In this two part series, Martin Hewell, Co-founder of The Zuri Project Uganda, talks vividly and passionately about his wonderful experiences in Africa so far, and how his passion for social change has shaped his desire to help those less fortunate than himself. A truly remarkable story of determination, self-awareness and unassuming humour, Martin will be sharing his experiences over the past four years, and how the relationships he has developed have contributed to the creation of The Zuri Project Uganda. Enjoy!
First of all, why Uganda?!
Well, where do I start?! I could talk for a long, long time about this very special, intriguing and unique country. Interestingly, Uganda wasn’t the first country I visited in Sub-Saharan Africa. I say interestingly, because people always say, “Oh you are doing lots of work in Uganda, so you fell in love with the first place you travelled in Africa then?” Not true. I first travelled to Kenya in 2010, when I was 19, with a passion to work with local people in community development and learn more about the people and culture of a continent that is so elusive to many, with a hugely intriguing history such as the origin of the human race, famous human rights activists and it’s famous vast biodiversity. Being a bit of an adventurist, I also wanted to climb mountains, live in a mud hut without water or electricity, run across deserts and play sport with a ball made out of banana fibres! So it was there, in Kenya, where I discovered my passion for Africa. I lived with families that had sold me samosa’s that day after shaking hands for a ‘beyond-Western-awkward’ length of time and laughing uncontrollably, with families that I had helped chop fire wood for hours and with families that I had just walked 15 miles to watch a friend of a “brother” of a “brother” of a friend’s wedding and, without noticing, I felt at home.
I worked closely with local NGO’s in the largest slum in Africa, Kiberia, in the heart of Nairobi and in the deserted and illustrious Maasai Land for a total of 4 months, but being quite an independent, energetic and motivated person this wasn’t enough. It was the first time I felt sincerely passionate to help others achieve their dreams. The pure smiles on the childrens’ face drives me every single day to unite people to help others, through understanding, compassion and cooperation. It was an extraordinary feeling; I had given everything but somehow I felt I could and wanted to give more; more time, more energy and more attention to the people and continent with so much potential, where citizens work tirelessly from 4am to midnight cultivating their own land to feed their children and then carry over 30 kilos of surplus to sell at the markets to be able to afford to send their children to school and yes, all without appreciation. They do so much for others yet have very little in terms of opportunities to improve their own lives. It was so natural, but I noticed over time that I had an unrivalled desire and determination to empower others and help those less fortunate in any way possible, but more interestingly it was also the beginning of a lifestyle that I want to live for the rest of my life. A pure, natural, adventurous life helping others. Simple. So I spent the flight home from Kenya, and the next 10 months, with sustainable community development projects circulating around my head, which led me to plan my next trip to Africa.
The place that came up time and time again was Uganda. I had done lots of research and the papers constantly highlighted that it had fewer NGO’s, fewer services for citizens and, on the whole, is one of the poorest countries in Africa. However, Uganda is a country with so much potential, in relation to its wealth of natural resources,and with its citizens whose hearts are so big that it’s known to Africans as ‘The Pearl of Africa’. And what a pearl it is. What also got me transfixed with Uganda during my research was the ruggedness, how rural it is, its vast range of tribes, the culture and of course the famous rich natural diversity, with snow-capped mountains, beautiful lakes and the unbelievably friendly locals; mixed with the devastating previous political reigns and tribal conflicts causing turbulent instability. I was intrigued, hooked and couldn’t wait to start another adventure. And what an adventure it was; and still is. The fact that Uganda wasn’t my first country in Africa just emphasises the uniqueness of this country that encompasses such special people, remarkable history, huge potential and natural beauty to leave you speechless, and clearly a place where every day is a new adventure!
Keep your eyes peeled for the second instalment in the next few weeks!