows the generation, analysis  of data and transfer of it over networks. People can easily influence each other.

Since the Spanish flue pandemic, there have been many medical advances in the diagnosis , management  and  control of common diseases and new ones like SARS and Ebola.

By April 1948, the United Nations had established the World Health Organization(WHO) as the co-coordinating and authority on International Public health and one of its main functions is to fight diseases and  to stop them from spreading.

WHO declared COVID- 19 as a public health Emergency on the 30 th January 2020. The Corona virus is a new virus,  it is a respiratory virus, has no treatment or vaccine and no one has immunity to it. The first cases were reported by 27th December  2019 as  mysterious pneumonia cases in the city of Wuhan, China. Available records of last week from Wuhun showed    81,470 confirmed cases, 75,770 recovered and  3,304 deaths. Wuhan Province has been in total shut down for eight weeks in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus to mainland China and other countries of the world.

UGANDA

The first case was confirmed on 21 st March 2020 and immediately, some restrictions to movement and to public gathering and congregation were put in place for at least 32 days.

The Ministry of Health has done a commendable job in educating us about the new disease, how to protect ourselves and others and what to do if you suspect you have the main symptoms and how to boost your immunity to infections.

Daily updates on the progress of the pandemic at home and worldwide keep us on the right path and empower us to do the right things during this period of uncertainty. I only hope that we are being told the truth about the spread of this invisible killer.

As of today 30th March, 33 cases have been confirmed  at the Uganda Virus Research Institute, Entebbe. They are all imported cases- people who travelled and returned home from countries like United Arab Emirates. Thankfully, the virus has not yet spread into the Community. This must have dictatated the total lockdown declared by the president last night and  being effective from 10pm. Uganda is a developing country, has limited resources, if the virus spread into our community fast, the numbers of patients would definitely overwhelm our fragile health care system.  The fact that 78% of our population is under the age of 30, could be an advantage to us and so are the lessons learned from having lived through and controlled the Gulu Ebola epidemic of 2000, of the west  in 2007 and the Luwero outbreaks of 2011 and 2012. They say that what does not kill you makes you stronger and wiser.

 We are following the WHO guidelines to the letter: early detection by quick testing and quick isolation followed by contact tracing to limit the spread of the virus together with the provision of Protective  personal equipment to the health workers on the frontline.

The most vulnerable among us like the elderly, those in self –isolation, those on HIV /AIDS treatment will need to be supported by the government through this pandemic. No doubt, the lockdown  will shrink the economy  and family incomes but staying healthy takes the priority for now.

 Being in the high risk age group, I have not left home since the declaration of the first restrictions on 21st March.  I cannot thank God enough for giving me this opportunity to be with my octogenarian mother during this unprecedented situation. It has allayed our anxiety and fears. But as a typical Ugandan family, our close relatives are scattered as far as Australia, Canada, UK, Sweden, Italy, USA, Kenya, and Cape Town, South Africa. We are closely connected on Social Media and mobile phones. We are asking two questions: When will it end? and Will life ever be the same again?

 As a health worker, I find it extremely disheartening to see what is happening in hospitals in Italy. I pray that it does not happen elsewhere.

 South Korea is a notable example of a country which slowed down the spread of the virus without applying the strict lockdown strategies taken elsewhere.   In January, the country quickly confirmed that they had some COVID-19 cases and immediately restricted  movement  while testing widely and  aggressively. They isolated  the cases and quarantined suspects. They used digital technology like mobile phones, ATM cards to trace contacts. It reduced the spread of the virus without lockdown .

The reopening of Wuhun, a  Chinese city of 11 million people  after eight weeks of total lockdown  gives us some hope.

This global pandemic is reminding us of how interconnected we are to each other and that we can only defeat the virus if we engaged and worked collectively. Each one of us has a small role to play that fits in the big picture.The reality is that drugs have to be developed, tested and approved  for use in human beings. A vaccine is likely to take 6-18 months to be developed but life has somehow to go on.

I for one have been reminded of not taking life and loved ones for granted and that I can only live a bigger life if I am connected to others. And that my health is my greatest wealth!

 Life never ceases to surprise; on the 29th March 2020, BBC World service featured Bob Weighton of UK as the oldest man in the world. He was celebrating 112 years on that day. What was most interesting about him is that he had lived through the great Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1919 and was now locked down in his home due to the current CODIV-19 Pandemic!

As they say, it always gets worse before it gets better, we all need to prepare ourselves for the worst and to do everything possible to support each other through the pandemic.

“ May you see sunshine where others see shadows and opportunities where  others see obstacles.- Unknown

QUESTION:

Are you playing your role seriously in protecting yourself and others from this infectious virus?

MY UNSUNG HEROINE

Uganda’s ultimate multitasker

 

In many countries of the world, women  are poorer and are marginalized compared to the men. The earliest Women’s Day was observed in New York in February 1909. On March 8th 1917, a demonstration of the women working in the textile factories  in the then Russian Empire, over food shortages and a weak economy  sparked off the Russian Revolution. A week later, Tsar Nicholas 11 of Russia abdicated and the women won their rights to vote.

At the first UN women’s conference  held in Mexico in 1975, the United Nations declared  1975-1985 as the Women’s decade. It  was to draw attention to the plight of women and  to focus on policies and issues that would  improve their status  in the world. It also adopted 8th March as the International Women’s Day.

The day serves to recognise the women and girls contribution towards the development and progress of society. It also serves to acknowledge the achievements made and how far women still have to go in the battle of equal rights. In Uganda, the day was first officially celebrated in 1984, a year before the end of the UN Decade for women. The conference to mark the end of the UN Women’s Decade and to chart the way forward was held in Nairobi, Kenya July 1985. Women delegations from 160 countries in the world converged in Nairobi. Surprisingly, I was included in the Uganda delegation as a medical doctor at the eleventh hour. Women have been graduating as medical doctors in Uganda, since 1959!

I was the youngest member of our delegation. A military coup occurred in Uganda during the three weeks we were away. The Obote 11 government was overthrown by a faction of the army headed by  Brig Bazilio Okello and six months later, the National Resistance Army commanded by Yoweri Museveni toppled  Okello’s government.

When the dust settled, a few of us lobbied the new National Resistance Movement government for a Ministry of Women in Development to drive the agenda of empowering women to actively participate in the development of Uganda and to fight for their rights. Since women’s health and development feed each other, I organized a group of Women doctors around Kampala to establish the Association of Uganda Women Doctors .Our main objective was  to promote and protect the health of women and children and the general population. We strongly believed that  women had to be healthy to participate fully in development.

I celebrated the International Women’s Day, 8th March 2020 ,  a day early with the young medical students at Makerere University Teaching Hospital, Mulago. The students organized some activities to mark the day under the theme: The Woman Within. The activities included aerobics and Salsa and a panel discussion about the Women Doctors’ Association, etiquette, entrepreneurship and relationships.

Then on Sunday , I chose to attend the Old girls-led worship service at my old school, Gayaza High school. The singing, the praise and thanksgiving was comforting to all of us after last Friday’s fire that gutted Corby house . The Lord of the storm was in our midst.

At home, my octogenarian mother celebrated the day watching the official government celebrations in Mbale,  about 225 kilometres northeast of  Kampala. The activities organized under the theme:  Celebrating 25 years of the 1995 Constitution, were to celebrate the women and their contribution to the development of our country. The 1995 constitution made women and men equal before and under the law and entitled to all the rights and freedoms in it. All in all, some achievements have been made but still there is a huge gap between policy and practice.

 My mother watched in fascination, pausing only to pick water or fresh fruits from the refrigerator or use the bathroom. The degenerative arthritis has slowed down her movements but she still has the will to struggle against it. Currently, among the things she looks out for on the television  are: the consecration of a Catholic bishop,  the church services celebrating the Kabaka’s  coronation anniversary and birthday and the Women’s Day Celebration.  She is one woman who struggled to find her sense of autonomy by committing to her children, work and belief system but still remained feminine.

At 12 noon, I found her glued to the television watching the march -past parade led by the women in the Army and Police. A number of speeches followed while I went in and out of the sitting room doing my usual chores. It did not end until twenty minutes to 4pm! She called me out loud to watch the grand finale of the celebrations: the presentation of medals to honour  82 women for their distinguished service to our nation.

“ Do you know any of these women being recognised today?”she asked.

I laughed, “Mama, I’ve been away for more than two decades, I ‘d not know any of the young officers who have come up through   ranks.’’

I listened more carefully. At least I knew Angelina  Wapakhabulo, Lydia Wanyoto, Tsekooko and Beatrice Namukabya.

A Message  alert signal  led me to check my phone. It was from Faith, a classmate in Gayaza High School. She is an engineer married in Kenya. She was informing me that her mother was among those being honoured .

I sat tight and waited . Mrs. Miriam Lumonya ‘s name  was read out , unfortunately I  did not see her join the group. As the Coronavirus has taken over our lives, there were no handshakes with the President or among the women themselves.

“ Does anyone ever remember to honour in some way the women in the villages? They ‘re the architects of our communities. They give until they can give no more.”

“ I ‘ve no idea but I ‘d think that each district would honour its own heroines.”

I understood my mother’s concern for the women deep in the rural areas of Uganda. 70% of Ugandan women live in the rural areas, starting their day at 5am and ending it 11pm!

Our patriarchal society has preordained them  to being the primary caregivers- they take care of their husbands, children, the elderly and the sick. They  are so consumed by this role that they forget to take care of themselves. They have little power, authority and they undervalue themselves. They tend to sacrifice their autonomy to relationships.

In this state , they can never find their unique rhythm, their wisdom or their sense of what is uniquely theirs to give. They cannot factor their own needs into the network of caring relationships. They badly need help to find the balance between responsibility for others and responsibility to oneself.

To me, these are the unsung heroines  of the Women’s Day and the best one known to me is my mother!

My mother lost her father at a very tender age , she had one big sister and a younger brother. They grew up with their mother who refused to remarry into the husband’s family as the culture dictated. She instead committed to her children. The elder sister walked about three kilometres to the nearest Catholic school of the area. Recognizing that my mother was too small to walk that journey, my grandmother pleaded with the headmaster of the nearby Protestant school  to take on her daughter. It was done but it was unheard of at that time!

A Catholic priest from the Lugazi Diocese  was on his routine tour of the parish when he was told of a Catholic girl attending a Protestant school. Father Bohn talked to my grandmother( through an interpreter) and persuaded her to allow her daughter to join the Catholic boarding primary school of Mt. Saint Mary’s Namagunga.  The Irish missionary nun , Mother Mary Kevin Kearney ( 1875- 1957)had in February 1942, opened the school to promote the education of girls. She wanted to increase the opportunities and  help them lead better lives in our patriarchal society.  She also believed that if these educated girls grew up and married educated Catholic men , they would bring up Catholic children.

My mother spent six years in Mother Kevin’s school then joined Nsambya Catholic  Nursing and Midwifery school for three years. The school had also been started by Mother Mary Kevin since she believed that  Uganda needed its own teachers and nurses. The midwives would reduce the maternal and infant deaths.

My mother completed midwifery and was planning to take up Nursing after two years but then my father appeared on the scene. Recognizing that my father was much older than my mother,  my grandmother  was reluctant to give away her daughter.

” My daughter needs a cushion to fall back on. No one knows what the future holds.”

My mother worked for three years then out of my father’s persistence, grandmother blessed their union. They had six of us and we were what I would call a happy family.

Then thirteen years later, without any warning, my mother left home and went back to work as a midwife.That is what she wanted for her life. Probably she found her identity in work. My father never understood why she had traded-off her easy life for a working one!

For thirty years she worked in several maternity centres in the central region. She worked with passion, took opportunities to train and grow. She rose through the ranks. She worked for more than ten years at her last station, Nakifuma, 26 kilometres  northeast of Mukono.

At one time , she had delivered most of the children of the village. It earned her a new name :Omuzaalisa we Nakifuma ( the midwife of Nakifuma) and it earned her a lot of respect and free gifts. Her Maternity unit became a teaching centre for the Lugazi area.

Two weeks ago, I met Dr. Adam Kimala, one of her supervisors , he was full of praise for her.

My happiest moment was in 1982 when I was a first  year Postgraduate student in Obstetrics & Gynaecology  at  the  University Teaching hospital, Mulago. A young woman was referred to us  from Nakifuma maternity centre because she was bleeding  in her late pregnancy. We quickly operated on her, delivered a normal baby and saved the mother. I recognised my mother’s handwriting on the referral  form! By then things were operating relatively well,  there was a functional referral system; one ambulance served four clinics in the district. My mother  was extremely proud of being a member of a functional health care system.

I asked her about her concerns at the present time.

She lives near the Kawempe  Referral Women’s hospital and  her niece  works there as a senior midwife. The niece has told her that the patients overwhelm the number of staff.

My mother wonders why many women are being delivered by Caesarian section  and that a number of these mothers and the babies die. The fact that a number of women still deliver unassisted by health workers and  that every day, 16 women die in Uganda from pregnancy  and childbirth –related causes  , nags her conscience.

The teenage pregnancies also concern her. She begs the adults to allow these girls to become adults before they become mothers.

The last time she visited Nakifuma maternity centre, it was a rundown place. She is not likely to go back.

She has a great sense of radical thankfulness and celebration of her life; she mothered seven children, committed to midwifery, saving women’s lives over thirty years and was able to be both true to herself and to commit to the things and people she loves. She has remained a staunch Catholic  and feels that she has in her own way played a role in raising the status of women in society like her teacher:Mother Mary Kevin.                                              

She remains my unsung heroine.

A woman becomes better at multitasking when she becomes a mother.”– Anonymous

QUESTION:

Has this post helped you to see how in your own way you can assist the  woman in the rural area balance her responsibility to others with her responsibility to herself?

THE YOUNG AND THE VIBRANT

The walkway to the school chapel

THE YOUNG AND THE VIBRANT

A few days ago, I was given an opportunity through the Pamela Kadama  Senkatuka Foundation to visit my old school to introduce the Career  Guidance Programme to the Form 1 students. The foundation was set up in June 2015  to carry forward the legacy of a young ,enthusiastic electrical and telecommunication engineer who in her short life played the role of  a change agent wherever she was stationed.  She was an alumnus of Gayaza High School.

Because of the examples set by my father and the young, vibrant church Missionary teachers at my school, giving back to the community I live in is as natural to me as breathing.

As a Christian I am very much aware of what is required of me:  To whom much is given , much will be required. ( Luke 12:48)

We are blessed  not to contain but to bless others through giving and sharing.

Maya Angelou said: “When you learn , teach and when you get, give.”

My fourteen years at Gayaza High School  endowed  me with many remarkable gifts and abilities like Christian values and principles, the Never Give Up spirit  and lifetime friendships. They shaped me into whom I am today. What I learned years ago on the school farm, during the housework period, in the school plays and on the sports teams still has meaning today. My way of giving back to this great school is to uphold its values and principles and become a role model  and create young role models by the way I live my life.

Among the most thrilling words that one can be told are: “ When I grow up , I want to be like you- helping people and enjoying it.”

 I have met many young girls who want to grow up and be like Dr.  Specioza Wandira Kazibwe, a surgeon,  wife, mother,  and the first woman Vice President of Uganda or Julia Sebutinde, a Ugandan judge on the International Court of Justice.

These  ordinary women struggled against all odds  to become extraordinary in  our patriarchal society! They ,changed the mindset and possibilities of young women much more and faster than the policies and laws on paper.

Many times, I have been thrilled to meet young doctors who became doctors out of the desire to be like me and women who became lawyers after seeing Mrs. Sarah  Bagalaaliwo’s voluntary efforts to help women at FIDA- the Uganda chapter of International Federation of Women Lawyers.

On a warm , sunny day , a group of us including grandmothers, mothers and  young women of different professions, spent almost two hours with the 280 newly admitted  Form 1 students in that majestic school chapel. They were seated on the same pews that I  had sat on  decades ago! For some minutes , I was confused whether the school uniform had been changed since they were all wearing white blouses and black skirts. These girls aged between 12-14 years  were the cream of the a thousand or so students who applied for admission to this 115 years old Church-founded school.This admission in itself confers upon  them some form of privilege and burdens them  with  huge  expectations from the school, family and society.

 I hoped that it was not lost on them that privileges are always tagged with responsibilities, more opportunities come with challenges and  that all choices  have consequences.The students of the Class 2020, looked so young, so vibrant  that they reminded me of my teenage years donkey’s years ago.  They are today’s young ones,  full of trust and optimism. In this digital era, they are the igeneration –defined by their technology and media use,  their love for electronical consumerism and their need to multitask.

During my time- the Baby Boomer generation, the school was the epitome of social progress; admitting students from all the districts of Uganda.  Miss Joan Cox(RIP),the headmistress of the time, would take off time to visit all the 35 or so districts, looking for bright, all – round students and encourage them to join the school. For the less fortunate students, bursaries would be arranged from their district education offices. I have to admit and with pride that the Gayaza High School  of my time was  the most integrated community in Uganda. This diversity of tribes would later pay high dividends to the students as they progressed through universities and their working lives.

Career guidance during my time took the form of old students of the school who had become teachers, doctors, physiotherapists, agricultural scientists, lecturers and some professional parents like the late Dr. F.G Sembeguya, being invited  to talk to us about their careers and lives. The talks would be arranged  during some selected Sunday morning chapel services. These exposures helped us to  find our passions, gifts and desires. In between , the teachers would  endeavour to  advance our career prospects. As expected, gifted students who excelled at both Arts and Science subjects  and were not sure of what exactly they wanted to do in life, would find it difficult to make the choices.  Parents and teachers’ pressures prevailed upon them.  Later in life, a few confessed that they  had joined medicine just because they were good at the required entry subjects  of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and others took up law because they were good at English, History and Literature in English and Geography. I know  of a few who took up professions just because their fathers wanted  them to. Of these, a few changed later  to professions or vocations of their choice

That seemed enough at that time but we are now in the 21st century; times have changed and many things have changed. In this science and technology-driven era, students need career guidance much more than any other time in the past.

Why Career Guidance is so important today :

  1. The world is constantly changing and changing fast too. Change is now the new normal. Tomorrow is likely to be too different from today.
  2. Digital technology has radically changed the workplace for ever. Some jobs are disappearing while new ones keep coming up. Automation and the use of Robots have eliminated some jobs while at the same time creating some new ones. The office space has changed too- some people can work on laptops or iphones  from home.
  3. There are no permanent jobs for life and there are no permanent skills in such a fluid  work environment
  4. Since the English scientist Tim  Berners -Lee invented the World Wide Web and released  it to the public in August 1991, the world was reduced to a Global Village.
  5. This technology –driven era is a Solution –orientated: those who innovate and create solutions to the biggest challenges facing their communities like deforestation, plastics recycling and clean energy will build viable businesses and make a lot of money.

Career Guidance offered at the earliest time possible in the life of a student is extremely essential.

It directs the individual on the right path, helps her/him determine the direction of her/his life and to adjust maximally to the environment.

Through career guidance, students  can make mature and informed decisions about their  lives and the future.

At the beginning of my conversation with the students, I asked those who knew what they wanted to do in life to raise their hands, more than half did. I asked those who were not sure of what they wanted to do in life, many hands went up and then I asked those who did not know what they wanted to do, five brave girls raised their hands. I reassured them that at their age it was too early to be sure and it was normal not  to know. Getting to choose a career or occupation is a long process that starts  on the day you get to know who you are deep down but could change at any level in one’s life. What will matter later is for the students to acquire the skills they will need to survive and flourish in times of change; making them useful to themselves and useful and relevant to society.

Most of us know and the psychologists confirm that each individual is unique; having strength and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Each one has unique gifts and talents if well applied, help each one to be integrated  into society and to make  a social contribution to the development of the country and the world at large. The moment one recognizes the great story that informs her/his life , he/she is liberated to explore ways of creating a life which facilitates the expression of that self. This long process starts at home and later follows through to schools , through university and through working life. Living your own story makes you feel deeply satisfied, feel that there is meaning  in your life- it just feels right to be useful and helpful to others.

No life no matter how successful and exciting it might be, will make you happy if it is not your life. And no life will make you miserable if it is genuinely your own. You live your story day-to-day.

The happiest people in the world are those doing what they love and are being paid well for it. “ I ‘m doing this job because it is something I needed to do and because I wanted to give something of myself to others and I wanted to learn.”

As career Guidance is a process, and the global working environment continues to be dynamic, I have no doubt that I shall be visiting my school many times in the future to follow through our team work.

They say that,“ The hunt isn’t over until both your heart and your belly are full.”

The school still looks safe and peaceful so I would like to thank most sincerely all those teachers, students, parents , old girls and friends who have supported and maintained the school. To the teachers, thank you for helping the students to develop habits, skills and mindsets that build their social, emotional and academic capabilities. The school still promotes a sense of community and through sports, artwork, housework, student –designed projects and student-led conferences develops the “whole” student.

They say that, “ The future comes to us, one second at a time.”

QUESTIONS: Was it easy for you to determine which career you wanted to follow in life?

Do you think that offering Career guidance in schools helps the students to make their own decisions about their future?

The Art of Balancing Yes and No

Man is a social animal; goes about making relationships. In doing so , he looks for acceptance, appreciation, affirmation and acknowledgement. The journey  through life traditionally starts in the family follows through the community , nation and in this Digital era, it extends to the global village.

The psychologists tell us that each one of us needs four basic attributes to go through life:

  • Basic optimism
  • The capacity to band together  for support
  • The courage to fight for yourself and others
  • Compassion and care for yourself and others.

These four together provide us with the basic skills for living in society. At the same time, each one of us needs to develop four abilities: to strive, to let go , to love and to create if we are to express our unique gifts and talents and make a difference in the communities we live in.

Since we are interconnected, what I do has a ripple effect on those around me and what they do affects me  as well. Among the inner guides within our unconscious  is the Caregiver and when it is activated in our lives  and  is dominating  the other inner guides like the Innocent, the Warrior, the Ruler, the Fool, the Sage, we see people in need of our care.  While our thinking and acting is dominated by the Caregiver, we reach out to help and make a difference through love and sacrifice.

Over time, we learn that we cannot be everything or be everything to all. We are then forced to develop a safety mechanism to protect ourselves against the demands of this world.We can only do this by choosing to say “no” or “yes” and accepting the responsibility for that choice.

Failing to say “no” can result in exhaustion; burn out, depression and being physically sick . Each one of us has to learn to make a conscious choice to say “no” to what does not fit in her/his agenda or does not contribute to her/his personal understanding and growth.

And when you say “yes” you have to willingly give fully and completely within your limits and priorities. Look people in the eye and say “No”, do not get caught in the middle of yes and no; it leaves people hanging.  When you say it,mean it otherwise you will not be taken seriously.

“ NO is a complete sentence. It does not require an explanation to follow. You can truly answer someone’s request with a simple No.” – Sharon . E. Rainey.

Life is essentially about relationships and the choices we make. Choices have consequences. When faced with options, we end up making a series of YES  and  NO and gradually build up the big picture of our lives. As I said earlier, we are social animals living interdependently. We all start by conforming to please family, friends and peers and continue to ensure success and status doing the same thing. The majority of us will struggle to do what we really want without losing our family and friends. Juggling both family and work, one can find herself taking on too many commitments and too fast. This has resulted in burnout- exhausted and overwhelmed. It is our responsibility to empower the young to avoid and to handle such situations. It goes back to teaching them and supporting them in creating emotional and spiritual balance by simply learning to balance YES and NO.

“Until you  learn how to confidently say No to so many things , you will still always say Yes to many things.’’ Enest Agyemang Yeboah

This is where the 80/20 Rule of Time Management comes in handy. At any one stage in your life, you have to define what is most important to you and focus your time, energy, efforts and resources on that. What you focus on always grows.

You have to prioritize the 20% most important things to you and devote 80% of your time on them. Anything else is regarded as a distraction and should not be allowed to steal your time. We all have 24 hours in a day but the most successful among us are those who have mastered the art of using their time wisely.

 Developing this 80/20 mindset will help you to use your time effectively. The “urgent” will stop drowning out the most important activities that advance your overall purpose in life. You will stay focused on the key stuff in your life. You will be able to beat the stressful lifestyle that puts you under extreme pressure.

As we grow and take on more responsibilities only to retire later, the 20% most important things in life also change. You have to continue setting your priorities, it will lead you into making good choices about what you want to be and do. You will stop wasting time on things that do not matter to you.

I have learned to apply this 80/20 Rule on a daily basis and it has worked wonders. I have been able to do much more in a day and generally I have been able to move the most important things in my life forward. I have been able to do amazing things by reducing the distractions. It continues to help me find more meaning and purpose in my life.

 Each day throws you many options all day long and saying YES or NO to these options points you into a different direction.  Over time, your personal growth comes in a series of small, incremental changes resulting from the choices you made and your commitment to follow things through. Later in life, the strong urge to please, to fit in, to satisfy the demands of family and peer groups wears off and you want to live a life of more significance and depth. You consider what adds value to your life: what makes your heart resonate with your soul and what makes you feel good about yourself and brings fun in your life.

As learning is for life, I am still learning and trying to master the art of balancing YES and NO. As they say: Practice makes perfect.

One last quote: “When you say no to the wrong people, it opens up the space for the right people to come in.’’ Joe Calloway.

 QUESTION: Are you one of those people who find it hard to say NO?

Has this post helped you to see the need to take courage and to develop the discipline to say NO?

GRADUATION 11: What’s next?

A motorcycle shelter made from plastic bottles by Susan Suubi of Uganda

   You graduated two weeks ago; you celebrated your accomplishment with family and friends. You look to a future full of possibilities and fulfillment. I think by now the euphoria has worn off and reality has set in. You have to work within these sobering and haunting facts: Uganda has the highest youth population in the world. The youth make up 78% of the total population of 42 million. Youth unemployment in Uganda ranges from 60-80 %, the highest rate in youths in Sub-Saharan Africa. The rate is highest in degree holders in the urban areas. A total of 400,000 students graduate from all the universities in Uganda to compete for the 90,000-100,000 jobs available in the formal sector. Automation in the banks and offices continues to reduce the available jobs further.

 The agricultural sector still remains the back bone of Uganda’s economy, 70% of the population depend on it for their livelihood and employment. But the majority is practicing the subsistence type of farming in this day and age.

 Most of what is happening around you is beyond your control because these are challenges of your generation. As times change, things change. Over time you will learn as we all did at one time, what is in your control: your thoughts and attitude towards what happens to you.  Focus on that to help you survive and thrive.

   For the lucky few who have already found employment, make the most of it by :

  • Fitting in- you have to adapt to fit in. You have to make a positive impact on your employers. Take the initiative to know your place of work well, the company itself and it culture. Know the dress code and social program.

Be friendly- Smile, ask questions about what you do not know, be interested.

  • Be agreeable- Learn your environment, the people and place before you start complaining or making suggestions.
  • Respect- Respect everyone. What you give out will be returned to you. Everyone wants to be appreciated, respected and recognized.
  • Give 110%- my late father always advised me so. Work harder than anyone else to prove that you want to be in that place. Keep time, be responsible and reliable.

                   Work hard at getting integrated- Look for the company’s Standard Operation Procedures and learn it and live it. Offer to help at anything; this will help you to become part of the team. As a team player, do your part perfectly to fit in the company’s big picture. You will gradually learn to become an aggressive player.

 The English say that: ” A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

   I cannot emphasize enough the need to keep learning every day. The 21st century is a science and technology – driven era, constantly changing and fast too. It is highly competitive and there are no permanent skills anymore. Skills have to be continually upgraded and enhanced to enable the worker to have the right skills at the right time for the right purpose.

Seize all the opportunities for training that become available for you. I would advise you to consider taking up Online courses or evening courses between 5pm and bedtime and weekends. This is an investment into yourself and for the future. Be guided by your vision to get focus and clarity. But never compromise on your value system; it always catches up with you in the future.

 For the self-employed- I take off my hat to you for taking the courage to leap into the unknown. Choosing to become your own boss at your age in your environment is taking a real leap of faith! It is tough -going but will become easier especially if you are turning your hobby or passion into a business.

    In this Solution-oriented century, if your business is trying to solve one of our country’s biggest problems like supplying clean energy, recycling the heaps of plastics then money will come chasing you.

       You need to participate in available entrepreneurship training programmes to acquire the business skills you need to start, run and sustain an enterprise successfully. Visit other people providing competing products or services. Embrace the Digital technology, it will help you to advertise yourself, form networks and collaborate with fellow entrepreneurs. Start small and move up but work smart.

 It is hard work that requires a lot of patience, resilience and support but when you succeed, you will be proud of yourself and you will be a free person.

  “It always seems impossible until it is done.”– Nelson Mandela

Believe in yourself and your capabilities and your brain will find a way of making it work.

For the unemployed – You feel energetic, vibrant and want to channel this energy into something useful to you and others. The high rate of unemployment and the fact that many of the graduates do not have the skills that employers want may be playing a big role in your current state. You definitely need to add some skills to your Academic knowledge to make yourself more employable.

 Right now, I have just remembered the final sermon that the late Pastor Myles Munroe of Bahamas Faith Ministries International, gave to a congregation many of whom had just lost their jobs due to the recession of 2014

Sadly, on the 9th November 2014, he died in a plane crash along with his wife, son and six others. I remember very clearly the life- saving advice he gave to those men and women in total despair.

 I am just giving you what I picked out as the most important inspiring ideas from his sermon on The Power of Self-government. I think it will help you move forward.

  • He reminded the members of the congregation that each one of them was created to solve a problem on earth. God equips you with talent and gifts to help you find the problem you were born to solve. Education helps to refine your gifts and talents by giving you knowledge and sometimes the skills. He defined the job as what you are paid to do but work as what you were born to do. So your job is your skill while your work is your gift. When you find yourself, you find your gift( the seed inside you) Unlike the job, the gift cannot be learned or taken away. It can only be refined. You should use your God-given gift to solve a community problem. Any problem around us can be turned into a business as people are paid for the problems they solve.
  • He reminded them that success was 90% brain and 10% hands.

One example he gave of turning a problem into a business was Bill Gates, a computer programmer, and his childhood friend, Paul Allen who innovated with microchip technology and developed new software products which are used in all computers. They solved the problem of data collection, data analysis, storage and sharing. They built Microsoft, the multinational company which has made Bill Gates one of the richest men in the world.

As for you, you only have to identify the biggest problems in your community like deforestation, frequent droughts, youth unemployment, poor garbage disposal especially the plastics and you come up with a locally appropriate and affordable solution.

Once you find the solution to a common problem you will have found your wealth.

I would also advise you to add skills to your academic knowledge by undergoing vocational training. It will equip you with practical experience and technical skills in a specific field. Employers look for people who bring something to the company-necessary skills and practical experience. You will meet the demands of a working environment, deliver quality performance and good results.

I would also like to remind you that we are living in a science-technology-driven century. Technology touches and continues to permeate all areas of our lives. You need to invest in Information, Communication Technology. There are some ICT and Software jobs from some leading companies in Uganda and worldwide.

After preparing yourself, you could try Online Freelance jobs in Typing, Writing and Designing. Believe in yourself and others will begin to believe in you. Whatever you choose to do or be, do not forget to be human and to look for inspiration.

Mark Zuckerberg, the main co- founder of Facebook: the Social media and technology company started off small. In 2004, in his Harvard dormitory room, he and a few of his Harvard roommates started this company. Gradually it expanded to include students from other universities. Currently, Facebook is the most downloaded mobile app of the decade(2010-2019)

All in all there are few jobs out there and you have to position yourself to get one of them. It is a long way to go; start from the beginning, perform and become a team player while being guided by your vision and value system.  When you do what you love and enjoy it and you are paid reasonably for it, it ceases to be work. It becomes fun.                       

  “The world needs problem solvers.” – Anonymous.

The future belongs to the Risk takers not to the Comfort seekers. Prepare yourself for this role. 

QUESTION: Has this post helped you to identify a big problem in your community to solve and get paid for your services?

IT IS GRADUATION WEEK AT MAKERERE,UGANDA

Three of the eight young women who graduated as medical doctors at Makerere University in March 1977.
My second son(L) graduated as a civil engineer from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, 30 years after my graduation.

Makerere University, Kampala, was established by the then British Colonial government, in 1922 as a vocational training school; carpentry, building and motor mechanics. Since then it has grown to become the oldest and one of the most prestigious Universities in Africa.

Forty three years ago, I graduated from the faculty of medicine of the only public university of the time!

Currently there are 11 public universities and 38 registered private universities in Uganda with 12 medical schools between them!

On the 14th January 1945, Makerere College admitted the first batch of Ugandan women students, they were six of them. From 14th to 17 th January 2020,  a total of 13,509 students will be graduating from Makerere Univesrsity, Kampala, in the 70th graduation ceremony. Of these, 50.5 percent are females. We have come a long way considering that in my Graduate Class of 1977, of the 120 graduands only 8 were women, including one from Malawi.  By then, the total population of Uganda was  11.3 millions: 5.6 males and 5.7 females.

Indeed, Makerere University has lived up to its motto: We Build for The future.

Nelson Mandela( 1918-2013) , the most iconic leader of  the 20th Century highly valued education and expressed it in these two quotes:

“ Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

A good heart and a good mind are always a formidable combination.”

Undoubtedly, we believe that Education is a gift for a lifetime.

To the parents of the graduands, I thank you for the nurturance, guidance and the sacrifices.

To the teachers, mentors and sponsors, I thank you for your willingness to share your skills, knowledge and expertise to empower the young generation.

To the graduands, I congratulate you on this great achievement. I admire and respect you for your determination, your perseverance and tenacity. This is the first key you needed to unlock your success in life. You have climbed to the top of the mountain only to discover like the icon Nelson Mandela did: “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that  there are many more hills to climb.’’

This graduation marks the beginning of the rest of your life.

You will wake up tomorrow to the sobering and haunting reality on theground:

  • Uganda has a population of 42 million people and the youths under the age of 30 make up 78% of this population. Uganda has the highest youth population in the world.
  • Youth unemployment in Uganda ranges from 60-80%, the highest rate in youths in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Uganda, the rate is highest among degree holders in the urban area.
  • Each year, 400,000 students graduate from all these universities to compete for only the 90,000-100,000 jobs in the formal sector.
  • The agricultural sector still remains the backbone of Uganda’s economy, 70% of the population depend on it for their livelihood and employment.
  • The 21st century is the Information Revolution and most innovative age of our time. It is Science and technologically – driven. It is constantly changing and fast too. It demands that each graduate keeps learning, improving, growing to become better at what he/she chooses to do. It is mandatory that you keep improving your personal best.  Digital technology has shrunk the world to a global Village and made it highly competitive. There are no permanent skills in this 21st century; skills have to be continually upgraded and enhanced to enable the worker to have the right skills at the right time for the right purpose.

Alvin Toffler ( 1928- 2016) an American writer and business man, spelt this out years back in this quote: “ The illiterates of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write , but those who cannot learn ,  unlearn and relearn.”

The education you received should have helped to shine your unique gifts, talents and skills and led you into the vision of your life.  Your vision –  the big picture of your life should inspire and inform your plan for each subsequent year for the rest of your life.

There are no permanent jobs anymore in this digital technology- driven era!

Working on desks in the office is being replaced by working online from your home.

Human beings are being replaced by automated machines and systems.

In countries like Japan many jobs  in the industries are being taken over by industrial robots.

To survive in such a changing environment, one has to become flexible and adaptable to remain useful and relevant to yourself and others.

You have to learn to think for yourself, look for skills you need to create your own job. Job seekers may have to walk the streets for a long time.

The world is now Solution –orientated so the best way to create a job for yourself and others is to critically look at the most burning problems of your community and find a locally appropriate solution to any one of them. The solution should become your business –making you money while at the same time serving others.

Uganda’s biggest challenges are: Climate Change and its effects on food security, deforestation, a high population growth rate of 3.2% , Land ownership and Youth Unemployment.

At this moment in time you may not know the following:

  1. You are among the privileged few to reach this education level- it gives you the burden to lift up others in your community.
  2. You can only turn your qualification into real power if you apply it to improve your life and the lives of others.
  3. You have some hobbies which you can exploit to your benefit. Choose one of them and use it to find a solution to anyone of the biggest challenges of our country. When you do, it could turn you into a successful business man/woman. As long as you believe in yourself, you can be anything and do everything.
  4. The network of friends you have built so far will over time become part of your family. Together you have formed a community that protects each other and makes each other resilient to the rapid changes around you. Stay connected.
  5.  You have been handed a blank writing book to write your own story for a lifetime. Keep striving to know who you are deep down so that when you write the story of your life every day, it is  expressing your authenticity. Remember to embrace honesty and compassion. You also have to develop the discipline to balance competitiveness with co-operation in the current highly competitive world.

 At my age, I have learned that life is not a sprint race but a marathon. As an endurance race, it demands that you start off with the end in mind then plan meticulously how to get there at your own pace and rhythm. You have always to be aware that you are surrounded by other runners, you can use them to your advantage to achieve your personal best.

To become the best, you must have the best role models to stretch your mind, imaginations and abilities.

To stay or not to stay– No one has the answer to this question because it is an individual decision based on many factors. I had chosen to stay on and work in my country until it came to the point where I could not be paid a decent salary as a medical doctor and the tools that I needed to perform my work proved to be inadequate. I could not achieve what I wanted in life in such a limiting environment. I had to look for opportunities elsewhere to realize my full potential. I willed myself to start afresh and I left for greener pastures. I am now back in Uganda and carving a new path in a radically changed environment. I learn something new every day, unlearn what is no longer true or relevant and relearn what is still true and relevant. Little by little, I am finding a new comfort zone.

You will be in the game for a long time. My advice would be for you to believe in yourself, stay in the game and show up every day. At times you will be stuck in a rut but summon all your courage and energy , ask for help and keep moving forward. Gradually you will learn to take risks, be aggressive and smart. You are allowed to break a few rules as long as you cling to your integrity and compassion. This is good for you since you can never get the extraordinary if you do not do something extraordinary. Keep skilling yourself for the jobs of the future.

It is your life, make the most of it.

Congratulations on your graduation and best wishes for the future.

NEW POSSIBILITIES

A feast for the eyes and the palate to welcome you into 2020

The New Year gives each one of us an opportunity to start afresh while at the same time aiming at doing more and doing better.

Oprah Winfrey once said: “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”

 The big picture of your life and mine comes to us piecemeal year by year. This explains why we have to look at the passing year closely before planning for the New Year. I have had to assess whether I was able to achieve the goals that I set for myself for this year and the progress I made towards advancing my overall purpose in life. I know that I should have done better in some areas and in others; things were beyond my control. I am now determined to use the lessons I have learned from my failures to improve my future, as for the achievements, they point me toward bigger goals in the years to come. They say that Experience is the best teacher.

As I write this post, a quote by an unknown author keeps coming to me: “Set your goals high enough to inspire you and low enough to encourage you.”
Unrealistic goals put you on pressure and lead to frustration.
For the last seven years, I have been a keen Follower of Michael Hyatt, the renowned American life coach and Virtual mentor. He advises each one of us to plan for the year as planning gives us clarity and helps us to make progress to achieving the goals. The three elements of the plan are:


1. The Vision- this is the big picture of your life and it should inspire and inform your plan. Each one of us is born with the power to create, transform and heal. What is most critical is that your vision conforms to who you are at a deep level and what your life, at best, should really be about. Look within yourself to identify your unique gifts, talents and skills and then use them to create your own ideal life. Having a vision of the future stretches your sense of possibilities and brings you closer to achieving your own ideal life. A positive but realistic projection of the future frees us to enjoy the present and to make our dreams come true. The vision should be very concrete so that it becomes real to us. You are free to fake it until you make it.

2.The Priorities- the most important things in your life that advance your personal development and fulfillment.
We live in a fast-paced, competitive world and many demands are made on us. It is vital that we consistently apply the 80/20 Rule of Time Management: prioritize the 20% most important things in your life and devote 80% of your time, energy, efforts and resources on them. It is the only way to stop the ‘Urgent’ from drowning out the most important activities that advance your overall purpose in life.

Life is too short. Do stuff that matters.”-  Siqi Chen

The priorities change as we grow but essentially they are: family, career, health, finances and relationships.

3. The Actions- the steps to be taken to fulfill your priorities.

Dante Alighieri rightly said: “The secret of getting things done is to act.”

 These are the goals and are better laid out using the SMART acronym:
S- Our goals should be Specific
M- should be Measurable( year-long)
A- should be Actionable
R- should be Realistic.
T- should be Time bound.

The above three elements of the year plan should be aligned together.

I have always had to remind myself that I am in control of my life. It fuels my determination to follow things through to achieve my vision and stay motivated to reach my goals. I must admit that this year my greatest weakness has been procrastination- the Thief of Dreams. I have had to fight fiercely to beat it. I had to encourage myself to stick to the deadlines and to ask my eldest son to hold me accountable.
I would urge you to believe in yourself and encourage yourself by rewarding yourself for the achievements. Be smart to let go of what no longer serves you and pick what really fits who you now are. This is the only way you can be yourself and let yourself have what you truly want.

Interestingly, I have had to take off my hat many times to Vuvu Mpofu, the newest opera singer star at the annual Glyndebourne Festival Opera of UK. She comes from a small town in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. She first heard of opera at the age of fifteen when she watched a Mozart aria at a school concert. It cast such a strong spell on her that she bought two opera DVDs and taught herself to sing by mimicking singers in the DVDs. She did it over and over again until she became confident and competent to be noticed by a voice coach. Last August, she was chosen to participate in this traditional summer event. At twenty eight years of age, she became the first non-British artist to win the John Christie Award for the most promising young singer of the year.

I have watched her videos on YouTube and I have been blown away!

 With her vocal extraordinary talent, she is really going places.

This is what I call faking it until you become it.

I hope that reading this post has given you the confidence to make Smarter goals for 2020 , making it different from 2019. I wish you happiness, good health and prosperity in the New Year.

QUESTION:

Were you able to accomplish the goals you set for yourself for 2019?

What was your biggest hurdle? How did you overcome it?

A SEASON FOR GIVING

Christmas is once again here with us.

A  SEASON FOR GIVING

The end-of –the –year festive season is fast approaching and before we know it, we shall be singing Christmas carols, attending church services, feasting and exchanging gifts with loved ones. I only hope that the true meaning of Christmas to any Believer will not be lost in the merry making.

The birth of Jesus is a free gift from our Father; given to us out of his love. Jesus was later to die at the cross for our sins so that we could have eternal life. For as Jesus rightly said: If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free.

 Just as I was thinking about giving and sharing, I found myself singing The Twelve Days of Christmas song. It is an old English Christmas carol (1780) which I was taught in junior school some donkey’s years ago! In this song a generous person sends a gift to his true love each day for the twelve days of Christmas – from the 25th December to the 6th January and the gifts become increasingly grand as the days go by. I surprised myself by remembering all the twelve gifts though I have not sang this song for more than ten years!

Can you imagine receiving a gift from your true love each day for twelve days? I would probably walk on cloud nine or walk around as if I owned the world. For the love he feels in his heart would be driving him to send those twelve gifts. Amy Wilson Carmichael, an Irish Protestant missionary in India said:

You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.’’

I laughed out loud and then I got the idea of writing this post just to remind ourselves of the importance of giving and sharing what we have all the year round. It is not the gift that I give that is important but the reason of why I give. You give because you want to and you give out of the love and concern in your heart for the person you give. This also makes us understand why the best gifts that a parent can give to a child cannot be found in any shop simply because they are too priceless: namely love and prayers from your heart.

Those of us who read the Bible cannot forget the Widow’s offering of two little copper coins into the temple treasury while the rich people dropped what they had to spare of their riches. I also remembered that the poor and needy are always among us throughout the 365 days of the year so they need to be shown our loving kindness every day not just during the twelve days of Christmas.

This was ingrained in me by my late father at a tender age. There was a time when our home had the only telephone in the village ( compare with the present time of mobile phones). It became the public phone to use for all emergencies in the village: to call a father at work to come home to take a sick child to the hospital, to call a father at work to attend to a child sent away from school due to unpaid fees, to call the Fire brigade to attend to a house on fire or kill a python at someone’s home. Thankfully, the service was never abused for the emergencies were genuine. My father never charged for this service for all those years. He provided the service out of concern and love for his many neighbours.

My favourite writer Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese born American writer and philosopher said, “You give most when you give of yourself- your time, efforts and energy.”

I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and saw that life is all service. I served and saw that service is joy.’’

My father made time to serve gladly with Uganda Red Cross Society, YMCA, Lions’ Club, Uganda Boys’ Scouts Association, The Bible Society and many School boards. Up to today I cannot figure out how he managed to get the hours to serve wholeheartedly during the 24 hours of the day! Surprisingly, he had time to play games with us and to supervise us do our holiday homework and even watch whether you held the pen properly!

For all the festive seasons we spent deep in the village, my father would order a cow or two slaughtered then have small packages neatly wrapped in banana leaves sent to all his neighbours. He was not looking for their votes; he just wanted to share what he had with them. He understood that by giving to others , you live a meaningful life. Winston Churchill, a former Prime Minister of Britain once said that:  “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

I have also come up with my own simple ways of giving to the needy for if I do not do it ; I would me dishonoring my father’s memory.

As one of King Solomon’s proverbs says : “Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their lives.”

Giving gladly is a form of ‘Double’ currency in that it enriches both the receiver and the giver. I have experienced this first hand; for some years until the children flew the nest, together we would collect and sort out toys, books and items of clothing and shoes they had outgrown and I would take them to the nearest orphanage or SOS Village. When I close my eyes now, I can see the big smiles on the administrators’ faces as I handed them the items. Much later when I would see a child wearing any of those items; I would smile to myself out of the joy in my heart.

May we all learn to give gladly to the poor and needy throughout the year not only at Christmas time.

Wishing you all a peaceful, joyful Christmas and a prosperous 2020. May it turn out to be your best year yet.

QUESTION:

Love is what it does. How has the love in your heart made you give and share gladly what you have with others?

I THOUGHT I NEEDED LESS TO BE HAPPY AND CONTENT UNTIL………..

Being surrounded by loved ones often, gives long term fulfillment.


I thought that as I grew older, I needed less to be more happy and content. I had come to believe like Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe that less is more: less decoration properly deployed , has more impact than a lot of it. The same way a makeup artist  believes that light make up makes the individual features more prominent. I have been reading widely about happiness and life satisfaction and to my shock and amazement,the psychologists are telling me that I am wrong: what makes one happy and content does not vary much with age but some of the contributing factors to life satisfaction may change with age.

Kahlil Gibran once said: “To be able to look back upon one’s life in satisfaction , is to live twice.” 

According to the psychologists, happiness is  a state of living an enjoyable, meaningful , rewarding and exciting life. It is born out of a deep satisfaction with one’s relationships with others, surroundings, accomplishments and oneself.

Some psychologists like Martin Seligman of USA think that happiness has 3 distinct elements:

  1. The pleasant life- having fun, joy and excitement in life. Having as many as positive emotions as you can as you go through your day- to- day activities.
  2. The good life – achieved by  identifying your unique skills and abilities and applying them to enhance your life and others. You cannot engage fully with life until you find out who you are- your strengths and flaws. You then apply this knowledge to find the great story of your life.Secure in this knowledge you are less likely to be confused by the inessentials or be pulled down or manipulated by others.
  3. The meaningful life-  involves a deep sense of fulfillment that comes from using your talents to make a difference in the world around you.Living your genuine story makes you feel deeply satisfied  and gives meaning to your life. No life no matter how successful and exciting it might be, will make you happy , if it is not really your life. No life will make you miserable if it is genuinely your own.

The happiest people tend to pursue a full life encompassing these 3 elements.

It should be noted that each of our individual journeys is  intimately interwoven with the journeys of family members, friends and co-workers. The steps I take toward becoming truly myself affect them in the same way the steps they take affect me.

Mahatma Gandhi once said:  Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

Extensive research done over the years has shown that age is related to happiness but  happiness is not related to gender. Life satisfaction tends to increase as people get older.

A growing child needs to feel safe and secure in a home, loved and valued by the parents. He/she needs to be surrounded by happy loving parents and people. As emotions are contagious, children who are given much love and care in their childhood learn to be kind to  themselves and then go out to love other people and animals.They grow up very optimistic ; resilient and can face life’s bigger challenges better.

The teenagers in any given population, are going through a period of rapid changes and transformation towards becoming  adults. During this transitional period, the part of the brain that controls emotions and motivation  and directs behavior to meet the challenges of their environment or weigh risks and rewards is not yet fully developed. Therefore, the teenagers cannot  direct and control their behavior and they feel happy if they are able to fit in with their peers and be accepted by them. Any rejection by their peers can push a teenager into terrible misery or even mental illness. Available scientific reports show that 50% of all mental illnesses in the USA begin by the age of 14 and 75% occur by mid 20s. Teenagers need affirmation , approval and acknowledgement. They need to feel loved and valued. If a child is good at something, he/she needs appreciation. This demands that parents, teachers should assist children to develop positive emotions.

The psychologists  who have studied positive psychology- the study of happiness and well being have identified a number of factors that consistently relate to happiness and fulfillment  in young adults and and older adults. They include:

  • Positive affect-  focusing on your individual positive traits: your strengths and virtues.

Optimism- expecting the best outcome in any situation. This positive frame of mind helps you see new opportunities, learn from different situations and keep  moving forward.

  •   Flow-  A mental state of well being achieved by being involved in an activity to the point where you feel you lose yourself in the activity, effortlessly maintain concentration and focus and feel in complete control of your action and time seems to pass more quickly than usual. 

No one is completely happy all the time, encouraging one to experience these three contributes to life satisfaction.

For the older adults,the psychologists have identified  six main factors related to happiness and contentment:

  1. Strong healthy relationships with loved ones- you learn relationship skills that help you make responsible decision making.
  2. Fulfillment from work- It pushes you to want to be more and do much more.
  3. Satisfaction with physical health- exercises optimises your brain’s ability to learn. It helps you  regulate your emotions.
  4.  Happiness with your romantic life
  5. Content with your personal growth
  6.  6. Secure in spirituality or religion

Greater life satisfaction makes us feel happier and helps us to enjoy life more. All in all, it has a positive impact on our health and well-being.

In the elderly, the need for life satisfaction remains relatively high though the illnesses associated with old age; aches and pains may reduce one’s engagement in life. Older adults  have weathered many storms of life and tend not to place more value on things and status like the young people. Instead, they place more value on family relationships and other genuine relationships which give them long-term fulfillment in their lives. It has been observed that happy people tend to have more friends, more high -quality social relationships and strong social support networks than less happy people.

 The illusion that I needed less to be happy and content developed after my sixtieth birthday. I had observed that I derived more joy and fulfillment by just spending time with family and genuine , old friends. I also observed that I could get a natural high by simply immersing myself into creative writing. I could effortlessly maintain my concentration and focus, felt in control of the action and time seemed to be passing quickly. It is a pleasant experience which requires me to use my skills, knowledge and passion. At that moment in time, I feel happy and fulfilled.

Digging deeper into the psychology of happiness and contentment  has helped me understand that the main factors contributing to my happiness and contentment have more or less remained the same but it is the value that I attach to each of those factors that have changed as I grew older!

I have to admit that it has indeed been a rude awakening! It has helped me to appreciate more that learning is a lifelong process. The more I learn the more I get to understand myself , the people around me and my environment. The wisdom of old age is pushing me to search for the reality behind appearances and  is opening me to the deeper truth about life.

QUESTION:

What activity is giving you the flow experience at this moment in time? How has this experience changed over the years?