I was very angry growing up. I was heavily misunderstood. I’m a two time suicide survivor, an opinionated first born. I felt I wasn’t heard both at home and school. I am loud. I am practical. I am crazy.
While at Namagunga, I was very active in music, dance and drama. Whenever I took part in these activities, I came alive. I felt understood. I didn’t have to prove a point to my fellow girls or the teachers. I was not an A student. The idea of being in school was not shifting. I felt unwanted. On different occasions, I was recommended to leave the school but thanks to Sr. Cephas Cormack. When everyone gave up on me, she assured them but more convincingly to me. “There has to be a reason why you are here.” These words played in head and held me together. They kept me going. They kept me in school till I finished. Sr Cephas was my anchor. I thank God for using her to find myself.
When I went to university in the States, one of my lecturers realised I am not an exam kind of person. She realised I am a practical person. That is how I was assessed for the rest of my university time. She too helped me to know that there was nothing wrong with me, a reminder that I strongly needed.
We tend to think that all students are the same. We take examinations as the only way of testing students which is wrong. I was a different child growing up and there was no room for my difference. Around us are so many forces of how or what we should be. Children need to be moulded into their character. They ought to be nurtured into growing into themselves not the people we want them to be. We shouldn’t punish children for being different. We should instead help them understand that it is okay to be different. Then after nurture that difference. For example; talking too much is not bad. Instead of shouting the child down for talking too much, tell them of how people who talk too much can earn from it. Give them an avenue where they can be moulded.
Young people should be understood first.
Every day when I wake up, I ask God to help me affect someone positively and to learn something new. That is always the hardest lesson; to learn something new because naturally I have a big head. I don’t like to be told, I keep thinking maybe what I know is enough but really, what is enough? I’ve had to learn the hard way because I feel if the people around me are not doing well, I cannot do well. So I take it upon myself which sometimes is too much, to try and see how I can add value to those people’s lives.
My passion speaks to one thing, and it doesn’t have to do with the papers I’ve done which we put up on the wall for everyone to see, if I’m not in an area where I’m impacting somebody, then life is not worth living.
There is more to life than winning a trophy. Learning is comprehensive. I have been working young people for the last 15 years and I have had to unlearn, learn and relearn a lot of things. Someone is never too young to start impacting others. As a society, we have a common challenge. We do not trust our children enough. We want to do everything for them which is wrong. We need to allow them to flourish.
When you give young people a platform, you will be surprised at how much they are capable of doing on their own. I have seen young people come up with innovations that are transforming communities.
By the time one is 20 the mind is made up, if you can get into someone’s mind at 13, you can plant a seed. By the time one is 18, their mind is already made up to transform the communities. If we are to do big things, we have to identify the problems within our communities and find solutions to fix them. Sometimes the people with the solutions are the young people we are not giving the opportunity.
We need to change the mind-set and create impact. I cannot do this alone. We need to work with more people.
We have a very young population at our disposal and if not guided, we stand a chance of losing out on their abilities and worse losing them.
At the time when I was struggling to find myself, I came to learn that no matter what environment you are in, never lose yourself. I lost myself very many times because I wanted to be like everybody else but you cannot be like everybody else. You cannot, yes you are wearing the same uniform, you are doing everything but you cannot. And for me that struggle turned out to be a life transforming experience.
Barbara Kasekende heads Corporate Social Investment at Stanbic Bank which runs the National Students Championships, an entrepreneurship program in secondary schools so far operating in 200 schools across the country. Learn more about the initiative here.