When things are this unstable, a person’s choices can have a much greater impact.

The above is scribbled – all alone – on a page in my Uganda journal. I have lost the context. Are they my own words? Did a teammate say it? Podcast? 

Regardless, as I reflect on it, our Ugandan partners come to mind, and Nageeba the chief amongst them. 

“You are most welcome here,” the warm greeting common in Uganda was accompanied by a generous smile as Nageeba ushered us into her home, “ah! You have traveled so long, how are you? Have you eaten? Here, sit, sit, you must rest! My son will get you something to drink…”

We visited Nageeba at her home and literacy center on our first Sunday afternoon in Uganda. We had been invited for tea but of course, instead we received a full meal of samosas, salads, chicken and dessert. 

Ugandan meal being served

Nageeba is community empowerment personified. She runs Restoring and Empowering Communities (RED), has been a partner with Niteo for a decade, and is a literacy warrior with organizational skills like none other. One of REC’s programs are youth book clubs where each child is allowed to take home “a book for keeps”. She has given out 10,000 books to children and classrooms and has binders full of books she has cataloged and given out as best fits to each location. 

Record of books donated

The concepts of collaborative healing and education are alive and well in her. She says things in conversation like, “when you give a book to a child, you give peace” with such conviction that there is no need to wonder how that could be, Nageeba has said it, so it is so. 

Nageeba takes us on a tour of her new property,  “these are not our dogs. Well, we feed them, and they are welcome here. We keep them safe, but they are not actually our dogs.” 

Ugandan dogs who are safe

“These are our cats, the rat-killers who will keep guard the books,” she laughs pointing to two kittens who fearlessly follow the humans into the main room, which is piled high with bags of books, waiting for shelves.  Despite her high hopes for them, the rat-killers have a solid 6 months of growing before they’re bigger than rats.

Nageeba shares that hopefully in that time, the book shelves will be built and the center completed. The center has been built in stages in the last two years as funding has come in. It is a slow process, but Nageeba holds big plans for the community. Despite the incomplete building, she is already doing the work. 

“And this is where we have been meeting with the women from the village.” Nageeba points to a tent outside and explains the various groups who meet there. When Nageeba moved into the community, she wanted to host a community group to address literacy. She laughs, “they said, but those groups, they do not like each other, the Muslims and Christians, all those from different tribes. And I said, but we all love our children, and we are building a community of peace for them.” 

Nageeba has six children, orphans, who live with her in her two bedroom home. As our visit wraps up, we hear about their future plans. There is already a plan for each of them – what they will do for education as they grow up and how they will continue the work at the literacy center because Nageeba says, “if I am here or not, this work, it should continue.”

Our Sunday tea was thankfully not our only time with Nageeba. She attended our first pilot at Bombo and I was a little intimidated to have an expert facilitator at our first pilot.  But, I should have known Nageeba would add so much welcomed wisdom.

Nageeba giving a tour of her property in front of her garden.

Nageeba was commanding in a warm, everyone-is-included-but-no-nonsense-please-and-thank-you type of way.  She listened deeply and asked thoughtful questions, adding her expert opinion but in a way that demonstrates she has navigated all the dynamics of human interactions before. She had an answer to any question asked, but held back sometimes because she wanted to ensure other participants had a chance to speak. She pushed the other participants to rethink discipline and assessment policies in a way that I couldn’t. 

Jamie, Nageeba, and Karine pose for a picture after a successful pilot of Leadership in Literacy

After the pilot was finished, Nageeba shared her plans to take the literacy training to the schools around her.  We had hoped that if the pilot of the micro credential went well that we could switch to a train-the-trainer model and train Ugandan teachers to train their colleagues. Nageeba was already there and ready to go. 

I wonder in one generation, how far-reaching will Nageeba’s radical hospitality and belief in the capacity of each book, each youth, each teacher to build a peaceful community be?  How many will be in her auditorium of thanks?

Check out Story 2 here.

Categories: Uganda 2019