People who are down financially, emotionally or spiritually tend to wallow in self pity and nurse the misconception that they have nothing to work with in the effort to self-uplift. For as long as they believe that they have nothing to work with, they actually do nothing to work with, they do nothing to improve their financial or emotional or spiritual condition; and their condition is likely to deteriorate. Self-uplifting begins with the rediscovery of individual possessions, resources, and tools even where none are visible.
Therefore, often, the best gift that we can give a person is a gift of ideas, a gift of vision, by helping them to see what they already own, and we could start by helping them see that they still have a body, a mind, a spirit, and knowledge, and friends, and family, and some material possessions, all of which together constitute a foundation for creative self-uplifting. We do not help anyone by showing them what they do not have because a person cannot use what he does not have. Do not show a person what he can do with a private jet that he does not own; show him what he can do with the bicycle that he owns.
I have learned from long experience, from countless biographies, from observing hundreds of people in struggles, and from an emotional meeting with a former Old Boy (OB) in a white suite, that progress depends on the idea of starting with what you have.
One beautiful, sunny evening, November day in 2010, I was the key note speaker at one of the community meetings in the newly created Bumasike Sub County, Mbale district. I was invited by the area’s Local Council Chairperson, Mr. Erick, on account of my being a parliamentary candidate for Bungokho south constituency in Mbale district. I had just finished setting up a beneficiary dairy goat keeping project in this very sub county and distributed some goats to prospective farmers. Such types of rallies in Uganda always have some kind of chief guest.The chief guest is expected to arrive in some huge gas-guzzling truck or on top of an open roof Mercedes Benz; I was lucky that my father had lent me his Honda excel motor bike for the meantime. I had spent time organizing campaigns in Bungokho south; and so I arrived on a motor bike to find a large gathering of about five hundred people already in place.
As the Local Council Chairman escorted me through a crowd of supporters towards the speakers platform, a man in a conspicuous 1970’s-style white suite forced himself through the crowd, and tagged at my elbow, and insisted on talking to me despite the Chairman’s impatience with his intrusion. The man’s face was familiar, but I did not remember him; it had been eight years since we last met while we were still students at Merry land High School Entebbe.
I was lucky; I passed my exams with sixteen points, my parents raised the money, and I went to Makerere University for a Bachelor’s degree in Arts Social Sciences. He was unlucky; he passedwith twelve points and got admitted to Makerere University, but his parents could not raise the required money for private sponsorship, and he remained at that level with limited opportunities.
The man in the white suit said, “ you must remember me; I was with you at Merry land high school Entebbe, before you joined Makerere University; I was the unlucky one; now you are a big person; you must help; please give me just a few minutes; let us talk briefly; before they take you away; I will not be able to see you later; they will not allow me to see you; everybody will be trying to talk to you later; please, please, let us talk now. We were together at merry land High School Entebbe eight years ago; I lost my job; you must help my children; I need school fees for the children; we must talk now. Please help me. You have to pay fees for my children otherwise they will get doomed like me. I lost my job a few years ago, and I have not been able to find any other job. I have no money. Please, please, the children need help.”
I said to the man in the white suit: “do not worry, I will definitely make time to talk with you at the end of my speech; do not worry. I promise.” And the chairman pulled me away, just as the man was beginning another long appeal.
In my heart,I had already committed to keep my promise to seek out the man in the screaming white suit at the end of my talk, and hear out his cry. I could not possibly miss him in this crowd; he was the only man in a white suit in the sunny evening; and he had reactivated my memory at merry land high school Entebbe eight years ago; and now I remembered him.
At the speaker’s platform, out in the open field, I was introduced with much fanfare to share my views with the electorate. I rarely carry written speeches and even when I do, I do not read from the written speech, I carry them for emergency; in case I freeze and fail to remember my topic; fortunately, I have never frozen and forgotten my topic.
I thanked my hosts; and mentioned to the community members that I had prepared a written speech and brought copies of the speech with me for anyone interested.
I spoke without reading; and my topic was ”The most important idea in the journey towards success: do not begin with what you do not have; begin with what you have; begin with a list of your talents and possessions even if you think you are poor”.
I talked about the mind, body, and spirit as one of the assets that we all already possess, and must begin with; and I talked about land, because I knew that everybody in my audience (rural Ugandan) owns land. And I talked about how to identify the talents of the mind, body, and spirit by asking questions; and how to creatively link the mind, body, spirit, with land, rivers, and roads to create wealth, to make money, and to ascend to self-reliance.
I also talked about how the international highway that crosses Mbale to Tororo is a free asset to all of us; how we can use the highway to other towns to sell our products, including natural products like stones, sand and wood; I talked about how all season rivers are a goldmine for dry season irrigation farming; I talked about the power of positive thinking, and the need to list everything that one owns beginning with his or her body; I talked how it is a mistake to wait until you get the money that you do not have, or the machinery that you do not have before starting to make or to buy machines.
I gave an example of my uncle, “ Mr. Wamerile” who tired of begging, he resolved to use his mind, body, land and river to exit poverty by planting cabbages on his land along his all-season river’s bank during the drought season when no one plants anything in Mbale district, and painfully irrigated each of his hundreds of cabbages by hand-held bucket, daily; and sold his cabbages for high prices because vegetables are more expensive in the dry season; and used the money from cabbage selling to retire-permanently from begging, by building and stocking a convenient shop in the village; and therefore, ascending to the village “aristocracy” of self-sufficient business people and civil servants. At the end of my speech, I gave photocopies of my speech to the nearest people to distribute, and was amazed at the fight for the printed word that followed.
After the struggle for printed copies of my speech had quieted, a few other people spoke, and we, the guests, were directed towards the chairman’s office for a drink.
In the midst of a large crowd of supporters, all trying to talk to me, I spotted the man in the loud white suit, and shoved my way towards the man, and insisted to the chairman that I must be permitted a few minutes to talk privately with the man in the white suite. “I am ready to listen,” I said to the man in the white suite. “I just came to say thank you very much for the money; the money that I came to beg from you I already have it here in this speech,” the man said as he waved a copy of my speech. “Everything I need to take care of my children I now have”.
Thank you very much. I have seven acres of land along river Manafwa. Until I heard your speech today, I thought I was poor, and that my financial situation is forever hopeless. I did not know that I was sitting on money. Now I know that I have money. I will do what “Uncle Wamerile” did, and send my children to school. Thank you again for the money. I will use the land and the river, and the highway to make money.”
I was astounded. Before I could respond, the man in the white suit grabbed my hand, shock my hand, looked at my eyes stirringly, and said “thank you again, OB, I have the money in this paper,” and walked away.
Realizing what had just happened, how a bunch of ideas had suddenly lifted a grown up man from a cave of desperation to a mountain of hope; tears streamed down my eyes in a crowd of people all trying to speak to me, as the chairman tried to direct me towards his office.
I wondered if anyone in this large crowd had noticed what had just happened; I did not think that they had; and I hoped that no one would notice that I was wiping away my tears. And I struggled to wipe and hide my tears. I was shaken by this real life drama in which ideas suddenly became therapy, and power, and hope, and money.
The man in the white suit had ownership and free access to everything needed to start a small business; he owned land, health, and labor, and he had free access to river water, to sunshine, to the highway, and to a market; all that was missing, which he found in my speech, was the idea that he should start with what he has and not wait to start with what he does not have.
Paul Wanaye Wamimbi
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