Hannington Seggy about opportunity space
From Entebbe (Uganda), for ‘Het Grootse Kleinste Festival van Betekenis 2018’ (The Greatest Smallest Festival of Meaning 2018)
Happykamping regularly organises gatherings for a better understanding, by bringing together diverse people and perspectives. That is why on 19 April 2018 the second edition of The Greatest Smallest Festival of Meaning took place, where 20 speakers from the Netherlands and abroad, together with 80 participants, explored the concept of ‘meaning’.
I still vividly, and will always remember how I met Hannington. In 2012 I travelled to Uganda to help with a project to fight malaria. Hannington was the one who came to pick me up from the airport in Kampala, Uganda. Lesson learned: Uganda is not a place to go to for only four days, but I’m so happy that I did.
When I arrived in Kampala, I was looking for someone with a sign with my name on it, or someone who was looking for me. I was still quite wobbly not only from travelling but also from the € 260.00 vaccinations that I had had at Schiphol airport, including one for yellow fever. The doctor at Schiphol reassured me: it is a low dose of a live virus, so you only have some problems during the flight, and when you land you everything will be okay. She was exactly right. It was a wonderfully miserable flight, I was unable to sleep, sweating like crazy but arrived in Kampala without any worries.
After a short search, I found Hannington. Or actually, he found me. It was in the middle of the night when we walked to his car. It was a simple 4x4. It was hot. I guessed Hannington was about 30 years old. He was asked to pick me up and bring me to the team, a 6.5-hour ride. The road from the airport and was paved. That was, as Hannington explained because the English queen had once been on a state visit and that’s why the road had only been paved up to the hotel where she was staying. As we passed the hotel, the asphalt stopped, and the road turned into red sand. It was pitch dark, the only light was the light from the headlights. With lots of whoppers of holes in the road. With people walking left and right of the road. They were on their way to the sugar cane plantations, tea fields to get started at the crack of the day. I asked him if we also had to watch out for wild animals. He laughed hard. No. You only see them in films. But we might see some dogs. But no, no elephants, monkeys and other wild animals.
Gradually we became better acquainted. The advantage of Uganda is that it is formerly British, so English is no problem. Certainly not for Hannington, but later when I was in the middle of somewhere, everyone spoke English too. Handy. After a while driving through the darkness, we stopped at a cottage on the left side of the road. A meter or four wide, rectangular, a meter or two deep. The right-hand side turned out to be the house, the left-hand side was a small store. It was the parental home of Hannington. We knocked on the door to buy water because I was not allowed to drink any liquid other than sealed water. His dad was a beautiful man with glittering eyes. While his mother was standing in the doorway, his dad grabbed some water for us and didn’t allow Hannington to pay for it.
Back in the car, Hannington told about his childhood. A 6.5 hours drive is a lot of time to get to know each other better. While he was sharing his story he sometimes stopped to avoid someone, or a hole, a child, a dog, oncoming traffic without their lights on, mopeds without light or to point out things a bit like a good tour guide. Like for example the large reflection screens that sparkled in bright white light along the road, a sort of funnels. They use them to catch large grasshoppers, a local delicacy.
Hannington did not know what he wanted to be or do when he was young. Becoming the national Youth chairperson of the Uganda Red Cross Society changed his life enormously. This allowed him to travel, see more of the world. he visited places like Fiji, Belgium, USA, Denmark. And thus his perspective had changed quite a bit. By travelling he could see everything better, he was able to put things in context better. This helped him to decide that he wanted to make a difference in Uganda. His story has always stayed with me. Nice man, nice stories. Travelling makes richer.
If you don’t have a good meal, antiretroviral drugs for HIV and aids will not work, and your life will probably come to an end. People want to have a good meal, but they don’t know where their next meal is going to come from. There is nothing as bad as not knowing where your next meal is going to come from. There is nothing as bad as having the drugs there and deciding not to take them because you can not have a good meal.
My name is Hannington Seggy. I’m Ugandan, and I’m born, raised and educated in Uganda. I’m a social worker, and I have founded my non-profit with a friend of mine. It is called ‘new Down Africa Foundation’. What we do at New down Africa Foundation is to empower women and children with HIV and aids. We give them an opportunity, or what we call’a second life’. Some of the women and children have lost hope, so we motivate them and empower them with different skills that help them to start small businesses or to get employable. We’re based in Entebbe in Uganda. We also take care of kids, and for the kids we take care of we have a nutrition programme. Many of you out there maybe don’t know how it is to live with HIV and aids. These children and women take antiretroviral drugs. And once you’re on antiretroviral drugs, you have to eat well. If you don’t have a good diet, the drugs will not work, and your life will probably come to an end. It is essential for them to have a good meal. Some of them want to have a good meal, but they don’t know where their next meal is going to come from. There is nothing as bad as not knowing where your next meal is going to come from. There is nothing as bad as having the drugs there and deciding not to take them because you can not have a good meal. We provide food packages to them that help them to eat well and what enables them to take their antiretroviral drugs so they can live a longer life.
We also offer education support. We support some of these children to get an education. We believe education is very important. In the developing world, education is very important. If you want to make it in life, if you want to find a job, if you want to be successful, you need to know the basics of life. Education is a part of that. Education gives them the future, it really empowered them. We take these children to school through sponsorship programmes. We have people that joined these sponsorship programmes to help these children to get an education. Recently we have been able to buy farmland where we started growing our own food. The women and the older children will be helping on the farm so that they are able to grow their food to feed themselves. We also acquired some cows, and we would like to buy some more, so they can have milk and sell the excess milk. And that money they can then use to improve their lives and to meet their daily needs.
Tomorrow is going to be a better day
What I also want to talk about is how we look at life in general. There are so many things that we take for granted. I have had the opportunity to travel, and I have realised that so many people in Europe and North America take so many things for granted. In Africa, it is very different. Everything matters. And what matters most is happiness. People here make sure they are happy all the time. Even if they don’t know where their next meal is going to come from, people will still smile and be happy because they believe that tomorrow is going to be a better day. If they work towards that, then for sure tomorrow will be a better day. In the country where I come from, the economy has issues. We have political problems, but things are improving. Uganda is a fertile country. We have a lot of fertile soils. We could grow a lot more food, but the farming equipment is not available because it is so expensive and people can not afford it. If we could, we would be a food basket.
In Africa, mobile connectivity is almost everywhere. Social media has done great things, but it also disconnects many people. Today so many people haven’t seen each other in a long time. Because of services like Facebook they think that they know what is happening in each other’s lives, but they don’t feel the urge to visit each other anymore.
Africa changes in many ways, but I can only talk about my own country Uganda. Uganda changes at high speed, towns have better roads, and there is also more commitment from the government for education. But this will need more time. The Africa that is shown abroad on tv sometimes paints an unfortunate picture. But there are great stories too. The cities grow at high speed and technology takes off. New technologies help us to keep in touch, it helps to make work easier wherever you are. Mobile connectivity is almost everywhere. Social media has done great things, but it also disconnects many people. Today so many people haven’t seen each other in a long time. Because they see each other on Facebook and because of that think that they know what is happening in each other’s lives. They all use WhatsApp, they communicate daily, but they don’t feel the urge to visit each other anymore. This has happened to me too. I hadn’t visited my parents for a long time. And when I visited them recently, I had the idea what was all happening there because we speak each other on the phone a lot. Then we had a talk, where we talked about how things were back in the days. They would look forward to a letter that was written that could maybe take three to six months to reach them, and they would treasure that more than a SMS or WhatsApp message that comes in today. We need good policies to develop further. The politics in Uganda need to change. We need to government to work out the time and age limits that were scrapped recently. What that means, is that any president is now able to lead the country until he dies. If he is 18 and comes into power, he can rule forever. There is no age limit anymore, so the parliament needs to be stronger than ever before to help sort out these things so that children in the future can live a better life than they live today.
In my youth, I had the opportunity to travel to a lot of places, and I was very motivated by what I saw in the different countries that I visited. But I felt the urge to come back to Uganda to improve my country. I had a lot of different experiences during my travels. One of the crucial things that I learned was timekeeping. In Africa, we have a saying that says: ‘There is no hurry in Africa’. But the truth is that you sometimes need to keep time to make things move so you can meet your deadlines. So when I got back to Uganda, my mind was changed. I didn’t change my culture, but I was able to use the skills that I learned like timekeeping to help me to do what I do.
In Africa, we depend on each other. We believe that no man is an island, so we depend on each other.
No man is an island
I also realised that there are many important things where people in the so-called developed world like Europe have a different view on things of in comparison with Africa. For example, in Africa, we depend on each other. We believe that no man is an island, so we depend on each other. If I don’t have salt in my home, then I go to my neighbour’s house, knock on their door and they would give me salt. If I don’t have enough food, my neighbours will come and help me with food. That is something that I didn’t see in Europe or North America. Life is very different there. You could that that the doors are more closed than here. Here in Uganda, we live in an open society where everybody is welcome. We have another saying that says: ‘There is no path to a home’. So when somebody comes by your house, that person is very much welcome. Then that person is invited in, gets tea or water or whatever is there. Or some coffee beans to chew. We will talk about life and life will go on. This is how we live and that makes us very happy.
The last thing to say is about innovation: innovation will take us further in development. I would like to ask you to support innovations and to help an innovator that you know out there. Let it be in healthcare, in education or farming: innovation is the way to go forward.